By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Washington Wizards held a workout with Georgia Tech's Javaris Crittenton before the 2007 draft and considered taking him with the 16th pick had Nick Young not been available. Yesterday, Washington acquired the second-year guard from the Memphis Grizzlies, the linchpin for the Wizards in a three-team trade that sent veteran point guard Antonio Daniels to New Orleans and will also bring another guard, the Hornets' Mike James, to Washington.
When the Wizards selected Young with the 16th pick in the 2007 draft, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Crittenton was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 19 and later traded to Memphis, where he's been unable to crack the team's guard-heavy rotation.
Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace has been seeking to trade Crittenton since the summer, and he found a partner in Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, who was willing to send back the conditional first-round pick the Wizards received from Memphis in exchange for guard Juan Carlos Navarro's rights in the summer of 2007. To make the deal work without the Wizards having to send a player to Memphis (under the league's complex collective bargaining agreement), the teams had to bring in a third party. They found one in the Hornets, who wanted to acquire a veteran point guard and shed the scoring-minded James. New Orleans also received a conditional second-round pick from Memphis.
James's salary is $6 million this season, and he holds a player option for next season worth $6.4 million. Daniels's salary is $6.2 million this season and $6.6 million next season.
After several weeks of discussions, everything came together late Tuesday night, and by yesterday morning a deal was struck.
Crittenton and James were expected to arrive in Washington last night and will take physicals this morning. Their availability for tonight's game against the Boston Celtics won't be determined until Daniels passes a physical in New Orleans. The Hornets do not play tonight, and Daniels has up to 48 hours to report to the team.
To make room on the 15-man roster for James and Crittenton, the Wizards released point guard Dee Brown, who started 11 games this season.
"We think this is going to upgrade our back court with a solid veteran in Mike James and a very talented young player in Javaris, who we are very familiar with," Grunfeld said. "He has very good size in the back court, he can play both guard positions. Mike has been a good scorer in this league and a solid veteran so we feel they are both going to come in and fit in very well with what we like to do."
The Wizards have the NBA's least-productive back court and have been looking to improve it all season. In fact, according to several league sources, the Wizards and Chicago Bulls nearly had a deal worked out in October that would have sent Daniels and Etan Thomas to Chicago as a part of a package for Larry Hughes, a former Wizards guard. The deal collapsed after Hughes injured his shoulder.
Grunfeld said the decision to trade for Crittenton and James was not influenced by the status of guard Gilbert Arenas, who continues to rehabilitate his surgically repaired left knee. In fact, the team envisions situations when Arenas and Crittenton could play together, similar to when the team once used Arenas and Hughes interchangeably.
"This is something that we feel is helping this ballclub for now and for the future," Grunfeld said. "Javaris is a very versatile player that can play both guard spots and can guard both guard spots, so that's not a reflection on Gilbert's situation. In this deal, everybody got something that they wanted out of it. Memphis wanted their pick back, New Orleans was looking for a solid veteran backup and we were looking to add some firepower and some versatility to our back court."
Neither Arenas nor the team has established a firm timetable for the three-time all star's return, but interim coach Ed Tapscott said the team has started making plans for how Arenas will be integrated into the offense.
Crittenton averaged 2.7 points on 47 percent shooting in 6.3 minutes during only seven appearances this season and he clearly had no future on the guard-heavy Memphis roster. The 33-year-old James was in a similar position after losing his job as the primary backup to all-star point guard Chris Paul in New Orleans. He averaged 2.5 points on 32 percent shooting in eight appearances and had not played since Nov. 21.
During the 2005-06 season, when he played for Toronto, James averaged a career-high 20.3 points on 46.9 percent shooting (44.2 percent from three-point range) with 5.8 assists.
As much as Daniels was respected by the team for his professionalism, toughness and point guard skill, he's never been a scorer and he may be a better fit for the pick-and-roll game New Orleans Coach Byron Scott prefers.
Tapscott said he would immediately go to work figuring out how best to bring the new players up to speed.
"One of the benefits of Mike James coming in is that he ran a lot of the same sets in New Orleans," Tapscott said. "And Javaris has obviously been in a different system, so we want to make sure that whatever we do, we do well."