If everything had gone according to plan, Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld would have been sitting at a podium announcing that Larry Hughes had signed a long-term contract to remain in Washington. Instead, Hughes is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Wizards yesterday introduced one of his replacements, free agent guard Antonio Daniels.
Coming off the best season of his eight-year NBA career, Daniels agreed to a five-year contract worth around $30 million. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Daniels, who will wear No. 6, joins a reconstituted back court that includes all-star point guard Gilbert Arenas, swingman Jarvis Hayes and recent additions Chucky Atkins and Caron Butler.
Atkins and Butler, who were acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers for Kwame Brown, will be formally introduced tomorrow, according to Grunfeld. The Wizards hope the trio of Daniels, Butler and Atkins will make up for the loss of Hughes, who spurned the Wizards to join LeBron James in Cleveland.
"It's not about filling Larry's shoes," Grunfeld said. "It's about putting a good ballclub out there on the floor. We've added some very solid players. Players with experience, players with toughness, players that play to win. We like all of those things in these players."
Daniels, who averaged 11.2 points, 4.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds with Seattle last season, can play point guard or shooting guard, and his long arms, quick feet and sturdy frame allow him to defend both guard positions and many small forwards.
With Seattle last season, Daniels flourished in an up-tempo system and played particularly well during the playoffs, when he averaged 13.8 points and 4.5 assists and shot 46.8 percent. Grunfeld and Coach Eddie Jordan praised Daniels for his playoff experience, decision-making, unselfishness and defensive abilities. Daniels and his wife, Sonia, are expecting their first child, a daughter, as soon as today, and the couple plans on purchasing a home in the Washington area before training camp opens in October.
"It's been an exciting week in a lot of ways, but I haven't been getting much sleep," Daniels joked. "I'll do some catching up pretty soon."
Daniels was pursued by Seattle, Los Angeles, Utah and Toronto but chose Washington because the Wizards offered a longer contract and play a brand of basketball that fits his skills.
"The biggest thing, number one, was the style of play," Daniels said. "It's very similar to what we did in Seattle -- very spread, wide open, a lot of pick and rolls. And also Coach Eddie Jordan. You watch different things throughout the course of the season, and he really seems like a player's coach. That's something I'm going to enjoy playing for.
"As far as where I fit in the back court, that's not for me to answer. My play will have to decide that. I came here to play hard; I bring leadership to the table and defensive effort. This team is already a good basketball team so they don't have to adjust to me, I have to adjust to them."
The Wizards will have 11 players under contract once the acquisition of Butler and Atkins becomes official, and that number will increase to 12 when second-round pick Andray Blatche signs.
The Wizards also have the option of retaining restricted guard Steve Blake.