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Is it Al Thornton time?


Yeah, I'm the guy who busted Boston for 24 points. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)


It's pretty easy to forget about Al Thornton since he barely was around long enough to make a difference for the Washington Wizards last season. He arrived in late February, had some great games followed by some disappearing acts, missed seven games late with a groin injury, then finished quietly.

The 6-foot-7 Thornton averaged 10.7 points in 24 games with the Wizards last season and is capable of playing at both forward positions, given his strength and physical style of play. But when next season begins, Thornton stands as the most likely candidate to start at small forward with most of the Wizards free agent targets already finding homes.

"It's a special opportunity for me to come in and prove myself," Thornton said earlier this month. "The starting spot is open and I'm down for the challenge."

Earlier this week, Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld seemed content entering the season with Thornton, Nick Young and possibly Yi Jianlian carrying the load at small forward. You also have to assume that Kirk Hinrich will get some time there if Coach Flip Saunders ever decides to go with a three-guard set with John Wall and Gilbert Arenas in the back court.

"We want to get minutes for the players that we currently have under contract," Grunfeld said. "And with players getting a lot of minutes in the backcourt, with Gilbert, John and Kirk, it's going to open up more opportunities for Nick to play there. So we feel that we are covered at that position. At the same time, we are going to keep looking around."

When the free agent recruiting period began on July 1, the Wizards reached out to the representatives for Josh Howard, Mike Miller, Josh Childress, Ryan Gomes, Travis Outlaw and Rasual Butler, believing that having a veteran wing player was important for the makeup of the team. But in the weeks that have followed, Miller decided to join LeBron James in taking his talents to South Beach (for five-years, $25-million), Childress went to Phoenix after a sign-and-trade deal with Atlanta (for five-years, $34-million) Gomes signed with the Clippers (three-years, $12-million), Outlaw moved to New Jersey (for five years, $35-million) and Butler, who snatched up Thornton's minutes last season with the Clippers, reportedly is heading back.


Don't worry about signing anybody, I got this. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Howard is the only initial target still seeking employment. He has stated that he would like to return to Washington after playing just four games for the Wizards following his trade deadline deal from Dallas. But Howard is in a difficult situation with him recently turning 30 and teams unsure about his left knee after having surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament a few months ago.

The Wizards were high on Thornton going into the 2007 NBA draft, but settled on Young when the Clippers took him two spots before. They were ecstatic about getting him in the three-way deal that sent Antawn Jamison to Cleveland. Thornton scored 21 points in his debut against Denver, stifling Carmelo Anthony in the fourth quarter. He had his best game as the Wizards nearly upset the eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics in March, when he roasted Paul Pierce for 24 points and 11 rebounds. But those performances were also mixed with some duds.

Thornton didn't participate in summer league with the Wizards, but he was around in Las Vegas, practicing with the team and working out on his own at Impact Sports facility a few blocks from the Strip. He contemplated making one cameo appearance with Wall when the Wizards faced his old team, but decided against it. "It wasn't worth it," said Thornton, still nursing some nagging injuries.

Thornton said his priority this summer has been working on his physique, believing that he took a step backward last season because of poor conditioning. After averaging 16.8 points and starting 67 games his second season, Thornton went from being a starter with the Clippers to nearly falling out of the rotation and then getting dealt at the trade deadline as the team attempted to clear cap room for a failed run at LeBron James.

"I'm trying to work on being in tip-top shape. I was a little out of shape last year and that was the main thing to work on my body, work on eating habits and making sure I'm in the best condition," Thornton said.

Thornton will need to be at his best since he will be a restricted free agent next summer.

The Wizards used the bulk of their salary cap space in trades to acquire Yi, Hinirch and draft pick Kevin Seraphin. They later added center Hilton Armstrong and now have 10 players under contract (it will be 11 whenever Seraphin completes a buyout agreement with his French team, Cholet).

They still have a qualifying offer out for Cartier Martin, who played well at summer league and is expected to get a training camp invitation. Lester Hudson is also likely going to audition for a spot when the team convenes in late September. The team rescinded a qualifying offer for Cedric Jackson last week, making him an unrestricted free agency. It is also still undecided about signing second-round pick Hamady N'Diaye.

"We're working on finalizing the last couple of spots on the roster," Grunfeld said. "We have a couple of months to do that. We're going to see which opportunities are available to us, which players are available to us and then we'll act accordingly.

"Cartier Martin played well for us in summer league and there are some other names that are still out there who may be able to help us," he said. "We'll bring in some more players before it's all said and done to bring in some more depth [at small forward]."



