Wizards fans might already love A.J. Price for his ability to mess with former Indiana Pacers teammate Tyler Hansbrough while on the bench.
Per the speculation that Truth About It.net reported on from Las Vegas, the Washington Wizards have officially signed A.J. Price to boost their depth at point guard.
“I think I’ll fit in. Looking at the roster, I can see the backup point guard position was a need,” said Price in a conference call with D.C. media on Tuesday afternoon. “I think I got the opportunity to come in and play, contribute right away. I know my role as a player in this league. I know my job. I’m more than willing to come in and do the best of my ability.”
Again, the decision to sign Price — set to turn 26-years-old in October with only three NBA seasons and 150 regular season games under his belt — is not so much an indictment of 2010 second-round pick Shelvin Mack. Although Mack didn’t impress team officials with his ability to run a team during the summer league, his experience and cool demeanor means the franchise will still invest in his development.
The signing of Price is more of an indication of reality; a reality in which the Wizards, if they want to be in playoff contention, needed one more guard with a little bit more experience to complement John Wall, Mack, Jordan Crawford, and Bradley Beal.
What Price lacks in shooting (his eFG% went from .494 as a rookie to .420 as a sophomore to .414 last season), he makes up in steadiness. His 2.69 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked tied (with Jarret Jack and Ty Lawson) for 16th-best amongst NBA guards who appeared in at least 30 games last season. (To note: Mack had an AST/TO ratio of 2.73 and a 27.1% assist percentage to Price’s 26.4%.)*
“I believe my biggest asset to any team is my leadership on and off the court — starts in practice and carries over into games,” Price said on Tuesday. “I’ve always been that since college. Coach [Jim] Calhoun instilled that in me to be a leader as a point guard.”
When asked where (or from whom) he’s been able to hone his skills as an NBA point, Price said, “I think that comes just from knowing the game and watching the game, experiencing it yourself, just playing. No one I can necessarily say in the league that has taught me.
“I’ve just watched great players over a period of time, I guess. Chauncey Billups is my favorite player who I’ve talked to on the court here and there, but just from watching the game, knowing how to play the game, that’s just how I know how to play.”
The questions will certainly be asked: Why sign Price now when more options could make themselves available? Why not sign someone more veteran?
It comes down to cost. With the amnestying of Andray Blatche, word is that Ted Leonsis has been hesitant to give Wizards brass the approval to use an exception, such as the mid-level exception or room exception, to ink a veteran who might provide more substantial contribution, but who would almost certainly cost more.
“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 team president Ernie Grunfeld via Wizards press release. ”Adding him will help to bring depth to our backcourt rotation.”
Price said he spoke with former Wizard Mike James, also from Price’s hometown of Amityville, NY, about what it’s like to play for Randy Wittman. (James played under Wittman, sporadically, after Wittman took over as interim head coach for Minnesota in 2007, and under Wittman as an assistant to Flip Saunders in Washington from 2009 to 2010.)
“The one thing he told me about Coach Wittman, he said he’s a tough coach, but he’ll let you play, going to let you play the game,” said Price. “That was important for me to hear, to know that his style of coaching was like that. And I’ve heard that from other players as well. It’s a good feeling going into opportunity knowing where I have a chance, still knowing I have to compete and do what I need to do to solidify my spot, but it’s exciting to know that I’ll be having more of an opportunity than I previously had.”
Price was a valued backup with the Indiana Pacers last season, but fell out of the rotation in favor of Leanadro Barbosa and Lance Stephenson down the stretch. His average minutes went from 15.7 in February to 13.6 in March to 12.2 in April. He played a total of seven postseason minutes for Indiana, appearing in just four of their 11 playoff games.
“It’s made me hungrier, it’s made me thirsty again,” said Price of his experience last season in Indiana. ”It’s made me want to get back to where I know I can be, so that’s what I plan to do this year: I plan to play like I’ve never played before.”
The Washington Post’s Michael Lee reports that Price has agreed to a one-year deal (terms not disclosed), which would fit with the Wizards’ plan of cost-effective flexibility. Word is that John Lucas III, who was previously on the Wizards’ radar but appears set to sign with the Toronto Raptors, was seeking a two-year deal worth $3-6 million total.
Shaun Livingston (still under contract with the Houston Rockets, but once rumored to be under consideration for waivers) and Keyon Dooling (a 12-year veteran) were both high on the Wizards’ radar. However, Livingston’s availability was mostly contingent on Dwight Howard’s movement, which now appears to be dormant, and Dooling likely wants more of a role (and more of a shot at a championship ring) than Washington was able to offer.
So, considering the environment, the team was unwilling to wait. They went and got their target. Your newest Washington Wizard: A.J. Price.
NOTE: Price’s mother, Inga, played point guard at Morgan State; his father, Tony, played on the 1979 Penn Quakers Final Four team that lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State — Tony also saw five games with the NBA’s San Diego Clippers in 1980-81. “A.J.” stands for “Anthony Jordan,” as his mother once told the Los Angeles Times, ”I wanted to name him after the two greatest basketball players alive. That’s his daddy and Michael Jordan.”
[* stats via NBA.com/stats]