Gooden: I miss Dallas ... but that's the biz
Drew Gooden has played for nine teams in eight seasons and sees the inevitable.
Gooden had just delivered his best individual performance of the season -- 26 points and 20 rebounds -- in the Los Angeles Clippers' 106-96 loss to the Mavericks, slamming home precisely why Dallas was so hopeful of re-signing him after Gooden was packaged with Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton to Washington in the Feb. 13 trade that netted Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.
Had the Wizards reached a buyout with the veteran power forward, as they later did with Zydrunas Ilgauskas after acquiring Big Z from Cleveland in the Antawn Jamison deal, Gooden would almost certainly be back with a previous employer for the first time in his career. As he said many times before and after Tuesday's homecoming game at American Airlines Center, Gooden never wanted to leave Dallas and still hopes that the Mavs will consider re-signing him this summer.
The Wizards, though, didn't buy Gooden out. Instead they routed him to the Clippers as part of the three-way Jamison swap before the league's Feb. 18 trading deadline. And there would be no buyout in L.A. because the Clips, looking to bolster a front line weakened by rookie Blake Griffin's season-ending knee injury and the trade of Marcus Camby to Portland, told Gooden immediately that they needed to keep him for the rest of the season.
"It wasn't as easy it was last year for me with Sacramento," Gooden said, recalling how the Kings quickly bought out his contract after acquiring Gooden from Chicago at the deadline, enabling Gooden to sign with San Antonio for the stretch run.
"I think everybody knew that once I got a buyout that I would want to go back to Dallas and help [the Mavs] out even more. I think there [were] teams that didn't want Dallas to have their cake and eat it, too.
"I miss Dallas. I miss those guys over there. I committed myself to this team and left something on the table that was unfinished business for me. But that's the business."
The solace for Gooden is that his play with the Clippers isn't exactly discouraging the Mavs -- or prospective team No. 10 -- from keeping the 28-year-old in their offseason thoughts. Gooden is averaging a healthy 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in 16 games with the Clippers, which would represent the highest averages of his career in both categories if sustained for a full season.
"I've got to make sure I don't take for granted the opportunity I have now," Gooden said. "Even though, let's face it, we're not going to be a playoff team this year, I'm getting an opportunity to play and I'm going to do well.
"I do feel like I'm playing my best [basketball]. Maybe I don't jump as high as I used to, but my mental game is so much stronger than when I first got into the league. Even though I've been on a lot of teams, playing a lot of different roles, I've gotten better within those roles."
Asked if the Mavs miss Gooden's contributions off the bench, Dirk Nowitzki said: "Hell, yeah."
Oklahoma City's Kevin Ollie -- another Mavs alumnus -- has played for 11 teams, so Gooden isn't even No. 1 among active NBA vagabonds. The people who track such matters at the Elias Sports Bureau, furthermore, say Gooden doesn't get credit for making a stop in Washington because, even though he was issued a No. 90 jersey from the Wizards, he never played in a game for them.
Ollie, though, is 37. He's running out of time to get to 12 teams.
"I was a victim of basketball [business]," Gooden said of the deal swung by the Mavs to get Butler and Haywood, which materialized about a month after Gooden and his partially guaranteed one-year contract in Dallas at $4.5 million was offered to Utah in an attempt to swipe Carlos Boozer from the Jazz.
"I was never locked into a long-term deal," Gooden continued. "I was always a guy that was talked about at every trade deadline, no matter if I was playing well or not. But there's been nothing bad about what happened for me, playing on a lot of different teams."
He was quickly schooled on the business of basketball as a rookie, when Memphis -- after taking Gooden with the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft -- traded him to Orlando before his first season was finished.
"That was a situation that I kind of liked [being traded]," Gooden said. "All the other times that I got traded, I didn't want to get traded. But it wasn't the right situation for me in Memphis. I was playing small forward and I felt like I was more of a power forward playing out of position."
Gooden's selection by then-Grizzlies president Jerry West in West's first draft in Memphis is one of the few second-guessed picks of West's storied front-office career, since the Grizz already had Pau Gasol and Stromile Swift on the roster.
"I didn't think I was going to have that Memphis hat on long that night that I got drafted," Gooden said. "But Jerry West always said he was going to take the best player available."
Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com and is a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com.
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