By Michael Lee  |  July 28, 2010; 2:21 PM ET
Categories:  Al Thornton  
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Next: JaVale McGee cut from Team USA [UPDATED]

Comments

I'd be fine with Big Al getting a chance to shine at SF, but my "official" vote went to Yi. I think he's talented enough and still young enough to make big strides this year, and Flip should give him every opportunity to do so, be it at the 3 or 4.

By the way, who's John Howard?

Posted by: BMoreChil | July 28, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

"I'm trying to work on being in tip-top shape. I was a little out of shape last year and that was the main thing to work on my body, work on eating habits and making sure I'm in the best condition," Thornton said."

Just imagine if this statement came from Blatche or Young. The Gods here will explode!

Posted by: Dave381 | July 28, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I think all of this talk about the 3 is interesting (would love to have Howard back if the price is right because of his proven upside). The Thornton/Howard combo would be nice. I'm not sold on NY at the 3, and obviously we all hope for good things from Yi but leopards don't often change their spots...

That said, Mike, this article SHOULD have been about the outrageous "thin-ness" (literally and figuratively) at the 5 position. We have one (exactly one) legit 5, and many on this board aren't even sold that he is a legit NBA 5 yet, but should be a backup. I want to see JaVale start and play heavy minutes in a "sink or swim" sort of way. Give him the starting role for the year and we'll know without a doubt by year's end whether we have a building block or a backup. That said, if all pans out with our guards and forwards, this team COULD (I didn't say would, but COULD) compete for a 7th or 8th seed in the East, and be young and exciting. UNLESS of course, JaVale gets hurt or stinks. I am really, really, really (yes, 3 of them) hopeful that this team has a plat at 5 that does not include the phrase "Hilton Armstrong is our backup at 5" nor "Andre Blatche is our backup at 5." This would be remarkably shortsighted.

Posted by: psdfx | July 28, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

plat, plan, whatever.

Posted by: psdfx | July 28, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Thorton "is capable of playing at both forward positions, given his strength and physical style of play."

Um, no. The Eddie Jordan Smallball Reign of Terror has ended.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | July 28, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Good one BMoreChil,

Cool name to; I assume you are from Baltimore. Smooth, I like it.


I think they are talking about Josh Howard and he's who I think should fill the SF/PF spot.

He's not a huge man but what I like about him is that we were winning with Josh before he got injured.

He came into a new system and threw-down.

Work a deal with him and keep this great basketball player in a Wizards uniform and we make a splash in the "Play-offs". We (the Wiz) have plenty of talent to maintain and develope chemistry with as Mr. Howard properly heals.

And please folks, stop bashing Gilbert. He is an All-Star and will not only make John Wall and Kirk better, but will provide protection for the young Mr. Wall against NBA bullies assigned to seek and destroy.

They can't key on Wall with Gilbert on the floor. Without Gil, I'd hate to see it.

Peace-out and keep the faith, Chef John

Posted by: upscalechef | July 28, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

All that player/roster talk...and not a single word about James Singleton? Or did I miss it?

I guess he's not wanted back, but you'd think something would have been reported.

Posted by: divi3 | July 28, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I thought Booker was being considered at SF. I have to think he'd be a better choice than Yi or Hinrich.

Posted by: djnnnou | July 28, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Divi - I agree. Where is Singleton on all the talk? Every team needs a player that do all the dirty works (rebound, screen, hustles and just put a body on player) ala Kurt Rambis and James fit that role to a t.

Posted by: Dave381 | July 28, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

With both Wall and Gilbert being ball dominant type players, you need a shooter. Al is a scorer and needs the ball to be effective. You need somebody who can play without the ball.

Posted by: G-Man11 | July 28, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Good post psdfx!

I don't think we have to worry about a center though.

Remember the Bull's won all those championships with a collection of bodies to throw at Shaq.

With our starting four (if it includes Josh Howard and Gil); any center would suffice, look at how Wall fed Javal the ball in Vegas, and all of our bigs are athletic.

Relax, every thing will be all right.

PS. Ernie, you are the greatest!, keep up the good work. And I thank you Sir.

All of you good folks out-there... Please ignore the nay-sayer's and player-haters and keep working hard toward "your" goals. Together; we can make the world a better place. By the way, I am going to end-world-hunger.

John

PS. Sorry I mis-spelled {develop} wrong in my other post. The funny thing is I am a Developer. Peace!

