A.J. Price’s role diminished in each of the past two seasons with the Indiana Pacers, but having to be a backup point guard — sometimes even to the backups — mostly served as a source of motivation. Price had to learn to take a professional approach so that he would be prepared whenever an opportunity arrived.
That attitude served Price well this month, when the Pacers renounced their rights to him. Price didn’t view becoming an unrestricted free agent negatively; it was merely a chance to prove his value to another team.
“It helped me greatly, because it’s made me hungry. It’s made me thirsty again,” Price said of experience with the Pacers. “Made me want to get that, to where I want to be. That’s what I plan to do this year — I plan to play like I’ve never played before.”
Price signed a one-year deal with the Wizards for the veteran’s minimum on Tuesday, and his new team is hoping his approach will help Price serve as a reliable option to spell John Wall next season. A 6-foot-2 point guard, Price spent his first three seasons in Indiana, where he averaged six points, two assists and 1.5 rebounds in 150 games, including three starts.
Signing an experienced backup point guard was an offseason priority for the Wizards and became more of a need after second-year point guard Shelvin Mack, Wall’s primary backup last season, provided some uneven play at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas. Tomas Satoransky, a 6-7 point guard whom the Wizards selected with the 32nd pick last June, will spend next season in Spain.
“Looking at the roster, I could see the backup point guard position was a need. I feel I’ll have the opportunity to come in and play, contribute right away,” Price, a second-round pick out of Connecticut in 2009, said of the Wizards. “My biggest asset to any team is my leadership. I’ve always known how to play the game, played it the right way. I’m able to lead teams, lead my unit, and knock down shots when I get my opportunity to play with regularity. So I’m excited.”
Price averaged career lows of 3.9 points and 33.9 percent shooting from the floor this past season, as he went from being the primary backup to Darren Collison while George Hill was injured to falling out of the rotation after the Pacers acquired Leandro Barbosa from Toronto. The Pacers deemed Price expendable and took back their $1.09 million qualifying tender nearly two weeks ago so that they would have the money to re-sign center Roy Hibbert and pursue other free agents, such as point guards Hill and D.J. Augustin.
“When they did that, I wasn’t devastated or down by any means,” Price said. “I felt comfortable with my performance, how I played those three years in spurts and teams would be interested enough to make offers, which they did, and I’m ecstatic that Washington did. I’m glad to be here.”
After reaching the past two postseasons in Indiana, Price believes the Wizards are also headed in that direction. The team already had Wall and Nene, has recently drafted Bradley Beal third overall and acquired Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
“It’s very similar to Indiana, where we were a couple of years ago. We had a good mix. We were a pretty young team at the core, but we had . . . veteran guys here and there, that had been there before,” Price said. “We’re going to have a tough road ahead of us, but I think if we can play up to our capabilities, we can do that. It’s going to be about us coming together as a team and believing.”
The Wizards are expected to play an up-tempo style with Wall leading the way, and Price said he won’t try to duplicate Wall when he steps on the floor.
“John’s an extremely fast player. He’s going to play his game,” Price said. “I’m not going to try to be John Wall, in any way shape or form. All I’m going to do is be A.J. Price. I feel confident that I’ll get the job done. Whether that will be fast pace, half court. Whatever the game calls for, I’ll be ready for it. John is a faster guy. He’s got to play his game. I’ve got to play mine.”
Price, a native of Amityville, N.Y., graduated from the same high school as former Wizard Mike James, who played for Coach Randy Wittman in Minnesota and in Washington. He spoke with James before deciding to join the Wizards.
“One thing he told me about Coach Wittman, he said, ‘He’s a tough coach, but he’s going to let you play your game,’ ” Price said. “I heard that from other players as well. It’s a good feeling, going into an opportunity, knowing I have a chance. Still knowing I need to compete and do what I need to do to solidify my spot. But it’s exciting to know that I’ll be having more of an opportunity than I previously had.”
When asked about Price, James wrote in a text message: “That’s my guy. He will do well. Great kid.”