- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Washington Wizards held the first two practice sessions of their summer league minicamp Saturday. For a squad that features a few veterans and 14 NBA long shots, the player with the most work ahead of him is Javaris Crittenton.

The guard, who’s entering his third season, is playing for his third team and learning his fourth system.

“He’s got probably the toughest job of any of the guys because I put a lot of pressure on point guards, initiating offense, initiating defense, understanding game management - in a lot of ways, like a quarterback as far as in football,” coach Flip Saunders said. “For him, he’s going to have days that he looks really good and days that he’s going to look really bad. But that’s part of his development, and what happens as he goes is those days of looking bad become fewer and farther between.”

Crittenton is heading into his second season with the Wizards, who acquired him in a November trade. After playing little with the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies, Crittenton gradually earned time as the Wizards’ injury-plagued season progressed, starting 10 games late in the season.

But with Gilbert Arenas now fully recovered from a knee surgery that robbed him of most of the past two seasons, Crittenton will return to his backup role. And after a trade with Minnesota that added Randy Foye to the depth chart at point guard, minutes will be harder to come by than last season. By the end of the year, the Wizards at one point had only two healthy point guards - Crittenton and Mike James.

Crittenton said adding Foye, who last season averaged 16.3 points and 4.3 assists, hasn’t created extra pressure for him this summer.

“I come into this with the same mentality regardless,” he said. “This trade hasn’t shook me up or made me do more. I came in this summer working hard, even before the trade. It definitely motivates me. … I’m going to keep working - not focusing on the backcourt being overcrowded or whatever.”

Since Washington hired Saunders in late April and added Sam Cassell to its coaching staff, Crittenton has reported to Verizon Center daily to improve his weaknesses, which included subpar ballhandling skills and an inconsistent jump shot. Cassell, who played 15 NBA seasons, also has worked to develop Crittenton’s feel for the game.

“He’s been teaching me his old moves,” Crittenton said. “He’s been teaching me the midrange and the mental aspects of being a point guard - not just speed and handling the ball, but how to set players up and understanding who’s hot.”

Crittenton said he’s looking forward to applying all of that when the Wizards begin summer league play Tuesday in Las Vegas. Assistant coach Randy Wittman will coach the team, but Saunders will also attend to watch for growth and development from Crittenton.

“I think he’s just learning management of the game from a point guard’s standpoint,” Saunders said. “Also understanding that his mark as a young player in order to create your time in games is you have to find a niche. And I think his could be defensive ability, similar to how Lindsey Hunter was early in his career, the way early on he earned his stripes and really made his mark by being a defensive player. I think we’ll be working with [Crittenton] to put pressure on the floor, pressuring the ball 94 feet and earning minutes that way.”

Notes - Third-year player Nick Young, who likely will start at shooting guard for the summer league team, missed Saturday morning’s practice with flulike symptoms, the team said. …

Second-year center JaVale McGee, the first option off the bench at center next season, said he has added 13 pounds to his 7-foot frame. He now weighs 250. …

Saunders said he has not concerned about juggling minutes next season for any of the Wizards’ seven guards. “I don’t manage minutes; they do,” he said. “Whoever can play, plays. If you can’t play, you don’t play. And the bottom line as a player in the idea of a team is understanding that.”

• Mike Jones can be reached at mjones@washingtontimes.com.

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