- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It’s not often that a player uses the word “ecstatic” to describe leaving a playoff team to join a lottery team. A.J. Price did.

After the Indiana Pacers chose not to retain his rights, making him an unrestricted free agent, Price signed a one-year deal with the Wizards on Tuesday.

“I’m happy to be here,” Price said. “I think I’ll fit in. Looking at the roster, I see the back-up point, my position, was a need, so I think I’ll have the opportunity to come in and contribute right away.”

Price has been through his share of ups and downs in his three seasons in the NBA. Drafted in the second round by Indiana in 2009, Price has had few opportunities to prove himself. He’s been a backup to T.J. Ford, Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa and Earl Watson, and he never really fit in with former Pacers coach Jim O’Brien or current Pacers coach Frank Vogel.

From what he’s heard about coach Randy Wittman from former Wizards guard Mike James, he’s expecting a different experience in Washington.

“One thing he told me about coach Wittman is he’s a tough coach who’s going to let you play,” Price said. “That was important for me to hear. It’s exciting to know I’ll have more opportunities to play than I previously had.”

The 6-foot-2 guard from the University of Connecticut credits his college coach Jim Calhoun for teaching him the leadership skills he says are his best asset.

“On the court, I know how to play the game and play it the right way,” Price said. “I’m able to lead my team, lead my unit and knock down shots if I get the opportunity, so I’m excited.”

In three seasons with the Pacers, Price averaged 6.0 points, 2.0 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 150 games. Last season, Price averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 assists in a career-low 12.9 minutes.

“A.J. is an experienced and dependable player who fits in well with the mix of proven veterans and young players we have on our roster,” said Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld in a statement. “Adding him will help to bring depth to our backcourt rotation.”

Price also has firsthand knowledge of the Wizards’ struggles to remake the roster as they try to end their four-year run of lottery appearances.

“My first year in Indiana, we were fighting for the playoffs,” Price said. “I see a lot of similarities [to the Wizards]. We were a pretty young team with a couple of veteran guys here and there.

“We have the same thing here in Nene. He’s a veteran who’s been there. Now we’ve got a good mix of young and old and a lot of talent. We’ve just got to come together as a team and keep believing.”

Price doesn’t know Wall very well yet, but says he’s anxious to go up against him in practice, adding that they’ll both get better that way. Once the season starts, Price says he plans to play like he’s never played before.

“I dealt with it [being let go by the Pacers] by being professional,” Price said. “I was fortunate enough to come in this league behind veterans like Earl Watson and T.J. Ford. They helped groom me into being professional.

“I came to work with my head high everyday and did my job, whether I got the minutes or not. I think it helped me because it made me hungry, made me thirsty and want to get back to where I know I can be.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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