TORONTO — Drew Gooden laughed to himself as he recalled how his last stint with the Wizards ended four years ago with him leaving Verizon Center in the passenger’s seat of Antawn Jamison’s Bentley. Both players were traded out of Washington in the same three-team deal – Gooden to the Los Angeles Clippers and Jamison to Cleveland – and didn’t need to stick around for a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It was weird,” Gooden said after the Wizards held a shootaround at Air Canada Centre on Thursday. “After I got traded. I didn’t think the team was really worried about my transportation at the time. So I said, ‘Tawn, can I get a ride to the W’ ” hotel.
Jamison obliged, but Gooden had no idea what would follow. Reporters staked out the parking garage, waiting to get a reaction from Jamison, whose 5½-year tenure had come to an end with him making two all-star teams and leading the franchise to four playoff appearances. Gooden did his best to trail slowly and let Jamison have his moment: “I just happened to be in the background, lingering and walking with him,” he said.
But that wouldn’t be the last time that Gooden would cross paths with the Wizards. They were looking for some front-court depth because of concerns over Kevin Seraphin’s recurring right knee injury. When Nene went down with a sprained left knee ligament earlier this week, the team was even more determined to find some help.
The search didn’t take long because Gooden was already nearby and unemployed after getting waived via the amnesty provision last summer. Gooden keeps an offseason home in Orlando but said he has been splitting his time since January in Bethesda, where his girlfriend has a business. Wizards senior vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard allowed Gooden to have access to the facilities to work out on his own while the team was on the road.
“I don’t know if that helped me get to where I’m at right now but they had a chance to kind of see me, see what kind of shape I was in and I think it’s kind of a luxury if Nene or somebody else goes down, you’ve got a guy that’s right there in your back yard that’s experienced that you can call up,” Gooden said. “So I guess it worked out for both of us.”
Gooden will make his debut with the Wizards (29-28) on Thursday against the Toronto Raptors and might get some significant minutes with Seraphin set to miss his second straight game with swelling in his right knee.
“I haven’t had a chance to go up and down,” Gooden said. “I’ve been doing a lot of individual work, got one practice under my belt, but it’s going to take time. It’s not something that’s going to happen in one day and I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team beat the Toronto Raptors.”
The Wizards will be his 10th team in 12 seasons but after being out of the NBA since July, Gooden has observed the game from a much different perspective.
“It makes you think not to take this for granted. You can’t cheat game,” Gooden said. “Playing 12 years and having a chance to sit out and watch the games when you know you’re supposed to be in the TV, actually playing. It was almost shocking that I wasn’t out there.
“I still believed I have some gas in the tank,” Gooden said. “I knew I could help some teams out. It was frustrating watching but then again it’s the nature of the business. I think everything happens for a reason. I think I hit a reset button in my career and I’m ready now to prolong my career.”
While sidelined, Gooden said that he would stay in touch with former teammates and coaches around the league. Some simply checked in, others claimed that they would lobby their teams to give him a look. Gooden said he received about 100 messages on his phone after signing a 10-day deal with the Wizards.
“I was getting calls, but it was nothing serious. Because you can talk a call, but if you don’t have a contract in front of you, it’s a different story. The Wizards stepped up and said, we’re going to get this done for you. So, we got it done,” Gooden said. “I was already in Bethesda working out, staying ready for any call. It made more sense for the Wizards and me, in this situation, because it was already local and it’s more of a comfortable transition.”
The situation is much more ideal than it was when he arrived from Dallas in 2010. “That was a crazy year for the organization. I was in a one-year situation in Dallas. I didn’t think I was going to get traded at all and to get traded to D.C. And it was a stressful time with all the stuff going on with the suspensions with Gilbert at the time,” Gooden said. “I felt it wasn’t the best situation for me then, and [President] Ernie [Grunfeld] did me a favor, even then, to get me to the Clippers and then eventually, me signing a five-year deal. So I had to thank him.”
He also thanked Jamison for the ride. But looking back, Gooden said, “That was the last time I’ve seen ‘Tawn.”