There was a point last season when basketball was no longer fun for new Wizard DeJuan Blair. Known for his bright smile and intensity, the burly forward-center was in his first season with the Mavericks after spending his first four NBA seasons as a contributor for the perennially successful Spurs, and the game just wasn’t the same.
“It was just a lot of things I wasn’t into at the time,” Blair said.
That changed during the first round of the playoffs, when Dallas took on the top-seeded Spurs. Heavy underdogs, the eighth-seeded Mavericks pushed the eventual champions to the brink, falling in seven games. Blair was a key cog, posting two double-doubles against his former teammates. And he had fun doing it.
“I think that series was something I needed for my career and the confidence I needed for my career as well,” Blair said in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon. “It was just a lot of fun playing against your old team and seeing how good you can be against the best teams. I stepped up to the challenge and I did a great job and I had fun at the same time. You watch those games, I was smiling. So basketball became fun again.”
The Wizards are banking on Blair taking that success into this season after exchanging the rights to Emir Preldzic, a 2009 second-round pick, for Blair last month as part of a sign-and-trade deal. Listed at 6 feet 7, 265 pounds, the undersize Blair joins a deep front court that also includes Nene, Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden, and Kevin Seraphin.
“I was very excited when I got the news. It was like a dream come true,” said Blair, who is signed to a three-year contract worth $6 million. “Last year, I saw what type of team they had. The youth, the big men coming up, the ingredients around the team. And I think I’ll be a great addition.”
Projected as a first-round pick out of Pittsburgh, Blair slid to the second round of the 2009 draft amid concerns about his longevity because of his knees, which do not have anterior cruciate ligaments after he tore both of them in high school. The lack of ACLs hasn’t hindered Blair’s NBA career yet — he’s played in at least 61 games in each of his five seasons and he played in 78 last year for the Mavericks.
“You just got to keep your body in shape and just try to stay healthy and lift around them,” Blair said. “Knowing that I don’t know have ACLs, I just try to work on my body around my knees just to make it better for a longer career. It’s just about maintaining your body and your weight.”
Blair, 25, who will play in the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career and admitted he’s excited to play closer to his home town of Pittsburgh. He hasn’t had the opportunity to meet yet with Wizards Coach Randy Wittman because of birth of Blair’s daughter last Friday, but he plans to travel to the District next week to search for a home and discuss his role with Wittman.
“I plan on just bringing energy and toughness to the team,” Blair said. “And being a veteran guy, helping the young guys do the right thing and just have fun at the same time.
“I’m still young so I’m just trying to have fun and take Washington to places that they never been. It takes a team and I think we have a great team and a great organization to do it. D.C. is rising and we all just got to take it one day at a time and get better and become a unit.”