Wizards' Crittenton Aims to Find a Niche

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 12, 2009

Javaris Crittenton didn't feel as though the hardwood had been pulled out from under him when the Washington Wizards pulled off a trade last month to add guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Even before Team President Ernie Grunfeld decided to stockpile his backcourt, Crittenton, a third-year point guard, knew that he would have to earn his minutes with Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson and Mike James expected to return healthy.

"Nothing is going to be handed to me," Crittenton said yesterday after the Wizards concluded their first summer league minicamp practice. "You have to go into every NBA season working hard and ready to fight for a position. That was already my mentality before anything went down. This trade hasn't shook me up or anything or made me do more."

Taking advantage of the Wizards' injury-depleted backcourt, Crittenton earned his first opportunity to get consistent minutes after straddling the bench with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Grizzlies. Acquired in a midseason trade from Memphis last season, Crittenton averaged 5.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 56 games, including the first 10 starts of his career.

Crittenton got lost in the shuffle in Los Angeles and Memphis and his situation with those teams changed substantially with some offseason moves. After getting drafted by the Lakers in 2007, they went and signed veteran point guard Derek Fisher, pushing him to third-string behind Jordan Farmar, before he was traded to Memphis. The Grizzlies then traded for combo guard O.J. Mayo on the night of the 2008 draft, pushing Crittenton back further on the depth chart.

With Foye expected to serve as Arenas's primary backup, Crittenton is in a similar situation with the Wizards but said he is better prepared to handle it.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," Crittenton said. "The GMs, they make decisions that they feel is best for the team. I don't think it bothers me at all. I'm going to keep working. I'm not breaking my concentration. I'm not focusing on the backcourt being overcrowded. That's for the GM to make those decisions. Not me. All I can do is keep playing hard and be prepared for whatever."

Crittenton's name was tossed around in various trade discussions this summer, but he said he was never worried about moving elsewhere. After completing the trade for Foye and Miller, Grunfeld was asked if he was sending a message to Crittenton, who showed flashes of his speed and playmaking ability but didn't overwhelm in his four-month trial with the 19-win Wizards.

"You can never have enough good players on your roster," Grunfeld said, explaining the trade. "The only thing we care about is winning basketball games. It's a long season. Everybody is going to get an opportunity."

Crittenton has been in Washington since the season ended, taking short breaks to return home to Atlanta. He's been working out with a personal trainer and trying to improve his game with assistant coaches Sam Cassell and Randy Wittman. He said Cassell has been working with him one-on-one, drilling him on midrange jumpers and showing him the "mental part of being a point guard."

Coach Flip Saunders said that he has implored Crittenton to develop a solid niche to secure time in his rotation, using the example of one of his former players in Detroit -- Lindsey Hunter, who established a reputation as a tenacious defender early in his career. Saunders will give him the chance to run the floor this week in Las Vegas.

"He's had a very good last three weeks, now it's a matter of the next level," Saunders said. "He has the toughest job of any of the guys because I put a lot of pressure on point guards -- initiating offense, initiating defense, being able to understand the game, game management, almost like a quarterback in football," Saunders said. "For him, he's going to have days where he's going to look really good and days where he looks really bad and that's part of the development. What happens is, the longer he goes, the days he's looking bad will be far in between."

Crittenton said he already understands his role next season. "With everybody healthy, just to come in off the bench, playing hard defense, being able to knock down shots when I have the opportunity. Just being a threat," Crittenton said. "People definitely have that understanding that it's about winning this year. The fans of this city, they've been waiting. We have to make our sacrifices to get the job done as a team. I think the coaches are going to help us understand."

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