- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Drew Gooden needed a place to work out while he was in Washington this winter, out of work after 11 years in the NBA.

The Wizards just happened to have a place for Gooden to work out at Verizon Center. So they gave the forward the keys to the place and said, “Go ahead. Just lock up when you’re done.”

Sometimes it pays to be nice.

Being nice paid off for Washington Monday night in Indianapolis when Gooden, with Nene in foul trouble, came off the bench and gave the Wizards 12 points on 5 of 11 shooting, and 13 rebounds in just 17 minutes as a major contributor to Washington’s 102-96 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Gooden is on the roster because Nene got in trouble this season — the typical Nene injury trouble—  and Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld is a nice guy.

When Nene went down with a sprained left knee ligament in late February and would be out for six weeks, the Wizards said we need someone to help fill the void. Where to look, where to look … hey, what about this guy working out at our place? He’s already here. He knows his way around the building.

So they signed Gooden to a 10-day contract.

“I have family that’s in town here, and I was visiting, and I had some opportunities to work out,” Gooden told me on my show “The Sports Fix,” with Kevin Sheehan on ESPN 980 radio. “The organization would give me the keys and let me work out in the practice facility.”

Gooden had been cut by the Milwaukee Bucks last July under the NBA dumb general manager program (known as amnesty) and, after 11 seasons with nine teams — 10 if you count the four days he previously spent with Washington in 2010 in one of those multi-team swaps of contracts — was out of a job when the season began.

The 31-year-old forward, still collecting on his five-year, $32 million contract from the Bucks, kept working out, hoping the phone would ring, but it didn’t. He had been the forgotten man until Nene went down and the Wizards found what they needed right under their nose.

“I think it’s just the old saying out of sight, out of mind,” Gooden said. “I knew if the team saw me work out a couple times and saw what kind of shape I was in, they would probably give me a shot.”

When they signed Gooden to a 10-day contract in February, Grunfeld said, “We will rely on all of our frontcourt players to step up and contribute as we go through this stretch without Nene. Signing Drew gives us size, shooting ability and experience to add to that mix.”

Maybe he knew it would give them a win in the opening game of the second round. Who knows? Every personnel button Grunfeld pushed this season hasn’t just worked — it’s worked beyond expectations, just like this Wizards squad.

The NBA is picking up its jaw after each Wizards performance, wondering, “Who are these guys?” TNT showed Pacers president Larry Bird sitting in the stands Monday night with a bewildered look on his face, maybe thinking, “Washington? I didn’t even know they had a team when I played in the league.”

Yes, the Wizards — then the Bullets — missed the Bird-Magic Johnson era. They missed the Michael Jordan era, at least the real one when he was with the Chicago Bulls, not the illusion of his two years in a Wizards uniform. They missed the Shaq-Kobe era, and the first 10 years of the LeBron era. But they have finally showed up for what may become the Bradley Beal era.

The 20-year-old led Washington with 25 points, with 14 of them coming in the fourth quarter. He is oblivious to the 35 years of wasteland this franchise walked through before he arrived.

“The way I think about it, I’m 20 years old, I’m playing in the playoffs, something I’ve always dreamed of. Why not embrace it?” Beal told reporters after the game. ”Why not accept the challenge and have fun with it? That’s all I’m doing — having fun.”

Having fun. Being nice. These are your Washington Wizards in 2014.

“It is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,” the philanthropist John Templeton once said.

It turned out it was important for the Wizards to be nice to Drew Gooden this winter.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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