WILMINGTON, N.C. – Javaris Crittenton had little chance to distinguish himself in his first two seasons in the NBA. Then he became famous last year for the wrong reason — as the "other guy" in the Gilbert Arenas gun saga.
Reinstated after a lengthy suspension and healthy again following a botched ankle surgery, Crittenton is hoping to earn a roster spot with the Charlotte Bobcats and revive his career.
"It's a blessing to be out here playing," Crittenton said. "I'm cherishing every moment of it — every moment."
Crittenton didn't anticipate that in three years he'd go from first-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers to scrambling to make an NBA roster with a non-guaranteed deal.
It's a combination of bad luck and poor decisions, which includes his dispute with his Washington teammate Arenas over a card game on a team flight last season. The feud escalated until both men brought guns into the Wizards locker room.
Arenas, a Wizards star, got most of the attention as he prosecuted and received a 50-game suspension. Crittenton, a reserve who was out of the season with a bum ankle, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge in January and received probation.
Warned by NBA commissioner David Stern not to go into specifics about the case, Crittenton chose his words carefully. But he clearly took responsibility.
"Use wisdom in everything and just don't get caught up in foolishness and nonsense and crazy people around you," Crittenton said about what he learned. "It was a bad decision on both ends and we're trying to move forward with our careers and our lives."
While Arenas remains in Washington, the Wizards didn't pick up the fourth-year option in Crittenton's rookie contract. With his baggage, ankle problem and mediocre career averages of 5.3 points and 1.8 assists, there wasn't much demand for him.
But Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who has a history of coaching difficult players, ranging from Allen Iverson to Stephen Jackson, was intrigued after watching Crittenton average 14.4 points in his lone season at Georgia Tech.
Needing depth at point guard after Raymond Felton's departure in free agency, Brown picked up the phone. He talked to Randy Ayers, a former assistant in Washington. He dialed Wizards personnel man Milt Newton and Antawn Jamison, Crittenton's former teammate.
"Everybody I called said the same thing, that it was like the perfect storm. He just got into a bad situation," Brown said. "I've not heard one person say anything but good things about him."
But Brown also didn't know if he was healthy, an issue that got little attention because of his legal problems. Crittenton said he had a bone spur in his left ankle at the beginning of last season and underwent surgery.
"It didn't go well," Crittenton said. "They went in from the wrong way and it didn't fix it. I had another surgery to actually repair it."
Instead of being sidelined for few weeks, Crittenton was out for the season.
"A lot of people think I had one surgery and, 'Oh, it's taking a long time to heal,'" Crittenton said. "If the first surgery was successful, I would have been ready."
The 38-game suspension at the end of the season made that moot. It also meant he wasn't returning to Washington, and Charlotte marks his fourth team in four years.
"I do feel like I really haven't gotten my shot yet," Crittenton said. "I really wasn't one of those players who could really learn from watching. But it's the NBA. This is the decision I chose. I left college early and I just have to learn. There's no more being babied or anything like that."
Maybe Charlotte will finally be a fit. He didn't get much playing time on the Lakers' loaded roster before being traded to Memphis in the Pau Gasol deal. He was traded again to the Wizards a year later.
Crittenton, who won't turn 23 until New Year's Eve, is playing behind projected starter D.J. Augustin and Shaun Livingston. A roster spot is far from certain, and Brown said Crittenton must get lighter and fitter.
"I like his size and his strength," Brown said. "I've got to kind of put him on a string about being a point guard, what his responsibilities are. He's always had the ability to break people down and score. I think that's great, but we need a point guard to defend and get people into things."
Crittenton is confident he'll use his defense to win over Brown and stick in the NBA.
"Definitely an extra sense of motivation," Crittenton said. "I'm so thankful to be out here."