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Posted at 12:06 AM ET, 03/ 2/2011

After rough season in Washington, Al Thornton expected to sign with Golden State

By Michael Lee

Did I really get hurt again? (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

It's a shame that the Wizards couldn't have reached a buyout agreement with Al Thornton on Sunday, because it sure would've been hilarious to have him suiting up for the Golden State Warriors when they come to Verizon Center on Wednesday. As it stands, Thornton can simply hop on the team plane when the Warriors leave town.

Two league sources confirmed that Thornton intends to sign with the Warriors when he clears waivers on Thursday, after the Wizards waived the curiously inconsistent small forward after attempts to trade him at the deadline proved to be futile. A few hours after his release, Thornton moved on via Twitter:

"I wanna thank the Wiz organization for the opportunity and the fans for ur support. It was a mutual agreement on both parties! I wish the WiZards the best moving foward. Thanks again Dc."

Considering how this season began, it's no surprise that Thornton's time with the Wizards ended on such a sour note. He had plenty of opportunities, but he also had hard luck, which began during training camp, when Thornton was hit by a car while walking around the George Mason campus.

The starting small forward position was his to lose and Thornton simply let it slip from his grasp until it eventually fell out of reach. Thornton admitted that he had no one to blame but himself, but he couldn't hide his displeasure as the Wizards continued to lose games and his minutes and production declined.

Thornton's agent, Bill Duffy, explained that the struggles of his client were rooted largely in his misfortune with injuries. When Gilbert Arenas faked a knee injury in the preseason, Coach Flip Saunders planned on starting Thornton at small forward, but Thornton was out with a sprained left ankle and Nick Young got the nod.

After he proved himself to be the hardest worker through training camp, he started the first six games and had some thrilling performances, but suffered an abdominal strain that disrupted his progress. His scoring declined in each month and could never get a breakthrough, just more bad breaks. He dislocated his right finger in early February, came back and then sprained his ankle once again. Up, down and down again.

"He's had these nicks and bruises and he's a very physical, athletic player. I think that kind of affects his fabric, in terms of his approach. I think that's been the biggest factor," Duffy said. "I think most of it is the health issues, and the transition has been a bit challenging."

You can call me Al, but you can't call me a Wizard. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Thornton was never a good fit in Washington, since Saunders's offense usually requires the small forward to spread the floor, being a catch-and-shoot wing, or playing solid perimeter defense. Thornton was a slasher who needed to dribble to create his shots and he could rarely be counted on to provide aggression on the defensive end. When Josh Howard returned from injury and Rashard Lewis arrived in the Gilbert Arenas trade, Thornton was pushed aside and even out of mind, as he received a DNP-Coach's Decision in a blowout win over Indiana.

Saunders explained why Thornton had fallen out of the rotation by explaining, "He's had chances." Unlike Young, Thornton didn't take advantage. He may not have been the best option for Saunders, but might flourish with the Warriors, who have a more wide-open, free-flowing offense.

Thornton has an awkward playing style and his shots never looked good upon release, but still shot a very respectable 47.1 percent and rarely wasted his time trying to shoot three-pointers. He showed that occasional explosiveness, such as when he dunked all over Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia. But those moments were too rare, or rather, too unreliable for him to keep his spot.

Thornton was a great guy to be around, always personable and approachable. He also had a great sense of humor. When the Wizards were preparing to face the Cleveland Cavaliers for what many had billed as the Toilet Bowl, Thornton joked that he would retire if they lost the game to a team that had, at the time, lost 26 in a row. "That'd be it," he said. "I'd walk in here and say, 'Basketball's been good to me, but...I'm done.' "

Grunfeld said Thornton was "a great guy." But Thornton was not a part of the Wizards' future plans. The Wizards are getting younger and, although he is just in his fourth year, Thornton isn't particularly young. He turned 27 last December.

Having been baptized in Clipper water, then baptized in Wizards water, Thornton will have to in his next destination shake off the some bad habits that come from being with two organizations accustomed to losing. The Warriors are another franchise that has had little success in recent years, making the playoffs just once in the past 16 years.

But if he does wind up in Golden State, Thornton will likely have a chance to showcase his abilities and perhaps salvage his career. He'll be a free agent this summer and riding the bench for the final 23 games in Washington wasn't going to help.

The buyout ensures that Thornton will never get a chance to face his other former team, the Clippers, this season. But the Warriors host the Wizards on March 27. And that should be fun.

By Michael Lee  | March 2, 2011; 12:06 AM ET
Categories:  Al Thornton  
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Next: Maurice Evans seeks strong finish for Wizards


Al was a chill bro, but anyone or anything that takes minutes away from guys that will be here next year should kindly be shown the door. No love lost.

Posted by: dfresh58 | March 2, 2011 12:39 AM | Report abuse

Are we really this bad at developing talent or is Thornton really that untalented that we need to let him go? I remember seeing him do things with the Clippers and have awesome games that he never came close to here. He looked unstoppable in about one game every couple months here so I know he has it in him. He was an old rookie, so maybe he's already hit his peak and is dropping off, but I think its more a combo of him being on the Clippers and Wiz that did him in. This organization is not built for young players. What I'm saying is Flip must go. i like his candor and he's a cool guy, but he must go. Ernie too I think. I hope Thornton drops 30 on us March 27th. I guess we are angling for the number 1 pick now and I have no problem with that.

Posted by: bosshog7169 | March 2, 2011 3:23 AM | Report abuse

I am beginning to wonder if a D-League all star team would wip the Wiz on a consistent basis? This should be an opportunity since there is a roster spot to give another D-League player an opportunity. Anybody who is physical will do. Shakur has been good. Another player could also help. Any competition for our soft bigs can't hurt!