Posted by: upscalechef | July 28, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

javale got cut from team USA

Posted by: lilhollywood10 | July 28, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

does anyone know if they have the cap room or an exception to sign howard? No one ever writes about that...its also predictable...if possible the wiz sign him to a 1 year deal at the mid level...he plays great and then we lose him...not that i am a cynic

Posted by: IZZY3 | July 28, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Thornton played fantastic defense on Carmelo in the win over Denver at Verizon Ctr and he locked down Paul Pierce in the big win up in Boston too.

I like the way he embraces the big challenge and never seems to back down from a little trash talk either.

He will also benefit from playing alongside John Wall and should see solid numbers across the board.

Keeper.

Posted by: elfreako | July 28, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

All that player/roster talk...and not a single word about James Singleton? Or did I miss it?

I guess he's not wanted back, but you'd think something would have been reported.
Posted by: divi3

I haven't heard a peep about him. My guess is that they would rather give those minutes this year to guys like Booker, Seraphin, Yi, etc. It's a shame (and a little bit surprising) that he hasn't caught on with someone yet. He provided good value as a backup 4 last year.

Pending any other signings (incl Cartier Martin), it looks like AT, Yi, Young and Booker will all get some time at the 3, probably partly depending on the matchup. AT and Booker can match up better physically with guys like Melo, where Nick might do better with quicker 3's. Given all the guys they're trying to look at, I'd be a little surprised (depending on matchups) if they played Hinrich significant minutes at the 3.

Posted by: ts35 | July 28, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

The Wiz should sign Tmac. He has something to prove and the Wiards need a more all round player to play than Al Thornton who is a good energy alternative off the bench.

Posted by: jrwalkerivory | July 28, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Dave381,

I agree. If Blatche or Young were to show that type of committment they would truly be considered professionals. And if they're not careful, they just might learn how to play basketball.

Posted by: carterm1 | July 28, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to mention Big Al!

Yes, we need Al too.

Thank you, John

Posted by: upscalechef | July 28, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I like this cat

He has certain, 'enthusiasms...enthusiasms'

Posted by: kahlua87 | July 28, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Al can play, and I hope he does well.

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | July 28, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

does anyone know if they have the cap room or an exception to sign howard? No one ever writes about that...its also predictable...if possible the wiz sign him to a 1 year deal at the mid level...he plays great and then we lose him...not that i am a cynic

Posted by: IZZY3

Pending signing Seraphin, and maybe Martin and NDiaye, the Wiz I believe are $9M under the cap. Seraphin will eat up about $3M of that, Martin and Ndiaye not more than $1M combined I wouldn't think. So that leaves about $4M (very fuzzy math) a year to sign Howard if they choose to.

I'm on the fence about Howard. I liked the energy he brought, but I question where his knee will be at this year. If they do sign him, I would hope they could structure it to give themselves some injury protection, like maybe only a portion is guaranteed, and if he plays X amount of games it becomes fully guaranteed or something like that (if the current CBA allows for that).

Posted by: ts35 | July 28, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

2010 has been a great year for DC sports! Full of great plays, greater stories, and loads of young, promising talent, there is plenty to celebrate in our Nation’s Capital. Want to join the celebration? Log on to www.Sneakerball.org and vote for the Fan Choice Awards including solid character, play of the year, and more! Wizards Fans, let’s Get Into The Game!!

Posted by: alinkins | July 28, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

with both Yi and thornton playing for the next contract, I believe at least one of them will step it up.

However, I voted for John Howard, b/c I've never heard of him, so his contract shouldn't be too bad.

I am glad that Michael Lee read my posts from two days ago when I was asking who we had signed, whether anything was finalized with Seraphin and how many spots we had left and who was in line to fill them out.

So, all those questions answered...thanks Mike.

Posted by: Blurred | July 28, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Agree with ts about Josh Howard. I'm not necessarily wanting a Howard signing because I think we are in terrible shape at the 3, but rather because he could be a steal (see Blatche's contract) as we'd be buying low. It is a good risk/reward if we can get him for a reasonable deal.

In the same way, I would HATE to sign TMac. There is no upside left. Even IF he plays well for a year or two, and is injury free, we need to building a roster now with a view to a couple of years down the road. TMac is a right now signing, and (even if he helped in the very short term) I'd hate it.

Posted by: psdfx | July 28, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Wasnt there a post just a week ago with Blatche pretty much saying the same stuff. And yet the man still can't get a break from fans.

Posted by: wizravterp | July 28, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

From the poll:

Re-sign "John" Howard?

You mean former Australian Prime minister and friend of Dick Cheney? I don't think he would do much for the Wizards.

Josh Howard, on the other hand, could be a good addition for some teams at the right price. In the case of the Wizards though, I can see an argument for working with Thornton, Young, and Jianlian and seeing if one (or two) fit with the Wizards long-term plans.

