If his first swing though Washington hadn’t been so brief and so contentious, then Drew Gooden and the Wizards could’ve viewed the 10-day contract he signed on Wednesday as a reunion. But Gooden believes he simply has a second chance to leave to a first impression.
When the Wizards acquired Gooden from the Dallas Mavericks in a seven-player deal four years ago, both parties were in completely different places. Back then, the Wizards had hit the reset button on the franchise after the Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton gun incident, and Gooden was a player on a one-year deal who had no interest in biding his time with a team in disarray.
Gooden tried to negotiate a buyout, then showed up a few days late before the Wizards flipped him to the Los Angeles Clippers in a three-team deal that also sent Antawn Jamison to Cleveland. The trade was consummated an hour before the Wizards played Minnesota on Feb. 17, 2010, and Gooden famously caught a ride to the airport in Jamison’s Bentley without ever suiting up.
“I just think it was a rough year, not only for the Washington Wizards as an organization that season but for me, too,” Gooden said, explaining the situation. “I think the best decision for me at that time was to move on. And [President Ernie Grunfeld] understood that. Things made their way full circle and I’m here and I’m ready to sink my teeth into that opportunity.”
The Wizards are now a playoff contender, built around John Wall — the No. 1 pick that came as the result of that disastrous season — and in desperate pursuit to end a six-year playoff drought after losing Nene possibly for the rest of the regular season. When they contacted Gooden, he was unemployed, splitting his time between Bethesda and Orlando, and hoping that some NBA team could use a 6-foot-10 veteran big man who can rebound and hit the occasional open jumper.
“I’m eager. I’m anxious,” said Gooden, who has career averages of 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds. “I’m going to sink my teeth into this situation, so whatever I need to do, I’m going to do it to the fullest.”
Gooden arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, went through a full practice and spent some time afterward learning the nuances of the Wizards’ system with assistant Pat Sullivan. Coach Randy Wittman said he wouldn’t hesitate to put Gooden on the floor on Thursday in Toronto, especially if Kevin Seraphin remains sidelined with swelling in his right knee.
“We put a lot on his plate today, but he’s a veteran guy. I’m not re-inventing the wheel here,” Wittman said. “He’s been around the league long enough to know where to be and where to go in different sets. That’s kind of a good thing where you get a couple of vets. It doesn’t maybe take as long.
“This is the first I’ve had him — other than for 24 hours,” Wittman said with a laugh. “I told him, hopefully, ‘I can keep you longer than I did last time.’ ”
Gooden is now with his 10th team in 12 seasons since being drafted fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002. He has also played for Orlando, Cleveland, Chicago, Sacramento (for one game), San Antonio, Dallas, the Clippers and Milwaukee. After he was traded to Washington four years ago, Gooden joked, “It’s a lot of six degrees of separation with Drew Gooden around the league.”
The Bucks waived Gooden last July, only three years into a five-year, $32 million contract as part of the amnesty provision. Gooden received the last two years of his contract worth about $13 million, so he could be patient and wait for the right opportunity while doing some individual training to stay in shape.
“I been out longer than you guys think. You guys think I was out this season, I was out last season because I only played 151 minutes,” said Gooden, who averaged career lows of 3.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in 16 games last season. “I’m thirsty, I’m hungry and there is definitely a reset button that’s been hit in Drew Gooden’s professional career and it’s a fresh start from here.”
Gooden doesn’t feel that he’ll need much more time to get acclimated to the Wizards and has grown tired of sitting around. “My body feels good. I’m jumping in both feet. I don’t think they want me to ease my way in,” he said. “I think they need a guy to replace what Nene did and that’s going to be a hard task within itself. I know one thing I can’t mess up is going in to get a rebound. I’m going to do that and play hard. So we’ll see what happens.”
The time away from the game has given Gooden a greater appreciation of the game and given him a better perspective. “I always knew if I had an opportunity to step back on the floor, the things that I would do differently. I’m using that to my advantage,” Gooden said. “To be honest, it seems it’s only a handful of teams that seem like they want to win a championship. In the past, when I first came in, it seemed like the whole league was eager to win a championship but it wasn’t really realistic, but they made those efforts and those moves to win. I see a handful of teams doing that now — and the Washington Wizards is one that wants to win. I think that’s why they added me for depth, going into the playoffs.”
That is a dramatic shift from Gooden’s first time in Washington, when he told former Coach Flip Saunders that he had no intention of playing for a rebuilding team. At his only shootaround with the Wizards, Gooden started his response to a question about his jersey number with, “If it’s going to be a number …”
This time around, Gooden has indeed made his choice on his number, sort of. “I got 90,” said Gooden, who has also worn the No. 0 for much of his career (the same number worn by Arenas). “They said I got to let zero cool off for a second.”