Posted by: JoeC2 | March 2, 2011 5:58 AM | Report abuse

Will miss Al. From Antawn Jamison trade. Hope he succeeds with GS.

Posted by: RedCherokee | March 2, 2011 7:35 AM | Report abuse

This surprised me only that they didn't part ways in the off-season. I don't think it's the end of basketball as we know it in DC, just observing how much of a wreck we're in right now. Al Thornton seemed to always play hard when on the floor but he's more of a utility player to be used maybe off the bench. He brought agressiveness but really jacked the offense when on the floor ( I know, what offense?) The wiz need a SF with a way more reliable jumper and seriously just players that can intiate a move but have the sight to pass when when applicable.

Posted by: gmac78 | March 2, 2011 7:46 AM | Report abuse

OK, so the Wizards are in full demolition and rebuild mode. This season is long lost and I'm fine with that. I like what I have seen from all three of the 1st rounders and I am looking forward to the upcoming draft. I would be thrilled, I'll say it again, thrilled if they could land Perry Jones and Jordan Williams with the two first rounders this year.

Jones would start immediately at the 3 and give the Wiz something they haven't had in my life, a tall, long #1 scoring option at the small forward. Williams is a strong, skilled, big bodied power foward who has shown tremendous improvement this year and has played big in big games. I think both players would fit well into what Leonsis wants to build and they would really make next season fun and interesting to watch.

Posted by: ronjon629 | March 2, 2011 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Say what you want about GRUNFELD's abilities regarding picking talent, but anybody who can take a team from paying a substantial luxery tax to 20+ million in cap space in less than twenty months is all right by me. He's doing the job his boss has told him to do, on both ends from POLLIN to LEONSIS. Now if he could just hear the faint echo of the fans chanting, " Championship, championship, championship, all would be well,"

Posted by: glawrence007 | March 2, 2011 8:07 AM | Report abuse

@glawrence007: I know part of a GM's job is to manage the financial state of the franchise (at least from a cap space perspective). But a larger part of his job is to get players that produce wins for the team. So yeah he might be doing wonders for Leonsis' bottomline, he ain't doing jack for the fans. Or for his legacy. I have yet to see anyone enter the hall of fame for increasing the balance sheet of a franchise.

Posted by: tundey | March 2, 2011 8:18 AM | Report abuse

He wanted out because he was getting less and less minutes. The Wizards have so many players at the 3-4, they really didn't need him, and wanted to clear some cap space.

They tried to trade him at the deadline, but there were no suitors. The thing about Thornton is: he's a 27yr old 4th year player. You think of him as a young, developing guy, but actually he's probably peaked or close to it.

He'll get some serious burn in Golden State, get some inflated stats, and get that second contract he wants after the year. This move was definitely in his best interest.

Posted by: ejjam2 | March 2, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Leonsis did the same thing with the Caps in 2003. He said when he took over the Wiz that he had his model for success based on the Caps and that was what he was going to follow. Since then, he's drafted J.Wall and now is unloading salaries, dead weight, and is collecting money and draft picks. Patience people... We already knew in the begining of the season that the Wiz were not going to compete for the playoffs this season or probably next.

Posted by: lmcanda | March 2, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Another of the great moves Ernie wants us to judge him by. If Thorton wasn't a match for the type of team the coach wants to build then why was he traded for, then just let go. Grunfeld couldn't even get one of his usual warm bodies to fill the roster for him.

Posted by: jluksch | March 2, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

EG got Thornton not because that was the guy we wanted, but because we needed to have somebody for Drew Gooden. The primary trade was sending Jamison to Cleveland, we received a draft pick, ┼Żydr┼źnas Ilgauskas, and Gooden. Neither Ilgauskas or Gooden wanted to play here so we bought out Ilgauskas and traded Gooden to L.A. for.... Thornton.

Posted by: lmcanda | March 2, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with the assessment in the article. I never thought Thornton was really that bad. Outside of the injuries, he just never had a consistent role. Flip could never make up his mind what he wanted to do with him. He started him, he brought him off the bench then he stopped playing him a few games. It would difficult to be productive with such an unclear vision of what role he serves. I blame Flip more than anyone because no professional coach should be half through a season and trying to 'figure out his rotations'. Please! He still didn't play him after Josh Howard got hurt the second time, so what was the excuse for that? Grunfield did AT a favor. He's a better player than people are giving him credit for.

Posted by: meatkins | March 2, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I thought Al Thorton was the tough type of player the Wiz could use. First Wiz let James Singelton go and now Thorton. Wiz seem to only like Blatche and Yi type of jump shooting non defensive type of frontcourt players.

Here is another thing I noticed. Last year when Al did not know the offense he was able to score a bit. Now he is learning the offense and can't score Crawford didn't know the offense and in the 2nd game he was able to score. I still think Flips offense is junk. You don't play Thorton but you play Blatche and then you complain about how soft and how many jumpers your team takes.

The only good thing about this latest move is that Booker can probably play a similar rugged style as Al but time will tell. You never know with the wizards.

Posted by: bonggong | March 2, 2011 6:10 PM | Report abuse

@jlucsch: See, that's just it. You don't trade for a guy if he doesn't fit the coach's scheme. Even in a salary dump in getting rid of Jamison, you either have to get somebody else or have the coach be more flexible. Thornton can play and this team - as I sit here we're down by 18 AT HOME to Golden State - is so bad that I can't believe that the vaunted Flip Saunders 'system' can't be adjusted slightly to accommodate him.

Posted by: fenderdeluxe | March 2, 2011 8:57 PM | Report abuse

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