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