- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Larry Hughes has experienced both the good and the bad of the NBA after stops in Philadelphia and Golden State.

And Hughes sees a lot more similarity between Washington and Philadelphia, where he made it to the playoffs on an up-and-coming roster, than he does with Golden State, a franchise constantly in a state of flux and the lottery.

“When I was in Philly, I felt like I had found a second home,” said Hughes, drafted by the 76ers with the eighth overall pick in 1998. “I felt like I was at home there before I got traded and found out what it was like in other places. I think things are pretty similar in Washington. This is where I want to be.”

Hughes is in the last year of a three-year, $15million deal. He is having the finest season of his career in Washington, averaging career highs with 19.2 points, 2.76 steals and 5.0 assists entering tonight’s home game against the Detroit Pistons. Hughes will turn 26 in January, so he has yet to reach his prime. And he recently said he would like to do that here in Washington.

“I’ve reached a comfort level here, and as a player that is what you live for,” said Hughes, whom the Wizards signed as a free agent before the 2002-03 season. “When you have a comfort level in anything — I don’t care what it is — it makes it easier for you to fight for the organization and for the people in the organization. I don’t think anyone who has been watching the Wizards can say that things don’t look like they are heading in the right direction.”

The same was true in the late 1990s in Philadelphia, where Hughes still has a lot of close friends. As a rookie, Hughes and Allen Iverson teamed to guide the 76ers back to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

But what Hughes said made him particularly fond of his Philadelphia experience, which ended midway through his second season, was the manner in which then-team president Pat Croce worked with the team to improve it.

Croce, an energetic self-made millionaire, and the Sixers parted ways in July 2001, shortly after Philadelphia reached its first NBA Finals in 18 years. Hughes, who fell out of favor with then-Philadelphia coach Larry Brown, said Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld is a similar positive force.

“[Grunfeld] is always watching,” Hughes said. “I like that. He has a good track record of bringing the right kind of talent together and mixing it up. He brings together the right mix of veterans and younger guys. Look at how well Samaki [Walker], [Anthony Peeler] and Michael [Ruffin] have fit in. You can see the same thing here.

“As a player who wants to win, that is pretty much all you can ask for. It makes you realize that he knows exactly what he is doing.”

Even though Hughes wants to stay in the District, he also wants to get paid. And with the Wizards winning and Hughes playing well, his value is “rising around the league,” and the Wizards “will probably have to pay him [more],” according to a scout sitting courtside at a recent Wizards game. That’s something of which Hughes has become aware.

“You want to take care of yourself and your family. You can’t play this game forever,” Hughes said.

The Wizards also could trade Hughes, a route many teams go when players have expiring contracts. That doesn’t seem likely right now, which means the team likely will look at its options in the summer after the league hammers out a new collective bargaining agreement.

Hughes, for his part, is not worrying.

“Right now I’m really not thinking about it,” Hughes said. “I know I can get a good contract making more money than I’m making now. But this is where I’d like to be.”

Note — Power forward Kwame Brown, who sat out the second half of Monday’s victory over Charlotte after injuring his right ankle, will be a game-time decision.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide