It's pretty easy to forget about Al Thornton since he barely was around long enough to make a difference for the Washington Wizards last season. He arrived in late February, had some great games followed by some disappearing acts, missed seven games late with a groin injury, then finished quietly.
The 6-foot-7 Thornton averaged 10.7 points in 24 games with the Wizards last season and is capable of playing at both forward positions, given his strength and physical style of play. But when next season begins, Thornton stands as the most likely candidate to start at small forward with most of the Wizards free agent targets already finding homes.
"It's a special opportunity for me to come in and prove myself," Thornton said earlier this month. "The starting spot is open and I'm down for the challenge."
Earlier this week, Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld seemed content entering the season with Thornton, Nick Young and possibly Yi Jianlian carrying the load at small forward. You also have to assume that Kirk Hinrich will get some time there if Coach Flip Saunders ever decides to go with a three-guard set with John Wall and Gilbert Arenas in the back court.
"We want to get minutes for the players that we currently have under contract," Grunfeld said. "And with players getting a lot of minutes in the backcourt, with Gilbert, John and Kirk, it's going to open up more opportunities for Nick to play there. So we feel that we are covered at that position. At the same time, we are going to keep looking around."
When the free agent recruiting period began on July 1, the Wizards reached out to the representatives for Josh Howard, Mike Miller, Josh Childress, Ryan Gomes, Travis Outlaw and Rasual Butler, believing that having a veteran wing player was important for the makeup of the team. But in the weeks that have followed, Miller decided to join LeBron James in taking his talents to South Beach (for five-years, $25-million), Childress went to Phoenix after a sign-and-trade deal with Atlanta (for five-years, $34-million) Gomes signed with the Clippers (three-years, $12-million), Outlaw moved to New Jersey (for five years, $35-million) and Butler, who snatched up Thornton's minutes last season with the Clippers, reportedly is heading back.
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