Former Bucks big man Drew Gooden still motivated

Drew Gooden, shown here in a file photo, has scored 12 points in three games with the Wizards this season, all of them coming in 19 minutes against Utah on Wednesday.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — When training camp rolled around and he was still sitting at home without a job offer, Drew Gooden had to do a bit of soul searching.

He was about to get paid $13.36 million over the next two years to sit at home by the Milwaukee Bucks after the team used the amnesty provision to release him in July.

Was it worth it to stay in shape in case a team came calling?

"It kind of tests your professionalism, having to work out on your own schedule," Gooden said prior to Saturday night’s game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. "It tests your love for the game. What I found out during that time with my family is that I really love this game.

"I’m going to continue to work at it. I have goals that I want to reach as an individual, too. I’m definitely not finished playing basketball."

Eventually a team was interested, as Washington signed the 32-year-old to a 10-day contract on Feb. 27 and inked him to a second 10-day deal Saturday. Gooden has scored 12 points in three games with the Wizards, all of them coming in 19 minutes against Utah on Wednesday.

Signed to a five-year, $34 million free-agent contract by the Bucks in 2010, Gooden never got going in Milwaukee. He was limited to 35 games in his first season with the team due to plantar fasciitis, averaging 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Gooden had to play as an undersized center during the 2011-12 season after Andrew Bogut missed most of the year with a fractured ankle. He played 26.2 minutes per game and averaged 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.

It was clear Gooden wasn’t in the rotation from the beginning of last season, as both Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan opted to play Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh inside. Healthy the entire year, Gooden played in just 12 games.

"I had a great experience here, business-wise and playing-wise," Gooden said. "Great fans, great teammates throughout the years. Last year we made the playoffs, but for me as an individual, it was tough.

"The things that kept me going were the fans and my teammates that motivated me to come to work every day last year. It was a tough pill to swallow last year having to watch them play, but I learned a lot and I think it made me stronger."

As far as the locker room issues widely reported to have happened late in last season, Gooden feels they were overblown.

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"We can’t blow things out of proportion because I think every team has locker room situations that happen, whether it’s altercations between coaches and players or players versus coaches or even coaches versus coaches," Gooden said. "That’s a norm in any sport. I don’t see that as a problem of winning basketball games."

The writing was on the wall for Gooden following the season and his release under the amnesty provision was not a surprise. Milwaukee had to use the one-time move last season or lose it. He will still get paid the final $13.36 remaining on his contract but it won’t count against the cap for the Bucks.

Gooden was one of 11 players from last year’s playoff roster not brought back. The Bucks struggled to integrate 11 new players and are an NBA-worst 12-49 entering play Saturday.

"This is what they ended up signing up for," Gooden said. "They had some bad breaks with injuries early on so they could never get in a rhythm. It’s a tough situation out here.

"It’s a great makeup of the team, unfortunately they got hit with the injury bug."

The Wizards came to Milwaukee winners of seven of their last eight and just 1 1/2 games behind Chicago for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Gooden understands his role with Washington and is grateful for the opportunity to get back into the NBA.

"Just some leadership, whatever I have to do to help this team win," Gooden said of what he hopes to add to the Wizards. "They already have found a way to win some ballgames and positioned themselves as the fifth seed right now.

"My job is easy — come on time and help these young guys get better. I’ll take that job any day."

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