-- When the Washington Wizards lost Larry Hughes to the Cleveland Cavaliers via free agency this summer, President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld moved on to Plan B.
Grunfeld wanted to find an experienced guard who could play defense, fit into Coach Eddie Jordan's offense and provide some leadership.
He found all of that in veteran Antonio Daniels, who turned down offers from several teams to sign a five-year contract worth $30 million with the Wizards.
"I'm not here to average 30 points a game," said Daniels, whose eight-season career has included stops in Vancouver, San Antonio, Portland and Seattle. "That's not who I am, that's not what I'm about. I was brought here to make plays at every opportunity."
That's what Daniels did last season for Seattle, where he flourished as a combination point guard-shooting guard, averaging a career-high 11.2 points per game. In helping the Sonics reach the Western Conference semifinals, Daniels perfectly complemented all-star Ray Allen and became something of a fourth-quarter closer for Coach Nate McMillan, who often turned the offense over to Daniels down the stretch of close games.
Daniels's knack for making the correct play, be it a drive to the basket or a crisp pass, helped him finish second in the NBA in turnover-to-assist ratio (3.96 to 1) last season and should make him an ideal fit for Jordan's offense.
An example was provided during practice Wednesday when forward Michael Ruffin found himself with the basketball at the top of the key, attempting to make a pass to Daniels, who was being overplayed on the wing. Daniels and Ruffin made eye contact and in classic Princeton-offense style, Daniels cut back door and received a perfect bounce pass from Ruffin before making a layup.
At 6 feet 4, 205 pounds, Daniels isn't built like the classic shooting guard nor does he play like the traditional point guard. Instead, Daniels molds his game to the people around him.
During the first two days of training camp, Jordan has experimented with several lineups, including Daniels and all-star Gilbert Arenas working together in the back court. Either player can bring the ball up the court and both players can use their quickness to bother opposing guards.
"One of the things I like about Antonio is his versatility," Jordan said. "Those two can really be interchangeable back there. He's a tough player and he's a smart player with a lot of playoff experience, which is something we were excited about adding to our team."
Daniels, 30, didn't arrive at this point in his career without experiencing his share of ups and downs. He didn't garner much attention while starring at Bowling Green University, where he played for current George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga, but lit it up in workouts prior to the 1997 draft and was selected by Vancouver with the fourth overall pick.
After averaging 7.8 points per game as a rookie for the dreadful Grizzlies, Daniels began to carve a niche for himself in San Antonio, where he helped the Spurs win a championship over Grunfeld's New York Knicks in the 1999 Finals.
"It took me getting to San Antonio, where I played with Avery Johnson, Mario Elie, Steve Kerr, Sean Elliot, David Robinson, Terry Porter, all those veterans who had been there before, for me to really learn how to play," said Daniels, who spent four seasons with the Spurs and still maintains a home in San Antonio. "Now, one of my roles on this team is to come out here and show some of these young guys not only vocally but by how I play, what is needed and what is wanted out of you as a player."
Daniels blossomed over the past two seasons in Seattle where McMillan ran an open, free-flowing system similar to the one run by Jordan. During the playoffs last summer, Daniels averaged 13.8 points and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 46.8 percent.
"It's early, but I really like this team," Daniels said. "What you see is a bunch of professionals going out there, playing hard and doing whatever it takes to play winning basketball. That's why I was so excited about coming here."
Wizards Notes: When asked what impressed him the first three practices, Jordan praised Arenas for his focus and intensity on defense and expressed happiness at seeing Jarvis Hayes, Antawn Jamison and Etan Thomas play with no signs of pain. The team will practice twice Thursday and once Friday before Saturday night's scrimmage at Virginia Commonwealth University, which is free and open to the public.