CHICAGO — John Wall was sprawled out on the floor in front of him doing stretching exercises. A.J. Price sat across from him, his soft cast in his lap and a stimulation machine on his broken right hand. Shelvin Mack sat next to him, wearing oversized headphones and checking his cellphone.
In the visitors’ locker room at United Center, Garrett Temple sat quietly in front of his stall and glanced around at his teammates, focused on what was about to happen in less than an hour. He was starting for the Wizards at point guard against the Chicago Bulls. Making his task even more difficult was finding out he wouldn’t have leading scorer Jordan Crawford, who sat out the game with a sore left ankle.
The point guard spot for Washington has been a revolving door of injuries (Wall and Price) and ineffectiveness (Jannero Pargo and Shaun Livingston) to their top scorer playing out of position in an attempt to help (Crawford). With less than a week in a Wizards uniform, Temple has stepped into the role and already feels at home as the new floor leader.
“I feel comfortable with these guys,” Temple said. “It’s a good locker room, a good group of guys. Everybody just wants the same goal, which is to win games.”
It was his solid play in Washington’s 105-97 win over Orlando on Friday — 6 of 8 from the floor for 13 points, six assists and six rebounds — that prompted Wizards coach Randy Wittman to give Temple the start over Mack on Saturday.
For Temple, it’s been a long time coming.
The last time he started was the 2009-10 season with San Antonio.
Once Wittman realized that he needed to shop for yet another point guard a couple of weeks ago, he decided Temple was worth a second look — thanks in part to assistant coach Don Newman.
Newman joined the Wizards’ staff in the offseason as Wittman’s top assistant after spending seven seasons with the Spurs. Newman already knew what kind of player and leader Temple is and what he could bring to Washington.
Against the Bulls on Saturday, Temple struggled from the floor, as did everyone else. The Wizards shot a dismal 36.5 percent and turned the ball over 17 times thanks to the shut down quality of the Bulls defense. Temple was just 3 of 11 for eight points, but he had nine rebounds and five assists in a team-high 41:12.
Despite an 87-77 loss, Wittman had few complaints about Temple.
“I played him 41 minutes [Saturday]”Wittman said. “I have a lot of confidence in him. He had a couple turnovers where he didn’t know exactly where to be, what to do, where the guy was going to be, but he gives us great effort defensively.”
Wittman joked that after just two practices, Temple barely knows what’s going on yet but said he has no doubt that with a little more time learning the Wizards’ plays, Temple will be just fine.
And, as any true point guard would, Temple already is talking like a leader.