The Washington Times - November 12, 2009, 06:31PM

     Earl Boykins reported for practice today at Verizon Center and former Golden State Warrior teammate Gilbert Arenas gave him a warm welcome and said, “You’re back!”

     After 10 years in the NBA, Boykins was without a team a year ago, and didn’t get picked up by anyone. So he went to Italy where he signed a deal worth more than $3.5 million and became Italy’s highest-paid basketball player.


    After a successful year over there, he decided he wanted to come home and was confident that he could make it back to the NBA. Yesterday, it happened for him. It’s a pretty rare situation, and that’s exactly how Boykins described it. He’s well aware that once you’re 33 and out of the league, you rarely make it back.

     ” I’m a rare NBA player,” he said. “I was out of the NBA, but as long as you’re getting paid to play basketball, it’s not that bad. I went to Europe and had some success over there, but I just didn’t want to go back this year. I wanted to return to the NBA.

     “Not being in the NBA, it was different over in Europe,” Boykins added. “I think I developed an appreciation for the European game. It’s a different game, and it’s actually more difficult to play in Europe than in the NBA. The biggest thing is the guys are smarter. All the guys are so much smarter. When you’re young, you don’t play overseas. It was tough, but I had a great experience in Italy, but now I wanted to come back and return to the NBA.”

     But here he is, about to play for the Wizards on Saturday and with Randy Foye day-to-day with a sprained right ankle and Mike James and Javaris Crittenton out, Boykins will see a good bit of playing time.

     Boykins said he is refreshing himself on some of the Wizards’ sets, but having played against divisional rival Minnesota for four years with the Denver Nuggets, he knows Flip Saunders’ offense.

     “Going against them in the playoff series with Minnesota, I’m familiar with his system, familiar with his plays. … I knew their playbook. It’s just a matter of familiarizing myself with some of the plays, but Flips running the same stuff he’s always ran.”

     Boykins will be used primarily as a backup to Gilbert Arenas, especially while all the other point guards are out, but Flip said that given their past success (Golden State) of sharing the back court, they likely will do so again from time to time here in D.C.

     One of the main things the Wizards value in Boykins is his leadership and experience. And he’s looking forward to sharing his knowledge with the younger members of the Wizards’ team.

     “The biggest thing I can bring is knowledge. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, until you’ve been in this league, you don’t understand how to win basketball games,” Boykins said. “With a lot of young guys, they definitely have talent, and hopefully I can provide some leadership and direction out there on the court and help them finish basketball games.”

     The Bullets/Wizards franchise now have the distinction of having signed not only the two tallest players in NBA history (7-foot-7 centers Manute Bol and Gheorge Murasean) and now the two shortest players in league history (5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues, and 5-foot-5 Boykins).

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     In other Wizards news, Antawn Jamison did not practice today because he was sick, Mike Miller did do some things in practice and Flip said they will see how he feels tomorrow, and that there’s a possibility that he — like Jamison — could play on Saturday. Hopefully, for the Wizards sake, Miller and his team proceeds with care so he doesn’t rush back too soon and re-injure that shoulder.

     Randy Foye was able to jog some today, and he also could possibly see action Saturday if he continues to make the progress that he has from Tuesday to now.

     We were able to catch up with Randy today, as he wasn’t around after the game on Tuesday, to see exactly what happened on the injury, and how he feels. Here’s what he had to say:

    On how he feels now: “Did a little bit of jogging today. Just icing it down, getting treatment, take the game ready home and just been on and off that every 30 minutes.”

     On what happened and his first thoughts: “I don’t even know. I thought it was Caron’s foot. I came back to double team and he was getting ready to pass the ball. I jumped up, threw my arms up, they blew the whistle, turned my head, didtn look wehre I was landing and I came down on his foot and sprained my ankle.  

     “When it first happened, it hurt so bad, I didn’t know what it was going to be. I didn’t know what to expect from it. when I went to go get the X-rays, I was like, ‘aw man.’ to myself. Then I took it off. my shoe, it was swelling up, like a ball. then they got the x-rays and it was nothing. Just a sprain. If it was playoffs, I would’ve played.”

     The Wizards spent today’s practice working on improving their consistency and taking the steps needed to get back on the winning track. A lighter schedule, which features only two games in the next eight days will allow the Wizards to catch their wind after a tough early stretch, Flip Saunders believes, and hopefully the rest in between games and the returns of Jamison, Miller and maybe Foye, and the addition of Boykins will go a long way to curing the ills of this five-game losing streak.

     “This is the first time, we’ve been able to be home for two, three days in a row,” Flip said. “I told them, I dind’t want to see anyone in the gym yesterday, so we just stayed away, kind of regrouped. Take care of things they need to take care of. I went through the list, since we had training camp, 43 days ago, we’ve been on the road, sleeping in another bed 32 days. I’ve never seen anything like that.

     “They just need to get into a rhythm. I hope we can be able to do that, playing at home. Today was a mental practice, a lot of shooting. Tomorrow have a solid practice and get ready for Detroit.”

     One of the players who is trying to stay upbeat despite the early struggles is Caron Butler. Despite a rough early stretch — both individually and as a member of the Wizards — he remains confident that the ship will be righted very soon.

     The key? “Just remaining positive and continuing to chip away at it and work hard. Staying positive is the big thing,” Butler said. “Staying positive, staying together, keeping your head high and weathering the storm. I was in the house the other day and my wife was asking, ‘You’re walking around with a smile, how are you smiling?’ I’ve got to smile to keep from crying. You’ve got to stay positive, so we’re going to be alright.”

     Butler is averaging just 16.9 points a game (the lowest he’s put up in his four seasons in Washington) but also is averaging 7.9 rebounds (the most since coming to D.C.), but he seems to get lost in the offense, and hasn’t been much of a factor. It’s not what you’d expect when you have a two-time All-Star, and you’re without one of your workhorses. But that’s how it is. It’s like some times Gilbert Arenas forgets to look for him. Is it the system not fitting an attacking wing player like CB? Is it Butler not being comfortable in the system? Is it Arenas not looking out?

     This is something to keep an eye on.

     I asked Caron what the key is to getting more involved in the offense and about him seeming to become the forgotten man out there.

     Butler said for now, he’s not concerned, but to check back with him in about 12 games because everyone’s still learning on the fly.

     “I’m looking at the spots where I’m getting the ball, and it’s a new system,” Butler said. “I’ve been in one system for four or five years, and now I’m getting adjusted and more accustomed to another system. Once I realize what I can do in the spots that I’m in and having our guys whole and seeing what situation’s what, 20 games in, we’ll revisit this and see where it’s at.

     “It’s still early for everybody,” Butler added before stressing that the Wizards “have to continue to play together. It’s not going to be one individual making heroic plays to save us. That’s the type of team we have. We don’t need nobody to be extra spectacular, we just need everybody to stay together, stay on the same page and play together.”