Highlights: Wizards 98, Cavaliers 91
A.J. Price returned to the Verizon Center on Tuesday for the first time since the end of last season. The point guard didn't believe it would take so long.
The Wizards signed Price to a one-year contract before the 2012-13 season for the role of John Wall's backup. That role morphed initially into a starting gig because of Wall's knee injury. Turned out that his role ended on April 17 in Chicago where Washington played its final game with Price ironically leading the team in scoring.
The team returned to D.C., the organization held exit interviews with players.
"I left here thinking I was coming back," Price said on Tuesday, back in the building where the five-year veteran had his best professional season. The engaging guard didn't return for kicks, but as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who sought backcourt depth this offseason.
So did the Wizards. They just sought it elsewhere. Asked if the team contacted him this offseason, Price said, "No, never did, which is kind of surprising. They're not entitled to at the end of the day."
Price may have thought he'd return to Washington after averaging 7.7 points and 3.6 - both career highs - and providing the locker room with an enthusiastic presence. That ended officially when the Wizards inked free agent Eric Maynor on the opening day of free agency.
"It just let me know they wanted to go in a different direction, just made it more evident," said Price, who made it clear there were "no hard feelings" from his end.
"This is a business. I know it's a cliché, said all the time, but it's a business. They didn't owe me anything. They gave me the opportunity to come in and play which I was grateful for. It's all I could ask for. They went in a different direction, which was a decision that was made."
It's not a decision that initially drew anger or anything more than a shrug from most pundits or fans. The Wizards were 4-28 with Wall sidelined last season. Price missed a chunk of that time with his own injury, but the Wizards offense labored during that stretch. That led to calls for a backup point guard upgrade this summer.
Apparently the Wizards' decision makers concurred. However Maynor's early season struggles have led to fewer minutes for him in recent games and a greater appreciation for Price's game on both ends of the court.
"I paid attention from the outside looking in," Price said when asked if how closely he followed the then 2-7 Wizards. "You always want to see how a former team is doing. I find it kind of surprising they started off as poor as they have so far.
"In terms of me, all I did was try to do the things I do. Be professional; bring what I bring to a team. What an organization does or what a GM does, that's his decision. ...I can control the things I have control over."
What he didn't have much control over was the free agency process. Despite his best efforts last season, the New York native didn't receive any significant contract offers before eventually latching on with Minnesota. Price earned his way onto the roster with a solid training camp as the backup for both Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea. He didn't play against the Wizards and or in eight of Minnesota's 12 games this season.
Asked if he was surprised on the lack of opportunities, Price said, "In this new collective bargaining agreement, it's been kind of difficult for certain level kind of guys to find a job. ... Surprised, a little bit, but definitely grateful that I did land somewhere. Ended up in a great situation here in Minnesota on a very good team so I'm happy about that."
That doesn't mean he's completely moved on from his Wizards past. Price caught up with his ex-teammates including Garrett Temple before the game.
"Any time you spend a year with guys, building a rapport, friendships, things like that it's always tough to walk away from."