Note: Please give a warm welcome to Matt Modderno, who has previously written on WizardsXTRA, FanSided and DraftExpress! — Albert
Former Wizard Larry Hughes is back to representing the district but in a slightly different role this time. Hughes has recently begun hosting the Bleav in Wizards podcast on the Bleav Podcast Network (pronounced like “believe”). The podcast, which will be released weekly, will cover the Washington Wizards primarily, but also bleed over into the NBA and basketball at large.
For anyone that needs a refresher on his career, Larry Hughes was selected 8th overall out of Saint Louis University by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1998 NBA Draft. He was a lottery pick in a year that included Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Rashard Lewis, and Mike Bibby. In response to a recent “re-draft” by the Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo of the Ringer, Hughes discussed his draft class at length in Episode Four of the podcast (“Frances Tiafoe Reps the District”).
Hughes averaged 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in his rookie season in Philadelphia. Midway through his second season, Philadelphia traded Hughes to Golden State. It was in Golden State that Hughes really started to hit his stride. In his first 32 games with Golden State, Hughes averaged 22.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.9 steals.
It was in Oakland where Hughes first teamed up with future Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. After two more productive seasons with the Warriors (two with Jamison, one with Arenas), Hughes became a free agent. At age 23, with career averages of 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists, he received serious interest from Philadelphia, Minnesota, Miami, and several other organizations. Ultimately, Hughes received an offer he couldn’t refuse from Washington: the promise of opportunity and a front office who truly wanted him.
“We’ve been, in essence, trying to secure Larry for two years, so this not something that just came about on the spur of the moment,” said Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld to the Associated Press at the time. “We feel real comfortable that he is going to bring some more versatility to our basketball team. He can play the 1, the 2 or the 3, but what we want him to do is just play basketball.”
“It’s good to feel like you’re wanted, and Wes Unseld made me feel like I was a top priority,” said Hughes. “And I wanted to be here, so it was a good fit. I think this is the best spot for me.”
Part of the draw of Washington was the chance to play with the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan. In the second episode of the podcast, “Quarantine,” Hughes spoke about the appeal of playing with Jordan.
“I was very comfortable playing with MJ because he actually signed me,” said Hughes. “He wanted me there. I came in the door confident because the best player of all-time, who was wearing a couple of hats in the organization, he wants me here. He wants me on the court to have a chance to play with him. So I came into Washington with supreme confidence.”
Hughes ended up spending three seasons (2002-2005) in Washington and played 189 games, the longest stop of his career. During his tenure in D.C., Hughes averaged 17.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.9 steals. He played both guard spots, which added flexibility to the roster, and he was a defensive menace. In 2005, he led the NBA in steals and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team.
The 2004-2005 season was the most personally productive of Hughes’ career (22 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.9 steals). That personal production also translated into team success. The Wizards went 45-37 in the regular season and made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They were swept by a Miami Heat team that featured Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal and won the NBA title the following season. The franchise has not advanced further than that round since then.
“That second year, we changed coaches and we changed our system, our offensive system,” said Hughes. “Eddie Jordan came in and now we’re running a more free-flowing, moving, cutting, Princeton offense that we loved and made it our own, me and Gilbert. But that played a part into how much success I was able to have.”
It is because of that success and the bonds that he built in Washington that Hughes looks back on his time in the District so fondly.
“My experience was great. The experience was great. The city was one that was very vibrant, a lot of different cultures, and that spilled over into the basketball arena. Loved the fans. Loved the crowds. It was a great organization. It was very supportive during my time there,” said Hughes.
That passion for the “DMV” and for the Wizards is part of the reason Hughes was so interested in starting this new podcast.
“I think the area deserves everything that they’re getting,” said Hughes. “Very passionate fans that are showing up win, lose, or draw. That make really good connections with players that are born and bred from the city but also those that migrate in to support their sports teams. D.C.’s always had great fans.”
So what can you expect from this new podcast? Hughes, who also runs the Larry Hughes Basketball Academy in St. Louis, intends to bring in-depth basketball analysis that Wizards fans are not be able to get anywhere else. Hughes’ academy has partnered with several technology companies to help change the way players are developed and people see the game. It’s this type of progressive outlook and understanding that you can expect to hear each week. The show will also feature guests with insider knowledge of the team and the league as a whole.
“We want to talk to guys that are both current and former. But also bring good insight and good energy to the show,” said Hughes. “So I have a few guys in my Rolodex that I’m going to lean on. This is a new situation for me so I want to lean on my good network of friends to come in and give good insight and good information to the program.”