CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jason Richardson was as diplomatic as could be in his return here Friday, but it was clear he was quite happy to be heading to the visiting locker room.
Charlotte’s trade last month that sent Richardson to Phoenix put the shooting guard on a winning team, while producing plenty of open shots for one of the league’s purest shooters.
“I’ve never had open looks like that in my career,” Richardson said after shootaround Friday, hours before he faced the Bobcats for the first time since the Dec. 10 trade. “I’m usually the focal point. Everybody focuses on me and they don’t let me get any open shots. It opened up my game a lot more.”
With teammates Shaquille O’Neal and All-Star Amare Stoudemire patrolling the paint, teams can’t constantly chase Richardson around the perimeter. Steve Nash and Grant Hill are other offensive threats teams must contend with.
That was far from the case in Richardson’s year and a half in Charlotte. While he hit an NBA-high 243 3-pointers last season, fourth-most in league history, Richardson had to work for every shot. New coach Larry Brown tried to get Richardson to drive to the basket more this season, but he was still constantly shadowed.
“Everybody realized: don’t help off of Jason,” Brown said. “So it really makes it a lot more difficult.”
Hence, the trade. Charlotte sent Richardson and reserve Jared Dudley to the Suns for much-needed power forward Boris Diaw and Richardson’s replacement at shooting guard, Raja Bell. Charlotte also got backup point guard Sean Singletary.
“Jason was a super player, but we didn’t have a post game at the time,” Brown said. “I don’t think we really utilized what he did very well.”
Richardson has clearly warmed to the deal. He snapped out of his recent slump by scoring 27 points in a loss Wednesday at New York. While the Suns have struggled of late, he’s excited to be a part of a perennial playoff team after suffering through a 32-50 season with the Bobcats a year ago.
He also doesn’t miss the notoriously small crowds in Charlotte.
“It was hard at times. It reminded me of my days at Golden State. We weren’t winning that much, there wasn’t that much energy in the arena,” Richardson said. “Pretty much they came out for the big nights. But there were great fans here, the few we had here. Especially when the big games came, they definitely showed up and they definitely cheered us on.”
Richardson wasn’t nearly as emotional Friday as when he visited Oakland, Calif., last season for the first time since the Warriors traded him after he spent six seasons there.
After the initial shock of another trade, Richardson has settled in with a team full of talent and room to roam and fire up jumpers with that sweet stroke.
“Grant, Steve, Amare and Shaq, it was just a great opportunity for myself to be around those type of players,” Richardson said. “Not against any of my old teammates at Golden State or here, but it was a good opportunity for me.”