‘It’s a win-win’: Verdict is in on swap of PJ Washington for Grant Williams, Seth Curry

Knowing there was plenty of time before the main event, only one destination was on PJ Washington’s mind when the Dallas Mavericks flight touched down at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

“I went straight home, got to see my kids, got to see the family,” Washington said. “It was great being in the home setting, just having a good night at home.”

Washington was back at Spectrum Center on Tuesday night, two months after his world got turned upside down in a trade to the Mavericks — and he got the last laugh in Dallas’ easy 130-104 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Traded to the Mavs in exchange for Grant Williams and Seth Curry and a protected 2027 first-round pick at the NBA deadline, essentially swapping one hometown product for a pair, Washington has settled in after a February whirlwind. Mentally, he’s in a much better space than where he was when told he was immediately changing teams and bound for Texas.

In a split-second, Washington had to come to grips with quickly saying goodbye to his wife and two sons, and the region he’d lived in for the better portion of the past four-plus years. It was equally numbing and thrilling, making Tuesday night all the more special.

And it’s finally behind him, allowing him to exhale in a sense.

“Definitely,” Washington said. “It feels good closing the chapter here in Charlotte. A lot of emotions, feeling good coming back to the city, seeing a lot of good people. So I’m just happy it’s over, happy I got to come out here one last time and go on about my business. So, I’m excited.”

The Mavs welcomed Washington with open arms, and from all indications, are beyond pleased with the key acquisition for their late-season playoff push. He appears to fit in well and is already one of the guys.

Even Mavs assistant coach Darrell Armstrong poked fun at Washington on the day of his return to Charlotte, assuring to everyone that tears would be flowing for the 25-year-old after the expected Hornets’ tribute during the first quarter. But Washington instead was all smiles when the video concluded and public address announcer Patrick “Big Pat” Doughty bellowed his name, acknowledging the Hornets’ gesture with both arms raised, thanking the fans.

“It was great, just being able to cheer for me one last time in this arena,” Washington said. “It meant the world to me. Being drafted here and obviously (spent) my whole career here. So, it just meant a lot for sure.”

Washington is in a better situation now, thriving in this different environment similar to Williams. Each has quickly assimilated into their respective new teams.

Dallas also got Wizards center Daniel Gafford in a trade, and both he and Washington are now starters. The Mavericks are 21-7 since the two joined the team.

Washington’s ability to knock down 3-pointers makes him a solid floor spacer in concert with Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, and he’s also a two-way player who can shift between more than one position.

“When you talk about the trade with PJ, just first the ability to play both sides — offense and defense,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “You could see when one of the guys are out — Luka, Ky — he’s stepped up for us. He’s given us an offensive spark. And then when you look at the defensive end, he’s been able to guard 1-5. He’s helped us here since March 7 be the No. 1 defensive team in the league.

“And he’s a pro. He comes to work every day, never complains, and he’s one of the few that when he runs out, comes out of the game, he gives you five. And that’s just a character thing that he has. He’s about the team and he just wants to win.”

Williams does some of that for the Hornets, too, and he’s also already become a locker room voice, slowly evolving into a team leader on a roster loaded with more than its share of young, inexperienced players. He’s also logged plenty of minutes at center, including during the Hornets’ final home game of the season.

“He’s been great, a great guy,” Dončić said. “But I think you see what PJ brings. But Grant is a great guy. We have a good relationship. Outside, some people say we don’t. But we have (one).”

Neither side has many complaints in the aftermath of the deal.

“Yeah, I think when you look at the trade it is a win-win,” Kidd said. “Grant’s doing an incredible job here, You look at playing the ‘5’ or playing whatever position they’ve asked him to play. He’s shooting the ball, he’s making decisions, he’s posting up, he’s guarding the ‘5’ on the other end. So, I think he’s done an incredible job since the trade.”

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is honored by his players and the organization on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 with a framed jersey. Clifford will step down as head coach following the season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is honored by his players and the organization on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 with a framed jersey. Clifford will step down as head coach following the season.

He’ll get no disagreement from Steve Clifford.

“He’s brought, I think for our team, physicality,” said Clifford, who received a video tribute and was presented a No. 7 jersey to commemorate his last home game as Hornets coach. “Defensively, he’s a good organizer and he’s just a better facilitator than I had realized. You coach against guys either twice a year or four times a year, but playing at the ‘5’ where we use him as kind of like the trigger man, he’s coming off, what did he have 11 assists and eight assists (the previous two games)? And guys are learning more to play off him.

“So, he’s a better decision maker and passer on the perimeter than I realized.”

Almost sounds like how things are these days for Washington playing alongside Dončić and Irving. Mention their names and Washington flashes the pearly whites.

“It’s been great,”said Washington, who came in averaging 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 26 appearances — including 25 starts — with Dallas. “It’s two of the best to ever play the game, so it makes it a lot easier for me. They bring so much attention, which opens up the game for a lot of different people. So, they’ve made it a lot easier for me for sure.”

In other words, about on the same parallel as navigating the path to the venue sitting at the intersection of Trade and Caldwell streets.

“It’s a little weird being in this building and being on the opposing side,” Washington said. “I think it’s cool and I’m glad to be here, and I’m happy to see a lot of familiar faces. So, it feels good.”

Which is kind of the opposite of what his old team is experiencing.

“They did a great job of using their versatility and that’s what I think our team has,” Williams said. “So, as we continue to grow and as we continue to learn, kind of picking up on the best teams we’ve played. We’ve played some of the best teams during this stretch, so there shouldn’t be any doubt in our mind, especially when we are competing, that we can be that.

“So, now it’s just a matter of how we bring it together, and stay together and really communicate with each other.”