Juan Dixon was dribbling and dropping jumpers on a court featuring the logo of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, wearing a practice jersey that still read "Wizards Basketball." When the Washington Wizards walked on the floor of the Bobcats' practice facility here on Wednesday, Dixon said he never thought about what it would've been like had the Bobcats selected him in the expansion draft last summer.
"Honestly, it didn't cross my mind," said Dixon, whom the Wizards left exposed in the expansion draft, along with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner.
The Bobcats passed on all three players. Later, on draft night, Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld traded Stackhouse and Laettner to the Dallas Mavericks for Antawn Jamison, leaving Dixon as the only exposed player still around.
Although he stayed clear of MCI Center in the days surrounding the expansion draft, Dixon said he didn't consider it a slight that the Wizards left him dangling -- "It was a business decision," Dixon said -- or that the Bobcats didn't bite (the Bobcats considered taking Dixon, a source said, but the team selected a similarly small but more experienced player in Eddie House).
"It really doesn't matter," Dixon said as the Wizards prepared to face the Bobcats on Thursday night at 7 in Charlotte Coliseum. "I want to win. I think the team they put together here, we can really do damage in the East. It might be a better situation for me to play more minutes [in Charlotte], but what's the odds of those guys making the playoffs? Slim to none. Not taking anything away from their organization because if I was there, I would've loved to be a Bobcat. But I'm still a Wizard and I can help the team win."
Grunfeld explained that the Wizards could only protect eight players, which left expendable an undersized, 6-foot-3, 165-pound guard without a solid position. "It's not like we wanted to lose Juan," Grunfeld said.
The Wizards did, however, send a direct message to Dixon in the offseason with the acquisition of veteran shooting guard and perennial three-point threat Anthony Peeler. "Not much respect," Dixon said, explaining the initial reaction to the move. "That's been the story of my life. I was fighting for minutes in high school, fighting for minutes at Maryland. I just have to prove all my doubters wrong. I'm going to continue to do what got me here."
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan won't question Dixon's competitiveness. Dixon is usually out in front of most of the team's sprinting drills. "He's always been a warrior and a guy who comes through when people don't think he'll make it. And that's why he's here. We hope those same personality traits come out to him being a better player."
Jordan calls Dixon, "one of our top three pure shooters," but he shot just 38.8 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from three-point range last season. Dixon said his up-and-down season, in which he averaged 9.4 points and 21 minutes, had a lot to do with his fluctuating confidence and inconsistent playing time. Dixon is still searching to find his place after two years in the league.
"He'll determine how he fits by the production on the floor. That not only applies to Juan but to everyone on our roster," said Grunfeld, who has until Oct. 31 to pick up the fourth year of Dixon's contract, which is considered unlikely.
"He's the kind of guy you root for," said one Western Conference scout. "He goes hard on every play, he does a lot of the little things well, he's just lost in a numbers game [in Washington]."
Throughout the Wizards' first two preseason games, Dixon's role has been undefined. He has played a total of 21 minutes, scoring 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting. He worked on his ball-handling last summer, thinking that there was an opening for more playing time at point guard with the ankle injury of former Terrapins teammate Steve Blake, but Jordan has relied more on the contributions of undrafted rookie Gerald Fitch, a hard-nosed defensive player the Wizards' brass likes.
"I've got to produce. My margin for error is not much," Dixon said. "I'm hungry. I'm looking forward to having a big year. I want to show Coach Jordan and his staff and Ernie that I am capable of helping the team win. I can produce if I'm given the opportunity."