Inside the Washington Wizards’ locker room, Donald Sloan does not have a rack to hang his clothes nor a stall to stow his shoes. Sloan was simply given a padded folding chair, placed near the laundry at the front of the room.
Training camp invitees can’t get too comfortable within an already crowded clubhouse. Teams have until Oct. 16 to set rosters and non-guaranteed contracts can disappear sooner than that. Sloan, a 29-year-old point guard fighting against the international label, wants to earn a permanent spot inside that locker room. He has less than two weeks to flip any perception the Wizards may have had about him and force the team to make a bold move.
“I knew what they had on the roster already. You wonder why. Why would you come in?” Sloan said, acknowledging the glut of ballhandlers on Washington’s roster. “I just didn’t come here to make the team. … I came to be a part of what they’re trying to do here. I came to be that guy off the bench to give them what they need. I came to be that guy with backup minutes.
“If Coach [Scott Brooks] has something set in his mind already about what he thinks it’s going to be,” Sloan continued, “I’m going to put pressure on him to think otherwise.”
In just over a week with the Wizards, Sloan has defined himself as a solid NBA backup guard. During training camp practices in Richmond, he commanded the floor with his group. When Carrick Felix, the other training camp invitee, needed to execute a difficult attempt in the team’s open practice slam dunk contest he called off Bradley Beal and waved for Sloan to throw the perfect pass off the side of the backboard. With Sloan’s assist, Felix won the competition.
Whether it’s running the offense or setting up a teammate, the veteran Sloan knows his role. He knows he can play in this league as a backup point guard. Over the years, not too many NBA general managers have agreed.
“He’s an NBA player in my mind,” Brooks said. “He’s definitely going to get an opportunity to make the team here. I like his professionalism, I like his toughness, I like his serious approach to the game. Those are all qualities that every team will want players to have on their rosters. I don’t know the reason why he has never been able to stick [with a team] other than the fact that it’s hard to make the NBA and once you make it, it’s hard to stick and he’s a prime example of that. He’s definitely an NBA player.”
Although Sloan has five years experience in the NBA, including stints as a starting point guard, he has not spent more than two consecutive seasons with the same franchise. His circuitous path, which has included detours in the Philippines and China, reveals Sloan to be a willing journeyman. He’s gone into Indiana and Brooklyn as the third point guard, and through various circumstances, emerged as a starter both times. So, a folding chair in the front of a locker room doesn’t concern Sloan.
“I don’t put too much emphasis on what could happen, what it looks like,” said Sloan, who has averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 assists in his career. “I just do what I do.”
Every journeyman’s story is different, and although Tim Frazier may have a hold on the assignment as John Wall’s current backup, he understands Sloan’s path. Frazier, too, has competed for training camp spots before finally sticking in the NBA.
Frazier had to cement his reputation in the NBA Development League (now the G League), play through 10-day contracts and experience the deflation of being waived before earning a two-year, $4.1 million contract with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2016. Then this summer, the Wizards traded their second-round draft pick to New Orleans for Frazier.
“You got to prove yourself every day. Come early, stay late. Do everything you’re supposed to do right, no mishaps,” Frazier said, sharing how he beat out several point guards to make the Portland Trail Blazers’ roster in 2015. “They brought you in because they think you have something to help the team in some sort of way, so you have to be able to do what you do best as well as try to improve on your weaknesses. It was tough for me, I was battling for a spot.”
Similar to Frazier, Sloan is an undersized guard — albeit, with a stockier build — which may affect the way NBA executives view him. Besides the physical prejudices to fight against, last year Sloan elected to play in China. The financial decision was rewarding — Sloan pulled in nearly $3 million for six months of work, far exceeding the veteran minimum deals he was offered to stay in the NBA — but also potentially damaging.
Sloan believes playing back-to-back years in China could typecast him. The NBA might view him only as an overseas guy. So unlike last summer, when Sloan turned down several one- or two-year deals, he wants to return to the NBA and specifically, land a role in Washington.
Last season, as Sloan started for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, the Wizards expressed interest in bringing him in to solve their second-unit point guard problems. Sloan’s season stretched out longer than usual as his team advanced to the Chinese Basketball Association finals and Washington eventually signed Brandon Jennings. Months later, Sloan wants to remind Washington why it reached out in the first place.
“What you were missing last year in the playoffs when John was out the game,” Sloan said, “I’m here to pick it up.”
Still, Frazier and second-year player Tomas Satoransky take up the depth chart with their guaranteed money. The Wizards also have a capacity 17-man roster and must trim the group before starting the regular season. The predictable choice would be to waive the two guys seated in folding chairs at the front of the locker room. Through his preseason play, however, Sloan hopes to change minds.
“Coach and the front office, they may have something in their mind already,” Sloan said, “but like I said, when the smoke clears, I always end up being in the mix some kind of way.”