There are still a few Juan Dixon Wizards jerseys floating around MCI Center these days, but during a recent home game, one fan made an adjustment by slapping a piece of tape over "Dixon" and penning in "Butler," for forward Caron Butler, who has been assigned Dixon's old No. 3.
Tonight, the present will meet the past when Dixon, fellow former Wizard Steve Blake and their new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, make their only visit to MCI Center this season. The two former University of Maryland stars signed with Portland over the summer with hopes of expanding the roles they had in Washington but have experienced different levels of success so far this season.
Dixon, who averaged 8.2 points and 1.6 assists per game during three seasons with the Wizards, signed a three-year, $8.1 million deal with Portland and has been a key scorer off the bench for the Blazers, who fell to 5-8 after a 107-83 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last night. Blake, who signed a two-year contract worth $2.8 million, has been stuck behind Portland's young talented guards, Sebastian Telfair and Jarrett Jack, and had appeared in only three games.
Dixon has been for the Trail Blazers almost exactly what he was for the Wizards: a gunner off the bench who is capable of shooting his team into, or out of, any game. Dixon, who missed Portland's win over the Atlanta Hawks Sunday with food poisoning, entered last night's game averaging 10 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting.
"It feels good going into each and every game knowing when you are going into the game," said Dixon. "I know here, Coach [Nate McMillian] is looking to put me in around the three- or four-minute mark of the first quarter. Last year, I had no idea. You could never get a feel for the rotation."
The departure of Dixon and Blake was all but guaranteed when the Wizards acquired veteran point guard Chucky Atkins along with small forward Caron Butler in the trade that sent Kwame Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers. Later in the summer, the Wizards signed veteran guard Antonio Daniels.
The Wizards never seriously attempted to sign Dixon, an unrestricted free agent, and the team declined to match the offer made by Portland to Blake, who was a restricted free agent.
"I didn't feel as if they always had me [as] part of their plans. It was like I was back on the back burner," said Dixon, who made 23 starts and averaged 18.1 minutes per game with Washington. "It was almost like I always had to show them what I could do, or what I was capable of doing. It was like I had to prove myself every day, every day. I wanted to go somewhere where I was wanted, and I feel as though I was wanted here."
Blake's role is up in the air. Telfair is clearly the point guard of the future, while Jack has been a steady part of McMillan's rotation. Blake has been praised by McMillan for maintaining a positive, professional attitude and is working hard in hopes of getting an opportunity sometime this season.
He's looking forward to returning to MCI Center. "It will be nice to see familiar faces. I definitely love the guys I was with last year. . . . The fans there treated me so well for six years, it was definitely hard leaving."
Dixon is more nonchalant: "Nah, it's just another game. I mean, yeah, I'm going back to play against my old team, but there aren't any hard feelings."
Wizards forward Antawn Jamison expects to see Dixon come out aggressive tonight.
"We know what Juan is capable of doing when he starts to feel it," Jamison said. "We know he is going to be in the mind frame to show people why we should have kept him."
Portland will be making its last stop on a grueling 11-day, seven-game road trip, while the Wizards should have fresh legs after not playing since suffering a 100-82 loss at Charlotte Saturday night. Washington is looking to establish something resembling consistency after starting the season 5-1 and then losing six of the last seven games.
"They are hometown heroes," all-star point guard Gilbert Arenas said. "I know they are going to be excited about coming home, but it's not about us against Steve Blake and Juan Dixon. We are trying to get the win and get back to .500."