SACRAMENTO — Drew Gooden would have understood his lot in NBA life if he had reached senior citizen status on the hardwood.
But when the veteran forward was cut by the Milwaukee Bucks in mid-July through the amnesty clause, he was still two months away from his 32nd birthday. And despite having spent most of his career as a productive player in the post (11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in 11 seasons) and a positive presence in the locker room, he remained unemployed until signing a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards in late February.
He's making up for lost time now, though, having since been signed through the rest of the season while reminding his new bosses and opponents alike that he's not done just yet. With the Wizards (35-32) on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Gooden has averaged 19 points and eight rebounds in his past three games and 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in his 10 games played since coming aboard.
"Since I got in the league, I've been involved in a lot of business decisions (as opposed to) basketball decisions, so this is one of the hardest ones, having to come in with my body of work and having to sign a 10-day deal," said Gooden, who is still being paid on the five-year, $32 million deal he signed with the Bucks in 2010. "I would never have thought of myself having to do that. But that was the route I had to do, and so be it."
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He only played 16 games last season because of injuries and the Bucks' youth movement, and the eight months between his release and joining the Wizards was more than enough time to plump up and fall out of shape. But Gooden made sure he was good to go.
"You could say it was 18 months of not really being in an NBA game," Gooden said. "It was a good time off for my body to recover, but you do a lot of soul searching during that time off. You're on your own schedule, so you have to work."
He did much of his training in Bethesda, Md., so close to the Wizards and their facilities yet still so far from his past basketball life. His girlfriend introduced him to hot yoga, which quickly became a regular part of his routine. His hardwood work took place at the University of Maryland.
"I just worked on my game, continued to shoot," Gooden said. "I shot the ball every day, to the point where I wasn't missing anymore. I knew that once I got an opportunity that whoever signed me was going to be happy with what they were getting."
As for the teams that didn't sign him? Gooden won't forget which ones they were any time soon.
"I've got a vendetta right now against all the other teams that overlooked me," he said. "I wanted to show them once I got an opportunity that I've got a passion and I love this game, and I wasn't going to go and leave my career like it was left last season in Milwaukee.
"So I fought, I stuck with it, did some soul searching and learned a lot about myself during that time, and it ended up working out for me."
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