SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Drew Gooden joked two weeks ago that the Wizards had given him a hint that he might be in Washington for a while when he showed up to his locker room stall and spotted a nameplate with the No. 90 hanging above. That placard arrived before Gooden scored 12 points to help the Wizards hold on in a win against Utah, another 13 in a win over Milwaukee, another 15 in a loss to Miami and a season-high 21 in a comeback victory against the Brooklyn Nets.
Gooden’s second 10-day contract expired on Tuesday, but because he was already in Sacramento for the first game of a four-game road trip and had just completed the morning shootaround, the announcement that followed was a mere formality: The Wizards have retained Gooden for the remainder of the season for a pro-rated veteran’s minimum.
Washington picked up Gooden after losing Nene to a sprained left knee, but the 12-year veteran has been a huge pickup with Kevin Seraphin also missing seven games with right knee swelling. Gooden is averaging 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in eight games with the Wizards (35-31), who currently rank fifth in the Eastern Conference.
“I think that gave me more initiative to prove to teams, like: ‘What were you doing? What were you looking at?’ ” Gooden said of his motivation after going unsigned until late February after the Bucks cut him using the amnesty provision last July. “For the Washington Wizards, [Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations] Tommy Sheppard and [President] Ernie Grunfeld to give me an opportunity, and I told them I was going to make the best of this opportunity and won’t let them down and I think we’re starting to see that now.”
Gooden had been working out in suburban Maryland by himself since January and would sometimes stop by Verizon Center to shoot while being out of the game. His apartment complex was above a LA Fitness, where he picked up Bikram yoga, and a Whole Foods, where he often had lunch afterward.
“I have a passion for this game,” Gooden said. “Every day I woke up, I knew that guys were playing NBA games. I knew that guys were working out. So I had a dark cloud over my head, knowing that I had to be on my own schedule and had to do something every single day. It’s hard to emulate any type of basketball activities. A pro practice, running plays, a game. I did individual practice. I got the call and I was ready to play.”
John Wall shares the same agent as Gooden and played a role in persuading Gooden to join the Wizards as a free agent. He wanted to make sure that the team kept him around.
“He’s big. After not playing for 18 months and then come on your second 10-day [contract], most guys when they get on 10-days, they try to force the issue and do something and show why you belong and stay, but he’s just coming in and playing in a comfortable role,” Wall said. “He accepts. He plays the five for us at times, knocking down shots and being aggressive on defensive end and not giving up easy shots and playing the hardcore basketball that we need.”