- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

General manager Wes Unseld has been itching to get combo guard Larry Hughes in a Washington Wizards uniform for the better part of two years. Yesterday Unseld's wish became reality.

The Wizards formally introduced Hughes, 23, at an MCI Center news conference. Unseld joked that he loathed the tradition of posing for a photo with a newly signed player but beamed as he handed Hughes his No.20 jersey.

Unseld, intrigued by the 6-foot-5 Hughes' versatility, had tried to pry him from the Golden State Warriors several times over the last two seasons. After Hughes became a free agent this offseason, Unseld reeled him in with a three-year contract. Hughes will get $4.5million this season and receive 10-percent raises in each of the next two seasons.

"[Hughes] can play the one and the two we know he can do that and even the three," Unseld said. "There was a time when guys played basketball and did just that play basketball. We didn't label them or lock them into positions. We're trying to give the coaches as much versatility as we can."

Hughes, who has career averages of 13.3 points and 4.1 rebounds, said he seriously considered signing with only three teams the Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves although he was contacted by several others.

"I wanted to make it back to the Eastern Conference and wanted to get around an organization and a team focused on winning," Hughes said. "It's great to feel like you're wanted. Mr.Unseld made me feel like I was top priority, like he wanted me here, and I wanted to be here, so it was a good fit."

The fit is mutually beneficial as Hughes joins first-round picks Jared Jeffries and Juan Dixon and second-year players Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood to form a solid young core.

"We've added another big guard who can play two positions. We're quicker, bigger more athletic, more versatile so we're very happy about that," coach Doug Collins said. "You add another young guy, another piece, and we continue to grow."

Hughes, college basketball's 1997-98 consensus freshman of the year, bolted Saint Louis University after his first season and was drafted No.8 overall by Philadelphia. Although his talent and scoring ability are unquestioned, he has struggled with the switch to point guard.

Hughes played shooting guard for most of his first three seasons before Golden State attempted to convert him to the point alongside rookie shooting guard Jason Richardson last season an experiment that sputtered to say the least.

Richardson flourished but Hughes, who averaging 12.3 points and 4.3 assists to 2-plus turnovers, didn't as Golden State stumbled to a league-worst 21-61 record. Rookie Gilbert Arenas played most of the minutes at point guard at season's end, making Hughes expendable.

"Things started out well in Golden State and things didn't work out the way I wanted, but that helped me become a better player," Hughes said. "I accepted [the point guard] role and thought I did a pretty good job, but it didn't work out."

The 76ers' experiment with Hughes at point guard next to Allen Iverson didn't work either, which led to a midseason 1999-2000 trade to the Warriors. The positive side is that Hughes is only 23 and perhaps can still grow into the position.

Hughes has carved a reputation as an extremely athletic scorer who excels in slashing to the basket. When he gets hot, he can light up a defense in a hurry.

"He's a combo guard and I want him to be able to play both positions," Collins said. "We don't play with a point guard. We have a lot of guys who can handle the ball out here now. We want to be versatile and he gives us that."

Hughes' one weakness is a suspect jumper; he shot a woeful 19.4 percent from 3-point range last season and has never shot better than 24.3 percent in a season from long range, a glaring deficiency for a shooting guard. Hughes said he doesn't consider the 3-pointer a big part of his game, but he has been working with shooting coach Chip England this summer in Orlando, Fla., to improve.

Hughes' addition means the Wizards have a glut of true shooting guards on the roster with Richard Hamilton, Juan Dixon and Hubert Davis. The Wizards want Dixon and Hughes to play some point guard, where incumbents Chris Whitney and Tyronn Lue are already entrenched.

"Now you can put him and Rip [Hamilton] out on the perimeter together," said Collins. "We feel like he was one of the top free agents on the market. He can play with a lot of different guys, and I like that about him."

Unseld said he likely will pursue a trade before the start of the season one that would probably move a guard but also said the six-guard rotation could work and a trade is not a necessity.

Staff writer John N. Mitchell contributed to this report

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