Monday , Jul , 11 , 2005 Oly Sandor

Larry Hughes is Gone, Same Old Wizards

Washington fans can’t be surprised that Larry Hughes left the team to sign a seventy million dollar contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

After missing the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, Wizard fans have gotten use to their team making poor personnel decisions.

After all, Washington is the only sports franchise, other than the Birmingham Barons, to fire Michael Jordan. What other NBA team has ever though that “going big” meant bringing in the girths of Ike Austin, Kevin Duckworth and Jahidi White? The Wizards dumped Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton. These players helped Detroit win a title. 

There’s also Kwame Brown, Rod Strickland and Pervis Ellison. The list of Washington’s mistakes goes on and on. Of course, center Gheorghe Muresan did enjoy some success by starring in the movie “My Giant” with Billy Crystal. 

Things were improving in D.C. Last season, Hughes combined with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison to help the Wizards break through to the second round of the playoffs. 

What effect will Hughes’ departure have on the team? 

Hughes was Washington’s leader. He was the only player who could keep Arenas calm and also challenge Jamison to be more assertive on the court. Last January, the club initially struggled when Hughes broke his thumb, so the guard gathered his teammates and encouraged them to play with greater passion. The Wizards won their next four games. With Hughes, the team had that elusive chemistry, which will be hard to replace. 

He’s an elite “2”. Last year, Hughes averaged 22 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Want defense? Hughes made the NBA’s all-defensive first team and led the league with 2.89 steals a game. How about the playoffs? Hughes helped Washington come back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Bulls in six games. And he’s just 26 years old. 

Washington must have been concerned about the money. Since signing Juwan Howard to a 100 million dollar deal in the mid-nineties, Wizards’ owner Abe Pollin has been somewhat reluctant to re-sign the team’s free agents. They also had to consider the salary cap. Over the next three seasons, Arenas and Jamison are owed a combined 78 million dollars. It’s logical that the team wouldn’t want to add another large contract. Still, the club should’ve done more to keep Hughes. 

There aren’t many free agents left. Ray Allen is going back to Seattle, while Michael Redd and Bobby Simmons signed with Milwaukee. Joe Johnson, a restricted free agent, has been offered a “max contract” by Atlanta. But Phoenix will match the Hawks’ offer sheet. Latrell Sprewell, Kerry Kittles and Cuttino Mobley are options. Michael Finley and Allan Houston may become available if they get waived as part of a one-time-only exception in the new collective bargaining agreement. 

Washington could always move Arenas to off guard and bring in a free agent point guard. Antonio Daniels is an athletic combo guard. Earl Watson would add a defensive presence. 

Once again, the Wizards have screwed up. The team must do something to replace Hughes or the gains of last season will be lost. And Washington fans will wait a long time for another playoff run.

By Oly Sandor. Oly is an NBA analyst and a free-lance journalist based out of Vancouver, Canada. The NBA Guru can be reached at [email protected]