The Washington Post's Michael Lee is documenting Hughes' comeback turn, mainly because Larry's finest run as an NBA contributor happened within Lee's scope in Washington during Hughes' career year in 2004-05.
"Obviously, I wanted to play," Hughes said recently. "At the same time I wanted to be stable. I didn't want to go to a situation where it was a one-year deal, or partial guarantee deal where at any time you could be out of there moving on. I wanted certain things after moving around the past three years, to different teams, I wanted something solid. If I didn't get that, I wasn't coming back."
But when he participated in the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series last month Las Vegas, the 32-year-old Hughes said that he wasn't quite ready to retire. "I still got some game left. Having a role on a team, a contending team, is what I'm looking for. We'll see how it goes."
This is the part where we're supposed to act a prat, point out that Hughes never really developed and never even came close to that career-year of 2004-05. That with his limited jumper, declining athleticism and inefficient offensive game, Hughes isn't much to behold even at his best -- much less 13-plus years following his selection in the 1998 draft lottery.
He's also 32, though, which isn't too far off from an NBA player's prime. With long arms, good hands, a sometimes-there jumper, and good instincts. At least defensively, as Hughes is just six years removed from leading the NBA in steals. He really should be able to pick up where the NBA left off, and work as wing depth off the bench. This should be the case, at least, when you factor in his skills, his frame, his athleticism and age and abilities.
That has rarely been a point of purpose with LH, sadly. He never really cashed in on those physical gifts, and that touch, save for his contract year in 2004-05. Though it helped to doom LeBron James' time in Cleveland, we don't mind reminding that we were on board with the Cavaliers wasting a max contract on Larry during the 2005 offseason, because he seemed (coming off a 21 PER season at age 26) the mini-LeBron that Cleveland needed handling the broken plays. We, and Cleveland, were terribly wrong.
With everything in place, as a wing defender who works his way to the occasional smart shot, Hughes should work in the NBA at his age. But he hasn't shown anything, even in his finest season, that would allow us to assume that he could pull off the cerebral, veteran, Ron Harper-act. From the neck tattoo during his rookie year to the front-rimmed jumpers during his last few seasons, Larry Hughes always seemed like the sort of guy who just never got it.
The NBA and its players don't really get it, at this point in the lockout, so he doesn't exactly stand out negatively in that regard. Perhaps with the break and the humility inherent in a work stoppage Larry can get it together. Maybe party like it's 2005. Here's hoping, because Larry Hughes' potential has always been something to behold.
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- Larry Hughes