Posted by: JPRS | July 28, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Thornton and Yi have no idea how to play, and they're too old to learn now. Same with Young, who is way undersized for the position. I'd just re-sign Josh Howard for one year. He was great with the Wiz last year, and we could get him at a bargain basement price. I know we're rebuilding and he's 30, but we could always trade him at the deadline to a contender.

Posted by: Dellis2010 | July 28, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

The Wiz should sign Tmac. He has something to prove and the Wiards need a more all round player to play than Al Thornton who is a good energy alternative off the bench.

Posted by: jrwalkerivory | July 28, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

why didn't the wiz give gerald green a look? Tmac type game at 1/10 the price and no bad back/heart. The kid has a lil NY with him, being that he hasn't cracked any rotation since he was drafted, but he can play tho.

Posted by: lilhollywood10 | July 28, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I agree with BMoreChil regarding starting Al Thornton. Much as I like Josh Howard, at this point that bum knee of his is just too big a question mark. Signing him now would be like carrying around a small pet bear. The last guy the Wizard signed with questionable knees has yet to play a full season. He went from looking like a beauty queen to looking like a 1780's plantation housewife.

Posted by: Deacon523 | July 28, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

He went from looking like a beauty queen to looking like a 1780's plantation housewife.

Posted by: Deacon523

Not even sure what that means. Fairly certain I don't want to know. But Shaun Livingston is the last guy the Wizards signed with questionable knees. Not sure that's who you meant.

Posted by: ts35 | July 28, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I think this article was meant for Josh Howard, not Al Thorton. Thorton is not 30.

Posted by: ajb1094 | July 28, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"I'm trying to work on being in tip-top shape. I was a little out of shape last year and that was the main thing to work on my body, work on eating habits and making sure I'm in the best condition," Thornton said."

Just imagine if this statement came from Blatche or Young. The Gods here will explode!

I think Dray has said things like this last season and this season.

Posted by: SDMDTSU | July 28, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

why didn't the wiz give gerald green a look? Tmac type game at 1/10 the price and no bad back/heart. The kid has a lil NY with him, being that he hasn't cracked any rotation since he was drafted, but he can play tho.

Posted by: lilhollywood10 | July 28, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

The bold explains the italic. LOL

Posted by: SDMDTSU | July 28, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

I think that James Singleton is sort of in limbo right now. He is probably looking for some options and I think that if the Wiz sign a SF and Seraphin comes over, Singleton will not be kept.

On the other hand the Wiz would probably make him an offer if one of those two things does not happen.

I also don't know where this "[The team] is also still undecided about signing second-round pick Hamady N'Diaye" talk is coming from. I would be very surprised if the Wizards do not sign him. I think the real talk is whether or not to have him active. The do not really have any better use for their inactive spots beyond #12. Might as well sign Hamady and send him down to the D-League for some seasoning. Makes alot of sense for a guy with so little playing experience.

Posted by: SportzWiz | July 28, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Thornton is the most natural fit for the SF position we have on the roster at the moment.

Most likely starting 5 for the upcoming season:

JW - PG
GA - SG
AT - SF
AB - PF
JM - C


That's an athletic starting 5, but I don't like the ball movement potential there.

Posted by: rphilli721 | July 28, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I'd have Al start at 3 with NY backing him up. AB would start at 4 and then have Yi back him up. I have no idea who would start at the 5 b/c there is no true 5 on the team.

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | July 28, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

What about Trevor Booker?
With Wall, Arenas, Booker, Blatche and McGee, the Wizards could run other teams off the floor!

Posted by: skinz_man | July 29, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Nick Young is a kick anybody butt guard, except to the Wizards. So he's set up to be overmatched and critizied as a forward. Similar to Javale McGee with no NBA beef of aid. Please be Wizard like and give Josh Howard 4 million and Hilton Armstrong an NBA job. Al Thornton also fit the hopeless.

Posted by: CTaylor42 | July 30, 2010 5:49 AM | Report abuse


Al Thronton is a really good player and I wouldn't be surprised if he is a starter. I think the biggest difference in Al and Josh is that Josh has more range in his shot while Al is more an inside player. Josh Howard most likely won't be ready for the start of the season but when he returns, I'd expect Howard to win the starting spot

Cartier Martin deserves to be on the Wiz team. He's proven he's a solid player and can hit an outside shot which is what the Wizards current lacks on this squad. Who knows, he could be a low budget Roger Mason Jr....lol

Posted by: rcnasa | August 2, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

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