- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

And so Larry Hughes is where he often is, consigned to the bench while expressing dismay with the progress of his recovery from an injury.

As David Byrne put it years ago, “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same. As. It. Ever. Was.”

We would advise Hughes not to mimic Byrne’s chopping motion to the forearm out of fear of injuring another body part.

This is the Hughes who abandoned the franchise that allowed him to be all he could be to pursue the riches of the Cavaliers and a chance to be the caddy of LeBron James.

The question of his loyalty was muted because of the initial offer of Ernie Grunfeld, a modest proposal intended to be a clearing of the throat in the negotiating process.

Hughes could not accept that he was perceived to be a part-time player, perhaps because he was healthy at the time and under the illusion he would play 82 games this season, which he has achieved only once in his eight seasons in the NBA.

Injuries are his destiny, for whatever reasons, and one day he will discover that having a bloated contract and a penchant for injury are the elements that encourage a team to make a salary dump.

Hughes already has been rumored to be on the trading block in Cleveland, which is hardly surprising, given his contract, injury and precipitous drop in production following a career year with the Wizards.

Business is business, of course, and you cannot fault a player who jumps into the arms of a dollar-waving suitor, especially if the player has a family to feed.

But Grunfeld soon countered with an offer similar to the one by the Cavaliers, only by then Hughes was unprepared to evaluate what his loss of chemistry with Gilbert Arenas would mean to his career.

The departure of Hughes remains a local lament of sorts, the same cry issued in honor of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, who are in the process of leading the Trail Blazers to the college national championship.

Yet the hue actually misses the mark, for the Wizards used the money earmarked for Hughes to sign two effective players: Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels.

The Wizards are not where they were last season at this juncture, and they probably are staring at a .500 record and a first-round exit in the playoffs.

But that reality is not a commentary on the team’s additions, and it in no way shows last season’s Wizards were superior to this season’s version.

The Wizards remain stuck in a compromised state — a few games are negotiable either way — mostly because of the absence of a steady power player.

The Wizards lost to the Hornets on Monday night not just because David West hit a 20-footer at the buzzer. They also lost because the Hornets fashioned a 60-38 scoring advantage in the three-second lane.

The Wizards would not have been in the game with that kind of discrepancy if not for the 43 points of Gilbert Arenas.

Here is the obvious: Hughes provides no antidote for what curses the Wizards.

And it should be noted that after Hughes has completed his time in the NBA, his production last season probably will stand as the best of his career.

Hughes is getting paid in Cleveland, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We all should be so lucky to experience his kind of misfortune in life.

Yet his payout begets certain risks.

The salary cap is the bane of general managers forever looking to improve teams within a budget, the exception of Isiah Thomas and the Knicks duly noted.

The easy part is identifying a need. The hard part is fitting the need, if available, in a team’s salary cap.

Hughes is a worthy complement on a team, if only as an injury-prone No. 3 guy who is on pace to become an item in a trade that cleans up a team’s accounting stress.

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