Wizards grow at guard by signing 6-5 Hughes

Ex-Warrior, 23, accepts multi-year contract

July 19, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards have had free-agent guard Larry Hughes in their sights for a couple of years, nearly landing him in deadline-day deals, and Hughes has wanted to get back to the NBA's Eastern Conference, where his career began.

The two sides connected yesterday, when Hughes, a four-year veteran, signed a multi-year contract with the Wizards, presumably for the club's mid-level exception of $4.5 million for the first season.

Hughes, 23, played the past 2 1/2 seasons with the Golden State Warriors, after being selected eighth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1998 draft.

He already has lived the proverbial up-and-down NBA life, going from coach Larry Brown's doghouse in Philadelphia to early success in Golden State, where he scored 41 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in a game just after the February 2000 trade, to being benched late last season behind two rookies.

"I'm a lot better. I've learned a lot," said Hughes, who has averaged 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists during his career. "You have to do certain things to stay on the court, and in Philadelphia, I didn't feel like I was getting the time that I needed. I felt like I needed to get away. I started out real well in Golden State, but things didn't work out the way I wanted it to. But that, in itself, allowed me to become a better player."

If Hughes, 6 feet 5, is correct, the Wizards have obtained a player who can shift between the point and shooting guard slots, giving the team badly needed size at the playmaker spot and another scoring option at the other guard position.

"I feel comfortable doing both," Hughes said. "I feel comfortable giving my opponent different things to look at, whether it be off the ball or on the ball. I've always played just to be on the court. I can handle the ball. I can pass the ball, and I can score the ball. I don't want to limit myself to any one position. Hopefully, I won't have to do that."

Hughes' presence likely means that point guard Chris Whitney or his backup, Tyronn Lue, both under 6-2, will not be with the club come opening night, provided Juan Dixon, one of the team's two first-round picks, can learn to play the point during the off-season and in training camp in October.

With Hughes' signing, the Wizards have 14 players signed to guaranteed contracts, one under the league limit, which may spell the end of the tenure of Popeye Jones or Tyrone Nesby, both free-agent forwards.

Of the two, the club is said to have more interest in re-signing Jones, 32, a 6-8 power forward who averaged 7.0 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. Jones provided badly needed stability, particularly to the team's young corps of forwards, but is said to want a multi-year contract, which the Wizards are hesitant to do.

NOTE: The Wizards will open the 2002-03 season with consecutive appearances on national television under the NBA schedule, which was released yesterday. Washington will start the season Oct. 30 in Toronto on ESPN, then will face Boston in the home opener, to air on TNT.

In all, the Wizards will appear on national television 13 times, including three times on ABC on Sunday afternoons. The three-time defending champion Lakers will make their only MCI Center appearance Nov. 8, a game that will air on ESPN.

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