Guard-needy Wizards eagerly welcome Boykins

Earl Boykins, facing the Wizards' Darius Songaila as a Charlotte Bobcat in February 2008, is back in the NBA after a season in Italy.
Earl Boykins, facing the Wizards' Darius Songaila as a Charlotte Bobcat in February 2008, is back in the NBA after a season in Italy. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009

After the Washington Wizards returned from Miami -- where they suffered their fifth consecutive loss, continued to sputter on offense and were reduced to just one healthy point guard -- Caron Butler said he walked around his house with a smile on his face. His wife, Andrea, looked at him, perplexed.

"How are you smiling?" Butler recalls her asking.

"I've got to smile to keep from crying," he told her.

The Wizards' sorrows weren't resolved when they signed point guard Earl Boykins on Wednesday, but the 11-year veteran does address one problem for a team already ravaged by injuries only three weeks into the season. He provides scoring, playmaking and stability, all in a pocket-sized package.

Boykins, a 5-foot-5 jitterbug, is capable of running the team when Gilbert Arenas rests and also playing alongside Arenas. The two have done it before, with Golden State in 2002-03 -- when Boykins was out to prove that he was more than a sideshow and Arenas was a second-year guard about to win the league's most improved player and land a huge payday in Washington. So, when Boykins walked onto the practice court at Verizon Center on Thursday, Arenas was one of the first to greet him.

"When he first saw me, the first thing he said was 'You're back' and that's sort of how I felt," said Boykins, who averaged 9.4 points and 3.4 assists in 10 seasons with New Jersey, Cleveland, Orlando, the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, Denver, Milwaukee and Charlotte before playing last season with Virtus Bologna in Italy.

"I'm a rare NBA player. I was out of the NBA, but as long as you're getting paid to play basketball, it's not that bad. I went to Europe and had some success over there, but I just didn't want to go back."

Boykins was the highest paid player in Italy, earning $3.5 million, but the 33-year-old viewed it as a temporary respite until he returned to the NBA. Though he keeps an offseason home in his hometown of Cleveland, Boykins was working out in Denver when he got the call.

"I look forward to this opportunity to come here and play for Washington," said Boykins, who signed a partially guaranteed contract for the veterans' minimum of $1.2 million. "I wanted to be in a situation where I could help. I just didn't want to play anywhere. I've always been a player throughout my career where I want to play. I don't just want to be in the NBA. I had offers from teams, but I didn't feel they fit me. And when I got the offer here, I felt like it was a good situation."

The situation also works out for the Wizards (2-6), who have already seen Javaris Crittenton (left ankle), Mike James (left hand) and Randy Foye (right ankle) go down to injury, leaving Saunders with only Arenas -- who missed all but 15 games the previous two seasons with a knee injury -- to run his point-guard-centric offense. Crittenton and James will be sidelined until next month, but the Wizards got an encouraging sign when Foye started jogging at practice, only two days after being injured in Miami.

Foye said the injury might keep him out only against Detroit on Saturday, when Antawn Jamison is expected to make his season debut. Mike Miller, who has missed the past three games with a sprained left shoulder, also could return. "I feel good," Foye said. "This time off, the days in between, helps us out. It won't be no longer than one game."

Saunders is still baffled about starting training camp wondering how he would divide minutes between seven guards. Before the Wizards signed Boykins, they were down to just three, including DeShawn Stevenson and Nick Young. "Maybe I had the kiss of death; I said those things always work themselves out. Unfortunately they did," Saunders said.

Saunders said Boykins was near the top of his list of candidates when the Wizards needed help. "I know Earl. I've known him from Cleveland, so I known him a long time," said Saunders, also a native of the Cleveland area. "I've always respected him. He's always been a hard guy to match up with when we've played him. The last four years he's been in this league, he's been one of the most effective guys when he's been on the floor. He's been a great fourth-quarter player, a great free throw shooter. He has the ability to just help us in a lot of different areas."

Butler couldn't help but smile while talking about practicing with Boykins for the first time. "It's funny seeing him out there, how small he is, and all," Butler said. "But he's got a lot of heart. He's helping us out with the tempo, and giving us the extra pep that we needed. He's been around this game a long time, so he's going to bring his leadership and experience, and it's going to help a whole lot. I love having him here already."

Butler already is doing his part to help Boykins adjust to his new surroundings. After practice, Boykins asked where he needed to go for a haircut and Butler was already setting up an appointment with his cousin.

"I'm going to take care of him," Butler said with a grin.

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