By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 11:38 PM
Cartier Martin grabbed a seat near Lester Hudson in the locker room at Toledo's Huntington Center after the Washington Wizards concluded their preseason with a loss to the Detroit Pistons. The topic of conversation was the same one they'd addressed several times this month, in hotels, on the team bus or the team plane: whether they would survive.
"We just weren't sure," Martin said. "We didn't know which way they want to go."
Their uneasiness after the loss was understandable, with Hudson missing all five of his shots and committing two turnovers and Martin playing just 28 seconds. For two players on non-guaranteed contracts, those weren't the final impressions they wanted to leave with the Wizards.
"You're nervous," Hudson said. "We kind of joked about it. 'Cut day coming up.' "
Coach Flip Saunders gave the team the next day off, but there was still plenty of anxiety for both players - and rookie Hamady Ndiaye - until they arrived at practice on Thursday and received word that the Wizards had cut Adam Morrison and Sean Marks. And now Martin, Hudson and Ndiaye can rest a little easier because their names will be on the Wizards' 15-day opening day roster that will be submitted to the league office by 5 p.m. on Monday.
"I've been working really hard for this opportunity," Ndiaye said after practice on Sunday. "It's not the end of the road, it's just kind of like the beginning of it. The hard work starts now, because now we're getting to the real stuff, the reason season. It's not, 'Yes, we made it, I'm on the team.' It's 'What's the next step? What do I want to accomplish? What am I learning?' And that's what I'm looking forward to."
Ndiaye, the 56th pick of last June's draft, took a definite risk coming to the training camp; a decision he made only after failing to get the opportunities that he had hoped for overseas. Had the Wizards cut him, they would have lost his rights altogether and Ndiaye would have had to seek employment elsewhere, something Martin and Hudson have both had to encounter during their careers.
"It was yes, a stressful time, and really mentally, physically, I give it everything I can, to stay on the team and stay with these guys," Ndiaye said.
Martin was undrafted out of Kansas State in 2007, and had to play in Turkey, Italy and NBA Development League while trying to latch on to an NBA team. He had an advantage of ending the regular season with the Wizards, participating in summer league, and getting familiar with Saunders's system. But he has never been able to get settled in Washington, since it has basically become another city for him to rest his head on a hotel pillow.
"You [are] living from bag to bag, you never get to unpack your suitcase. You're always kind of concerned about where your next move is," Martin said, when asked to explain life on a make-good contract. "But it's all in the love of the game, putting in that work."
Martin, who averaged 4.6 points and shot 56.3 percent from the floor in five preseason games, said the fight became more serious after he welcomed his first child, Cartier Jr., last month. "That was a lot of motivation for me, someone that looks up to you and has to depend on you," he said.
Hudson, 26, has had an equally challenging road since the Boston Celtics selected him 58th overall in 2009. He made the team, but was sent to its D-League affiliate before later getting waived. His hometown Memphis Grizzlies claimed him but assigned him to the D-League affiliate they share with Washington, the Dakota Wizards.
Hudson played well during summer league and was a standout in training camp, but had an admittedly difficult preseason in which he averaged 4.3 points and 1.9 assists but shot 34.5 percent in seven preseason games.
"I didn't have a great preseason this year, for my standards. So I'll get better as the season goes on. I'm getting better now," Hudson said. "All the guys here can play at this level, but you've got to bring it every day. You can't take any days off. Very tough. Got to stay mentally strong."
Ndiaye, Hudson and Martin cannot get too comfortable, since they can easily be waived at any time before early January, when their contracts become guaranteed. Saunders said it helped having those players around since summer league.
"You do get a comfort level when you have guys that have been around for a while, in camp and whatnot. They understand what you want and expect. That's the positive," Saunders said, adding that the road is not complete. "When you're on a non-guaranteed contract, there are so many things that can happen during the season, but they are all NBA players. They've done a nice job for us."
For now, at least, the three players can exhale.
"I'm feeling real good," Hudson said. "I got to take it day by day, but I'm blessed."