- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — As a player who led Maryland to its first NCAA title in 2002, Juan Dixon spent the next three years as a — perhaps the — crowd favorite for Washington Wizards fans.

Which is why it was such a shock to Dixon to feel so unloved by the Wizards. When it came time to pony up an offer to the unrestricted free agent guard at the end of his third year in Washington, Dixon never heard a peep from the team, which acquired guards Chucky Atkins and Antonio Daniels in the offseason.

“I didn’t feel as though they had me in their plans,” Dixon said last night before his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, played the Philadelphia 76ers. “It was always like I was on the back burner. It was almost like I always had to show them what I could do and what I was capable of doing. I felt like I had to prove myself every day. I wanted to go somewhere where I was wanted. And I feel as though I was wanted [in Portland]. I liked [Wizards general manager Ernie] Grunfeld, but I didn’t feel like I was in his plans.”

The trouble was, he didn’t quite seem to fit in the Trail Blazers’ plans either. Portland had a new coach in Nate McMillan, and it was pretty clear he had a trio of backcourt prodigies in Sebastian Telfair, Martell Webster and Jarrett Jack.

With such a wealth of talented young guards, McMillan was torn about whether he should bring in Dixon and his former Terrapins and Wizards running mate, Steve Blake. However, McMillan, who coached at Seattle last season and garnered some coach of the year votes, knows relying on potential can get a coach fired.

So McMillan and his staff decided to sign Dixon to a three-year deal worth approximately $9 million — and haven’t regretted the decision one bit.

“He is fearless,” McMillan said. “He plays with an attitude. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he knows he can play the game. He’s a guy with that Baltimore attitude who is not afraid of the guys with big names. He goes right at them, and I like that. It’s arrogance, but it’s a good arrogance.”

Going into last night’s game, Dixon was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging a career-best 10.0 points. Dixon also is shooting the ball better from both the field (42.7 percent) and from beyond the 3-point arc (40.9 percent) than at any point in his career.

“We’ve been trying to play our young guys, but when you have a veteran playing like that, you can’t sit him down,” McMillan said. “We want to see Martell and Jarrett play, but what do you do? He has taken minutes from our young guys.”

Blake has not been so lucky. While Dixon usually is the first guard off the bench, Blake has appeared in just two games and has played only 22 minutes this season. Chances are he won’t play tonight unless the game is a blowout.

Before Blake signed with Portland, McMillan told him he would be coming into training camp on equal footing with the other guards, including Dixon. McMillan acknowledged, however, that the draft status of Telfair and Jack, both first-round picks, meant the organization had to give them a chance to show they can play. Telfair earned the starting point guard spot, and Dixon and Jack have been splitting minutes lately.

“Sebastian and Jack had pretty good camps, and what I told Blake was that they had to play themselves out of the rotation,” McMillan said. “We think that Sebastian is a starter and that Jack is a backup. Blake, I thought, was just a little too tentative. I haven’t lost confidence in him. I’m still waiting for an opportunity to play him.”

Blake understood he didn’t play well enough early to earn a spot in the rotation but believes he is playing better now. And he hasn’t given up.

“Things change. Things can happen,” Blake said. “It’s a long season. The opportunity was there for me in the beginning. But who knows? I could end up playing a lot toward the end of the season or sooner. So I’m just working and staying positive.”

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