The Washington Wizards concluded practice Friday afternoon with a fast-paced passing and layup drill and newly acquired big man Samaki Walker caught a few of his winded teammates failing to finish. He barked out, "Make the layup! Make the layup!"
After practice, newly acquired guard Anthony Peeler was talking to reporters when forward-center Kwame Brown strolled behind Peeler, curled his left hand like he was holding a microphone and held it to Peeler's face. Peeler, feeling a 7-foot shadow over his shoulder, used the opportunity to pass along a message to his young teammate. "We just got to have Kwame and them guys pass the ball more," Peeler said, before sharing a hardy laugh with Brown.
Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld didn't make a Gilbert Arenas-type splash in free agency last summer. After acquiring Antawn Jamison in a draft-day trade and matching an offer sheet for Etan Thomas, Grunfeld decided to finish off his roster by bringing in Walker and Peeler, two inexpensive veterans from winning programs, who can provide leadership to a young team.
"I think that'll be a benefit because they've been through the wars, so to speak, and most of our young guys have not," Grunfeld said. "Leadership is not always, 'Rah! Rah!' It's about consistency in effort. Guys who have been around winning situations understand better what it takes to be a playoff contending team."
Walker, a ninth-year forward with aspirations to be an author and motivational speaker when he retires, won an NBA championship ring with the Lakers in 2002 and has been in 48 playoff games. He has learned from his travels through successful programs such as the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers, which is why he spoke up during practice.
"Drills and things like that, it starts here first," said Walker, who spent last season with the Miami Heat. "You can't practice bad habits and expect to turn it on during the game. I don't know anybody who does that. And you can look at any [playoff] team -- they practiced good habits."
A former lottery pick who has drifted into an NBA journeyman, Walker said he is no longer concerned about numbers or playing time. "I have taken my ego out of the equation a long time ago," Walker said. "When that opportunity comes, I'll be ready. I don't really look at it as a selfish thing. Just me, me, me. When the team wins, everybody gets to share in it."
Peeler, a 12-year veteran who led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (48.2) last season, has been to the playoffs seven consecutive years, most recently with the Sacramento Kings. Coming from the pass-happy Kings, who run the Princeton offense used by the Wizards, Peeler understands the benefits of sharing the ball. (The Wizards should know, too -- they were 12-2 last season when they had more assists than their opponents but finished last in the NBA in assists.) "That extra pass will get you the win," Peeler said.
Grunfeld actually acquired Peeler in his last major deal as general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks. He sent Sam Cassell and Ervin Johnson to Minnesota for Joe Smith and Peeler in June 2003. Peeler was cut for salary cap reasons before ever playing with the Bucks and he signed with the Kings. "I would've liked him, but it just wasn't feasible at the time," Grunfeld said.
A year later, Peeler joined Grunfeld on a team that sorely needs him. The Wizards ranked 27th out of 29 teams in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage last season at 34.2 percent and Coach Eddie Jordan can already see how Peeler can aid the team in ways other than being a wise, old sage.
"It's a luxury to have -- a guy who can spot up and knock down threes, and in pressure situations. We're just so happy to have him," Jordan said. "We targeted some problem areas and we needed experience and now that we have them, it's good for us."
Wizards Notes: Brown removed a protective boot from his injured right foot and shot stand-still jumpers in larger, size-17 sneakers. On media day, Brown predicted that he would be out at least until the middle of November. But after being evaluated by Wizards team physician Stephen Haas late Thursday night, Brown couldn't offer any more insight.
"As soon as I can help the team, I can come back," Brown said. "My foot lets me know what I can and cannot do. Although I want to go out there bad, certain little moves I try to do on the court let me know I'm not ready to play yet."
Brown had surgery in August to repair a fracture in his right pinky toe suffered while playing a pickup game in Georgia last summer. Grunfeld said he won't rush the fourth-year veteran. "There is no timetable," Grunfeld said. "Kwame has made good progress and his tests have shown significant healing."