Two months ago, the Wizards parted ways with Shelvin Mack largely because their 2011 second-round pick lacked point guard experience. In light of John Wall's injury, the decision-makers believed having seasoned hands on deck was the best course of action.
Two months later Mack has played heavy minutes in the NBA's Developmental League, picking up lead guard knowledge and his overall play while keeping his spirits high. The Wizards were paying close attention. Now Mack is back, his return announced officially on Christmas Day along with fellow D-Leaguer Garrett Temple. Even if not the ideal path, talk about your silver linings playbook.
"It might not have been an opportunity that we all would want - we all would want to be in the NBA from start to finish," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "The opportunity was presented to both of them to help their development by going to the D-League and both of them took advantage of it to the fullest."
Since his release, Mack played 11 games this season with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League, averaging 19.7 points and a D-League best 7.5 assists in 40.7 minutes per contest.
"I was just hoping a call would come soon," Mack said. "I knew the way I was playing I was going to eventually get a call up. I'm glad it happened to be here, someplace I'm familiar with."
Both players received Christmas holiday plan altering phone calls on Saturday from Wizards VP of Basketball Administration Tommy Sheppard.
"He called me on the 22nd and told me I hope I'm not ruining your Christmas but we have practice on Christmas Day and we want you up here," said Temple, who is joining his sixth different NBA team and doing so for the first time without a 10-day contract. "And I said 'that's the present I wanted.'"
Terms of both player's contracts were undisclosed, though Temple confirmed he signed a non-guaranteed contract.
Despite just being called-up, Wittman said both players have a legitimate opportunity for playing time. Such is the state of the Wizards backcourt.
"Right away, we're going to find out," the coach said following Tuesday's practice as the Wizards prepare for Wednesday's home game against Cleveland. "Obviously Shelvin has a better understanding of what we're... For the first day they didn't struggle to bad."
For this year's Wizards, not struggling to bad is saying something.
Roster slots opened up after the Wizards released guard Shaun Livingston and center Earl Barron just hours after Washington to Detroit on Saturday, the 3-22 team's seventh straight defeat. Asked about the timing, Wittman said, "I'm not happy with our guard play. Plain and simple. We've got to get better. I don't know how else to put it."
Since A.J. Price fractured his hand on Dec. 8, the Wizards suspect offense has turned even more erratic. The recently jammed schedule did not help matters nor did it offer enough potential practice time for any new additions until this weekend, Wittman said.
The Wizards backup point guard position has been an off-key version of musical chairs over the opening 25 games, starting with the team keeping veteran Jannero Pargo over Mack out of training camp.
"Experience I think is what we were mainly looking at at that time with John’s injury and A.J. being fairly young, too," said Wittman, who also cited Pargo's shooting range as a factor.
Then seven games into the season, the Wizards replaced Pargo with Livingston. Despite being the only true point guard on the roster following Price's injury, Livingston's minutes and production were limited, leading to less than ideal heavy minutes for Jordan Crawford in that role - and the latest roster shakeup.
Now the team has gone full circle by bringing back the solidly built - and understanding Mack, who attempted to learn the lead guard role as rookie without an NBA training camp. The former Butler star averaged 3.6 points, 2.0 assists, and 12.2 minutes in 64 games as a rookie, but proved inconsistent running the offense. Those struggles continued during the subsequent Las Vegas Summer League.
"They just wanted to go with more of a veteran point guard at that time which is understandable," the 6-foot-3 Mack said about his pre-season release. "With John being out you wanted a guy with more experience to try and win some ballgames.
"I didn't have enough experience, I got released. And the best situation for me to get that experience was to go to the D-League. I was able to play 40-plus minutes a night and get that experience. They're still having problems with the point guard situation. I feel I have that experience now to come back and just continue to grow as a player."
Growth is exactly what Wittman saw from both players during their recent D-League stints.
"[The way] Shelvin put up and how he played was impressive," Wittman said. "Same with the Garrett. A lot of guys go down there and out and mope, 'woe is me, this isn't fair', and then they stay there or are out of the league. So, it's a credit to them. I told Shelvin I didn't bring him back up here because I knew him, because he was here but also because of what he did while he was down there. That's a credit to them."
Undrafted out of LSU in 2009, the 26-year-old Temple previously played 51 games with five teams including two stops in San Antonio. Playing with the Reno Bighorns, he 14.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists. The 6-foot-6 Temple's presence should help on the defensive end where of late "we really started getting broken down there," Wittman said.