Drew Gooden is 32 years old. He was drafted fourth overall in the 2002 NBA Draft to the Memphis Grizzlies over 12 years ago, and he has had some fantastic moments and some duds. He has been a solid power forward for ten different teams but never seemed to find his role. Gooden had a few good years with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls but never seemed to fit in as an NBA player, which is why it was so disappointing when the Milwaukee Bucks amnestied him in 2013.
It seemed that his career was over and that he would never have the chance to truly impact a team to the best of his abilities. However, his career was put on life support when the Washington Wizards decided to sign him to a ten-day contract in late February 2014. It was the most important decision the Wizards made. On March 18, the Wizards signed Gooden for the rest of the season and the team has never looked back.
Gooden ended up being a pivotal player for the Wizards’ playoff run. His statistics don’t truly show how much he meant to the team. Through the postseason, he ended up averaging nearly 15 minutes, 3.4 points and 4.3 rebounds a game, yet his leadership and ability to step up when Washington needed him helped the Wizards beat the favored Chicago Bulls and take the number one seed, Indiana Pacers, to six hard-fought games.
As part of the AARP unit, Gooden and fellow thirty-somethings Andre Miller and Al Harrington kept the Wizards afloat after tough stretches. Gooden, especially, exhibited a toughness that irritated David West and Roy Hibbert. Also, his ability to rebound and box out was a key to the series lasting so long because without him the offensive boards would have been wide-open for Indiana.
Along with his defense, Gooden’s ability to stretch the floor, like Nene, proved to be a valuable asset off of the bench. He gave Andre Miller more room to post up and spread the floor and when a shot hit the rim, Gooden would always find himself running towards the rim to try to get position. Just the pressure that he put on the opposing team’s bigs was a great help to the Wizards. (editors note: Drew Gooden also gave us the shoulder shrug. Let’s not forget about the shoulder shrug…)
Before the final buzzer goes off, Gooden has held on and become a leader for the Washington Wizards. His enthusiasm and love for the game was evident by how he reacted to every call, rebound and dunk. Gooden’s not ready to let go of his basketball career, nor should Washington let him.
As free agency begins, Gooden should be a must for the Wizards to sign again for next season. He no longer has the speed and bounce that he once had but his ability to lead and mentor the rest of the squad is integral. On a team led by John Wall (23 years old) and Bradley Beal (20 years old) having Drew Gooden’s experience and knowledge of the game is a boon.
This season was one of promise. Beal and Wall showed their wares in the postseason for the first time, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza proved that they deserved new contracts and even Randy Wittman confirmed that he could be a solid coach in the league, but without glue-guys, like Drew Gooden, the highs that the team achieved would not have been accomplished.