Martell Webster caught a pass from John Wall in the right corner Monday night and maintained focus as Sacramento Kings guard Francisco Garcia approached. The Washington Wizards swimgman kept his eyes on the rim as he elevated, lifted his arms high above his head as always, released the ball with a flick of his wrist and buried the three-pointer.
Garcia collided with Webster, knocking him on his backside, and sent him to the free throw line, where he converted a four-point play, Webster’s league-leading sixth of the season. Still, the most spectacular part of the sequence — and this season — has been Webster’s ability to fall down on a back that has betrayed him in recent years, hop up and not feel any debilitating pain.
“People don’t understand,” said Webster, who admitted Tuesday that he contemplated retirement last summer after the Minnesota Timberwolves bought him out of his contract after a second season was derailed because of a lower-back surgery. “It was discouraging during those times when I was unhealthy because I felt I would never get back to where I wanted to be or even close, and I was thinking about giving it up, because it was that tedious.
“I was thinking, ‘Is this worth it? Is it worth me trashing my body? I’m going to pay for this in the long run.’ ”
Webster, 26, credits a conversation with his wife, Courtney, for convincing him to travel to Bradenton, Fla., to work out with trainer David Thorpe. The training sessions required Webster to be away from his family in Seattle for nearly a month, which he said was “tough” but proved to be worth it after his agent, Dan Fegan, informed him last August that the Wizards wanted to bring him in for a workout. A few days later, Webster signed a one-year deal.
Since stepping in as starting small forward after Trevor Ariza suffered a strained left calf last December, Webster is averaging 10.7 points in his past 28 games, scoring 22 in an upset of Oklahoma City and a season-high 24 in a win against Portland, the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2005. The 6-foot-7 swingman also is leading the Wizards in three-point shooting (41.4 percent), showing the most proficiency from either corner. Among NBA players with at least 40 corner three-point attempts this season, Webster is tied for fifth at 50 percent (38 for 76).
Webster has shown signs this month that the injuries have not robbed him of his athleticism: a baseline dunk over Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and another emphatic jam past Hawks guard DeShawn Stevenson.
“He’s been pretty consistent. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Coach Randy Wittman said as the Wizards prepared to take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center. “His ability to shoot it. He’s putting it on the floor. . . . The progress he’s making in terms of that capability and not being solely labeled a spot-up three-point shooter, I’ve really been pleased.”
Shortly after the Trail Blazers traded him to Minnesota in the summer 2010, a herniated disk in his lower back became a serious problem. The Timberwolves were so disappointed with Webster’s diminished performance that they reportedly sought compensation from Portland, which was aware of his back troubles before trading him. Being caught in the middle of the dispute didn’t bother Webster.
“Having to go through the back surgeries? I wish that on nobody. . . . Anything from a medical standpoint is not my fault,” Webster said. “All I’ve got to do is show up to work. And I take my work very serious. If any kind of ill will that they have toward each other, or toward those two franchises, is something they are going to have to settle.”
Webster said has moved on in Washington. Wizards athletic trainers Eric Waters, Koichi Sato and Corey Bennett and strength and conditioning coach Drew Cleary have created a regimented program that focuses on correcting Webster’s form, making sure his muscles are firing correctly and that he’s not compensating to risk more injuries. Webster has played 42 of 43 games this season, missing a game against Utah in November because of a coach’s decision and not an injury. He hadn’t played more than 47 games in either of the past two seasons.
“This is the best I felt the last five years and I have to credit that to my staff,” Webster said. “Now I’m finally healthy and this is what everybody has been waiting to see, including myself.”
Ariza returned to the lineup earlier this month, and Webster doesn’t know how much longer he will remain a starter, but he is adamant that he is not worried about his role.
“My main concern is making sure I’m ready when my name is called. If things go back to the way they were, I’m totally fine. I don’t have a problem with it,” Webster said. “Early on, everybody is young, they want to prove to the world that they should be starting or they should be scoring all the points, but I’m past all that.”