Sometimes it pays to be nice.
Being nice paid off for Washington Monday night in Indianapolis when Gooden, with Nene in foul trouble, came off the bench and gave the Wizards 12 points on 5 of 11 shooting, and 13 rebounds in just 17 minutes as a major contributor to Washington’s 102-96 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
When Nene went down with a sprained left knee ligament in late February and would be out for six weeks, the Wizards said we need someone to help fill the void. Where to look, where to look … hey, what about this guy working out at our place? He’s already here. He knows his way around the building.
So they signed Gooden to a 10-day contract.
“I have family that’s in town here, and I was visiting, and I had some opportunities to work out,” Gooden told me on my show “The Sports Fix,” with Kevin Sheehan on ESPN 980 radio. “The organization would give me the keys and let me work out in the practice facility.”
Gooden had been cut by the Milwaukee Bucks last July under the NBA dumb general manager program (known as amnesty) and, after 11 seasons with nine teams — 10 if you count the four days he previously spent with Washington in 2010 in one of those multi-team swaps of contracts — was out of a job when the season began.
The 31-year-old forward, still collecting on his five-year, $32 million contract from the Bucks, kept working out, hoping the phone would ring, but it didn’t. He had been the forgotten man until Nene went down and the Wizards found what they needed right under their nose.
“I think it’s just the old saying out of sight, out of mind,” Gooden said. “I knew if the team saw me work out a couple times and saw what kind of shape I was in, they would probably give me a shot.”
When they signed Gooden to a 10-day contract in February, Grunfeld said, “We will rely on all of our frontcourt players to step up and contribute as we go through this stretch without Nene. Signing Drew gives us size, shooting ability and experience to add to that mix.”
Maybe he knew it would give them a win in the opening game of the second round. Who knows? Every personnel button Grunfeld pushed this season hasn’t just worked — it’s worked beyond expectations, just like this Wizards squad.
The NBA is picking up its jaw after each Wizards performance, wondering, “Who are these guys?” TNT showed Pacers president Larry Bird sitting in the stands Monday night with a bewildered look on his face, maybe thinking, “Washington? I didn’t even know they had a team when I played in the league.”