PHILADELPHIA — As Chasson Randle waited at the scorer’s table to check into the game, he turned back toward the Washington Wizards’ bench. For the first time in his NBA career, however, he was no longer looking over his shoulder.
The Wizards bowed to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night, losing, 132-115, after falling into a 31-point hole. But the night served as a significant moment in Randle’s career.
Randle played as the Wizards’ backup point guard with a newly converted guaranteed contract for the rest of the season. Randle closed the 2016-17 season with a brief stint with the New York Knicks, but he counts his latest deal, which became guaranteed Monday evening, as the first of his 37-game NBA career.
“I want to be in a situation where there’s not a cloud over my head or I’m thinking about what’s next,” Randle said. “[Now] I know what’s next.”
Randle started the season as one of the last players cut from the Wizards’ training camp. Then he signed a non-guaranteed deal Oct. 30, only to be assigned the next day to the Wizards’ G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go. The Wizards brought Randle back Dec. 18, and at the time neither the team nor the player could have known just how much would change within a matter of weeks.
On Tuesday morning, John Wall and Randle exchanged text messages. Wall sent motivation as Randle prepared for the rest of the season with the assurance that he will stick around. Randle typed encouraging words to Wall before the star point guard underwent season-ending surgery.
“Obviously I’m not John Wall,” Randle said, “but as long as we can play together and try to make up for his loss, I think it will be all right.”
While his teammates were in Philadelphia, Wall was in Green Bay, Wis., to remove bone spurs in his left heel. Wall will need to rehabilitate for the next six to eight months, leaving the Wizards with only Tomas Satoransky and Randle as the point guards for the time being.
Washington has until Jan. 21 to expand the roster to 14 players, and it has areas of need not only with guard depth but also in the frontcourt because Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard remain on the sidelines. The team recalled two-way player Devin Robinson for Tuesday’s game, and he played 11 minutes in the blowout.
“There will be options. We’re exploring them. With Keef out with . . . five more weeks, we might have to look at that,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s why Devin’s getting an opportunity. With John, we might have to look at another point guard. Right now we’re just focused on the guys that we have.”
Randle finally belongs in this group, one of the “guys” as well as the type of player his coach seems to prefer. Brooks can relate to Randle. Their stories of going undrafted, trying to build their reputations in other leagues (Brooks in the Continental Basketball Association in 1987 and Randle in Spain last year) and hustling for an NBA roster spot are intertwined.
“He had to fight and scrap to get up here in the first place with the Knicks, and now he did the same thing over the summer. I love stories like that,” Brooks said. “It’s definitely earned. Nothing is ever given, and he’s earned this opportunity to stay all year long. I hope, and obviously he hopes, that this is a start to a decade-long career.”
At least for the rest of this year, Randle knows he will receive backup minutes, just as he did in logging nearly 24 minutes against Philadelphia to spell Satoransky. He knows his role is to maintain the lead or claw out of deficits, just as it was when he stepped back onto the Wells Fargo Center hardwood with the Wizards trailing 88-64 with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter. Though Randle and the Wizards walked off the court down by 26 in the third, the bench unit, which included Robinson, outscored the Sixers 37-28 in the final quarter.
The positive impact wasn’t quite like Randle’s performance in Oklahoma City on Sunday when he finished a plus-30 in 18 minutes. Randle joined Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart as the only two players this season to have logged 18 or fewer minutes in a game while helping their team net 30 or more points.
“I just want to bring energy and just play hard both ends of the floor,” Randle said, “and make sure I’m putting guys in the right position.”
Against the Sixers, Randle finished with 10 points and a minus-10 net rating, one of five Wizards players who compiled a rating worse than minus-10. Bradley Beal scored 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting while Jeff Green pitched in 15, but they were minus-18 and minus-19, respectively. Otto Porter Jr. had an off shooting night (4 for 10) after injuring his right hand, which “swelled up on me a little bit,” he said after the game. Porter finished with 11 points.
After dropping to 16-25 on the season, the Wizards return home to face the Sixers again Wednesday on the second night of a back-to-back. Once again, Randle will figure into the rotation. The cloud may have stopped lingering over his head, but Randle wants to keep the same mind set of a player who is chasing assurance.
“It’s intense, but in some ways, you get used to it. Like, hey, this is what it is and it’s motivating you,” Randle said. “You know any day could be your last day, and it’s still that way. I plan on living or playing the rest of the season with the same approach. Don’t take anything for granted. Any day could be your last and play hard.”
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