- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

As a rookie, John Wall’s arsenal featured Yi Jianlian as the first big man off the Washington Wizards‘ bench.

Yi, 26, left the NBA two years later for China.

DeJuan Blair, a recruit of Wall’s who will compete to be the first big off the bench for the Wizards this season, figures to be talented enough to earn a roster spot in the league two years from now.

SEE ALSO: John Wall to Dion Waiters: Make playoffs, become a starter before you talk

“[Blair is] only 6-foot-6, but he does everything like he’s 6-10,” Wall said. “He can rebound. He screens. He can make floaters. He does the dirty work — the stuff that you need. And that’s a great player to add to our team to make our big men even deeper.”

If Blair didn’t try to be a man of his word, he would’ve deepened the Wizards‘ bench last season.

Blair became friends with Wall even before Washington drafted the point guard No. 1 in 2010. They share the same agent, Dan Fegan. When Blair entered free agency in 2013, he wanted to sign with the Wizards — largely to play alongside Wall, who shared the sentiment.

“We tried to get [Blair] last year and things didn’t work out,” Wall said, “so then this year, it happened again, and we definitely wanted him to come here.”

Things didn’t work out last year because of Mark Cuban. He and Blair are Pittsburgh natives, and the Dallas Mavericks’ owner used their roots to convince Blair to commit to them — the day before Blair met with Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld.

“I was literally about an hour away from committing to [the Wizards],” Blair said, “but I had actually committed to Dallas already, so I didn’t want to really [recant] my words. … It was just a crazy weekend. It was a two-day thing: I talked to Cuban one day, and then Ernie the next day. It was all wild.”

Blair started 13 games for Dallas last season. He averaged 6.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game — numbers lower than those in his first three seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. His field goal percentage of 53.4 would’ve made him the third-most efficient shooter on the Wizards last season behind only starting center Marcin Gortat and reserve big man Trevor Booker, who signed with the Utah Jazz this summer.

But as Blair said this week, “It all worked out.” He agreed to a sign-and-trade from the Mavericks to Wizards in July.

“[Joining the Wizards] was just something I wanted, I should’ve did last year,” he said. “I always wanted to come back to the east. I’m from Pittsburgh, so playing here with Pitt [nearby] and everything, it’s just a good fit.”

So is his new home court, albeit in a small sample size.

In 2009, Blair racked up 20 points and 17 rebounds at Verizon Center, leading Pittsburgh to a 70-54 win over Georgetown. The Wizards could’ve drafted him 32nd overall that June, but instead selected Jermaine Taylor and traded him to the Houston Rockets for cash.

If the Wizards had picked Blair, though, he wouldn’t have five years of postseason experience, which could be valuable to a team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008. The recent additions of Andre Miller at the trade deadline and Paul Pierce in free agency also added experience in this department — moves that gave Blair yet another incentive to sign.

“Just seeing everybody come here: see Paul, see they got Andre. I got connections with all these players,” Blair said.

Four years — and numerous upgrades to Wall’s arsenal — later, and Yi is far from the only member of the 2010-11 Wizards who couldn’t crack this team’s rotation.

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