WASHINGTON — When two teams with losing records trade you away and another decides not to re-sign you during your first four NBA seasons, you might start to feel a bit unwanted.
And if you’re still unemployed two weeks before training camps begin, you might start experiencing ...
“Doubt’s not necessarily the word,” Justin Anderson said Monday. “You’ve got to have faith.”
That confidence paid off two weeks ago with a training-camp invitation from the Washington Wizards, the team Anderson followed while growing up in Westmoreland County near Fredericksburg before starring at the University of Virginia.
“The chance of a lifetime,” he called it.
Like his previous employers, the Dallas Mavericks (who drafted him in the first round in 2016), Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, the 2019–20 Wizards are in full rebuilding mode as he joins them. The likely full-season absence of all-star point guard John Wall, who’s recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, means low expectations — and open roster spots.
“I think this year’s huge for my career,” Anderson said at the Wizards’ annual preseason media day. “You have to go through highs and lows to appreciate something. I think I have a greater appreciation for the game, but also this business, appreciating what it takes to be an NBA-level athlete.
“This has been the most enlightening summer, outside of going into my junior year of college, which was huge. When you see colleagues getting signed, colleagues getting major deals. ... You’d see even from your own family members, worry. I just told ‘em, ‘It’s good, everything’s going to work out.’”
Rather than concern, Anderson took the opposite approach. For the first time in his peripatetic, injury-plagued career, he had some say in his destination.
After the Hawks declined to pick up his 2019-20 option, Anderson and his agent, Mark Bertlestein, spent the summer analyzing his options — even while he was in Tanzania with former UVa teammates Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris, raising cash and awareness for clean water in African nations.
“Getting phone calls from my agent while I was on a safari, in villages, was the most unique experience,” Anderson said.
Eventually, they came to an agreement with the Wizards, who need all the help they can get after a 32-50 season — especially on the defensive end. Only the Hawks allowed more points per game (119.4) last season than did Washington (116.9). The Wizards were also 28th in the 30-team NBA in opponents’ field goal percentage (.480).
“I’ve coached against him. He’s aggressive, he’s feisty on both ends of the floor,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the 6-foot-6 Anderson. “I like his experience, his determination, his versatility. He can play a lot of different spots, and he can guard a lot of different players. He’s got a great opportunity to make this roster.”
Added Bradley Beal, the Wizards’ other star guard: “I’ve known Justin since we were 15 or 16, playing USA Basketball together. He’s a physical specimen, and he works extremely hard. I’m excited they brought him here. He’s going to have a tremendous impact defensively.”
There’s no guarantee Anderson will make the Wizards’ opening night roster. But he’ll get a chance to prove himself, especially with Wall, Isaiah Thomas (torn thumb ligament) and C.J. Miles (foot stress fracture) all sidelined at the moment. And as usual, he promises not to get outworked.
“There’s not anyone on our roster that does what I do, and that’s play defense, guard the best player,” he said. “I’m not afraid to step up and take on any challenge defensively... There’s not many people in the league that do that. As long as there’s a need for that in this league, I think I have an opportunity to stick around.”
And if it takes him four teams to get it right, so what?
“It’s all perspective,” Anderson said. “OK, Shaq has been on how many teams? LeBron, who we thought would be on one team, has now been on three. ... The reality is, this is the NBA. This is what it’s all about, having to adjust to the circumstances of the game. Some teams may need something one year that another team may not.
“I’ve never looked at it as, ‘This team doesn’t want me.’ It’s ‘This team doesn’t need me right now, but this team does.’ It’s an opportunity for me to come here and play with a tenacious mindset, be a hustle guy, be a glue guy for this team and try to help this organization create the winning culture that they’re striving for.”