The Washington Wizards added experience and toughness to their roster yesterday by signing Anthony Peeler, the 6-foot-4 former Sacramento Kings guard who made headlines and earned kudos from teammates during the playoffs last season when he floored 6-11 Kevin Garnett with an elbow to the gut.
A free agent who averaged 5.7 points, 1.6 assists, and 2.0 rebounds this past season, Peeler is expected to back up Larry Hughes at shooting guard. Financial terms were not disclosed.
"Peeler gives us a veteran presence in our back court," said Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards' president of basketball operations. "He's tough, a good defender and he's been in winning situations."
The 34-year-old Peeler, a 38.4 percent career three-point shooter, has competed in the playoffs in nine of his 12 NBA seasons while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Vancouver Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Kings.
The move is the Wizards' second of the week and third of the summer. Wednesday, the team announced it was retaining restricted free agent forward-center Etan Thomas, who had signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks. Last month, the team made its biggest move of the offseason by dealing Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and a first-round pick to Dallas for forward Antawn Jamison.
Grunfeld indicated yesterday the team is not done shopping. Though he declined to identify possible free agent targets, the team still has a very young roster and could be looking to add more experienced players like Peeler, especially with the departures of Stackhouse and Laettner.
Peeler also provides the kind of grit critics say the team lacks.
During the Kings' second-round playoff series with the Timberwolves in May, Peeler fired up his team by standing up to Garnett, the league's MVP, in the third quarter of Game 6.
Accusing Garnett, a former teammate, of delivering a cheap shot earlier in the game, Peeler thwacked Garnett with an elbow to the midsection. Garnett retaliated by planting an elbow in Peeler's chest. Peeler then answered with yet another elbow to the side of Garnett's head.
Peeler was ejected and the league suspended him for Game 7. Some critics called Peeler a "hothead" and pointed out that by missing the deciding game he hurt the Kings. But Peeler's teammates backed him all the way.
"We're not going to let anybody walk over us,'' said Sacramento guard Mike Bibby, sticking up for Peeler. "We gave him a pat on the back."
The Wizards, whose toughness in recent years has also been questioned, are eager for Peeler's intensity, Grunfeld said.
"It was in the heat of battle," Grunfeld said of the incident last spring. "It shows how competitive he is."