WAYNS WANTS TO MAKE MOST OF TIME IN L.A.

Maalik Wayns
Photo: Anwar Torres

Fresh off his team debut, Maalik Wayns was addressing a few media members in the locker room after the Clippers’ 129-97 victory over the Pistons Sunday when he received a subtle welcome.

It was in the middle of the newest Clipper’s first postgame interview and superstar Blake Griffin, whose locker was to Wayns’ immediate right, walked past the rookie point guard, patted him on the chest and said, “Way to play.”

Wayns smiled, but did not miss a beat. Shortly thereafter, he talked about his goal was coming to the Clippers on a 10-day contract he signed Saturday after spending nine games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and 21 before that with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers.

“Just to fit in with the guys, be a great teammate in the locker room, earn these guys’ respect, and keep pushing forward,” Wayns said. “And definitely show that I have a place in this league.”

Wayns is just 10 minutes, 39 seconds into his playing career in L.A. and as would be expected on a team with camaraderie as well-documented as the Clippers he has immediately felt embraced.

Several teammates greeted him with Tweets within 24 hours of his arrival. Griffin called him a “great addition,” Chris Paul referred to him as a “hard worker,” Lamar Odom implored his 3.7 million followers to follow Wayns, and Jamal Crawford did the same, asking “Clipper Nation” to welcome his new teammate.  

“This is a great atmosphere, a great group of guys, great teammates,” Wayns said. “And I’m just trying to take advantage of my opportunity.”

Wayns’ opportunity has come about partly because of a need in the backcourt. Reserve point guard Eric Bledsoe is nursing a sore left calf, Crawford is recovering from an ankle injury and veteran Chauncey Billups remains on a minutes restriction as he assimilates himself into the lineup after missing 34 games with peroneal tendinitis in his left foot.

“We just need bodies right now,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said prior to Sunday’s game. “Jamal’s not practicing, Eric’s not practicing. Chauncey and Grant [Hill] are being monitored a little bit, obviously. Trey’s [Thompkins] been out the whole year, so we just need some bodies.”

Following practicing Saturday morning, Wayns made his debut in the fourth quarter Sunday. He received a nice ovation from the crowd when introduced and played the final 10:39 of the blowout victory, dishing out five assists, scoring on a fast-break layup after a steal and going 1-for-3 from the field.

He even initiated himself into Lob City with a backdoor alley-oop to Ryan Hollins, one of 13 dunks on the night for the Clippers. After the game Wayns said the chance to be a part of an organization like the Clippers, with their on-court success and allure, is exciting.

“I was ecstatic,” Wayns said of signing his first 10-day contract with the team. “You’ve got a couple of the best players in the league. The best point guard in the league. The best power forward in the league.”

Working around Paul and Griffin and a number of “future Hall of Famers” like Billups and Hill, will afford Wayns an opportunity to learn from some of the best. But he also had a chance to learn the hard way, by getting released by 76ers in January.

“I had a taste of it (the NBA) and when they released me and sent me down, it made me hungrier and made me sit down and really think about what could be my niche in this league,” Wayns said. “I’m trying to find it. I can push the ball, get other guys involved, and I can really defend so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

Wayns was in Rio Grande for nine games, starting three times and averaging 12.4 points and 3.0 assists. It’s similar to what he did in his three-year career at Villanova where in 95 games he averaged 12.5 points and 3.4 assists and was named second team All-BIG EAST following his junior season.

Asked what he expects in his second go-around in the NBA this season, Wayns said, “Play the way I play: push the ball, try to bring energy on the defensive end and be tough. I try to bring toughness and defensive intensity.

“Hopefully, I can stick and be a part of this great organization and this great group of guys.”