The Wright Moves

A straight-from-high-school phenom stays intimate with the Heat bench

Jason Kapono — the most efficient three-point shooter in the league — has recovered from an ankle sprain, and since he plays small forward like Wright, Wright sits. Even without Kapono, Wright had played only 87 seconds in the previous two games. With home-court advantage in the playoffs at stake, it seemed clear that Wright hadn't yet earned the trust of Head Coach Pat Riley.

This is the downside to landing on a team of accomplished veterans who make championship-title runs. It's meant Wright hasn't had the opportunity he might have had if, say, Shaq, James Posey, Antoine Walker, and Gary Payton hadn't come to the Heat soon after he was drafted. It's also meant he gets to learn from them — in practice if not in games.

In his first season with the Heat, Wright played in only three games, scoring just seven points. He fared slightly better in the second season, playing in 20 games for an average of six minutes each. During this season, Wright's third, a few teammates got injured and Wright got his chance.

AP PHOTO/David Adame, FILE
Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/KRT

For 19 games, Wright was in the starting lineup and showed promise: several double-doubles and a few snazzy dunks, and he hustled like crazy. But his jump shot was erratic, and as teammates stepped up, Wright fell behind; in early January, he lost his starting spot. Since then, his playing time has been spotty. Some games, he'll be on the court for 30 minutes. Others, he'll get no time.

NBA rule makers recognized the plight of the unfulfilled prep star. Last year, they required that draftees must be a year out of high school and at least 19 years old. The new rule is meant to protect promising players from being drafted before they're ready, then falling flat, losing confidence, and ruining what might have been extensive NBA careers.

Coaches and scouts say they'd be surprised if there wasn't a place for Wright's unreal athleticism, pterodactyl wingspan, and diversified skill set somewhere in the league. It took Jermaine O'Neal a couple of seasons on the bench, then being traded, before he became a Pacers standout. It takes an emotionally resilient player to do this, but the consensus is that Wright is in the NBA to stay.

On a sleepy, tree-lined Coconut Grove block, there's a $475,000 condo, previously occupied by former Heat journeyman post player Malik Allen, now with the Chicago Bulls. As of October, it has been the home of Dorell Wright.

Most of the two-story condos on the block have red-tiled, Spanish-style roofs, stucco siding, metal gates out front, and wooden fences separating them from their neighbors. Wright's gate is open, and one can walk right in, past his white Range Rover with blacked-out windows, chrome rims, and "D. Wright Way" inscribed in black paint above the right taillight.

Wright's not here now. He's actually in the middle of an away game against the Indiana Pacers, which I'm hoping to watch with his roommate. But, it turns out, Clark hasn't been watching Heat games lately, and he doesn't want to watch this one.

He opens the door and extends a hand made for basketball — long dexterous fingers and wide, warm palm. Clark has close-cropped hair and a neatly trimmed mustache, with a few coiled hairs protruding from his chin. He's the picture of an athlete at rest — black Nike shorts, a black T-shirt, and white ankle-length sports socks.

The walk to the living room takes guests across the beige tiled foyer floor and through the generous and formal sitting room. Perched at the kitchen counter is Nicole Hutchinson, a willowy and stunning 23-year-old from Parkland who is taking shots of Patron Citronage, one of about five types of Patron sitting on the kitchen counter. If you're wondering whether Wright and Clark listen to Jay-Z, who boosted Patron's sales tenfold with its mention in "Show Me What You Got," the answer is yes. They're also into Lil Wayne, Nas, and T.I.

"It tastes like Kool-Aid, don't it?" Clark says. He and Hutchinson, who met after one of Wright's games, are just friends. Tonight, she's got a party to hit, and as she leaves, I ask her if there's anything she'd like to mention about Wright. "He goofy," she says, flashing a mischievous, knockout smile.

I take a seat on Wright's black leather couch, which faces a 60-inch flat-screen television — smaller than what they wanted, actually. To Clark's chagrin, Georgetown is beating Vanderbilt. To the right of the television is Wright's desk, where pictures of his friends and family surround his laptop computer, lit up by its current screensaver — a picture of his reverse dunk against the Magic.

Wright changes the screensaver pretty often and takes unabashed pleasure in his own image. In fact, Clark recently discovered a camera full of Wright close-ups taken in his Range Rover. "I caught him taking a photo session of himself!" he says, giggling.

Like the Thanksgiving story, though, there's no spite in this disclosure. For all the good-natured ribbing, Clark seems almost protective of Wright. Asked why he isn't watching the Heat game, Clark says: "I know they're going to win, but they're not putting my boy in. D. Wade ain't playing either."

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