Wizards decide to let Jeffries leave for Knicks
WASHINGTON -- Having found a cheaper and more enthusiastic alternative in DeShawn Stevenson, the Washington Wizards said Monday they won't match the New York Knicks' offer sheet for restricted free agent Jared Jeffries.
The Wizards had seven days to match the Knicks' five-year, $30 million deal. They spent the week signing Stevenson -- who, like Jeffries, is known for his perimeter defense -- to a contract that will pay him the NBA minimum of $932,000 for the upcoming season.
Isiah Thomas was glad Washington didn't match the offer.
"One of the things that was written and said and was true about us, chemistry wasn't right. What Jared brings to us more so than talent, he brings chemistry," the Knicks' president and coach said Tuesday after he introduced the team's newest addition.
Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld appeared to be at peace with the situation, as well.
"Jared's representative made it crystal clear that he preferred being in New York," Grunfeld said. "And we feel we have plenty of players who can take up the slack. We have players that want to be here."
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Jeffries, selected by Washington with the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft, has averaged 6.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in four seasons with the Wizards. Last season he started 77 games and averaged 6.4 points, but his greatest asset was his versatility as a defender.
"His ball-handling skills are pretty unique for a player of his size, and his passing skills are pretty unique," Thomas said. "He's pretty complete as a player. Every night you can mismatch your lineup. You can move him around in different places strategically that may give you an advantage on that night."
Thomas also believes Jeffries is a perfect fit for the type of team he is building.
"When you look at he, (Channing) Frye, (Eddy) Curry, David Lee. Those type of athletes, those type of players, that type of personality are the guys when you look forward you can kind of see where we're going with our team," Thomas said.
"We have a lot of good young players, a good young core group of players and I want to be a part of that," Jeffries said.
Jeffries is known for his perimeter defense, but is looking for the opportunity to show his other skills.
"Hopefully Coach Thomas gives me the situation where I can go out and expand more," Jeffries said. "Maybe handle the ball more, be able to distribute the ball more, get more assists, run up and down the court, really get out and push the ball."
Grunfeld said the Wizards will make up for Jeffries' absence with Stevenson and the return of Jarvis Hayes, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. The Wizards have also signed forward Darius Songaila and have high hopes for second-year player Andray Blatche, who played well during summer league games.
"We've added a lot of toughness to this ballclub," Grunfeld said. "Our toughness is going to get better, as well as our competitiveness. We're deep at every position. In all likelihood, this is the team we're going to camp with, and we're very comfortable with it."
A tentative Wizards starting lineup has either Stevenson or Hayes playing next to All-Star point guard Gilbert Arenas, with forwards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison and probably center Brendan Haywood in the frontcourt. Training camp begins in early October.
When listing the key contributors for the upcoming season, Grunfeld did not mention first-round draft pick Oleksiy Pecherov, the latest indication that the Wizards are leaning against buying out the contract the 20-year-old Ukrainian has with a French team. With Washington's roster more or less set, Pecherov could benefit from the greater playing time he would get from another year in Europe before coming to the NBA.
"We think he has a good future in front of him," Grunfeld said. "But he's only 20 years old, so we don't want to put too much pressure on him at this time."
The Knicks, meanwhile, still have an excess of guards with Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Nate Robinson and Jalen Rose. Though Thomas wouldn't rule out any additional moves, he wasn't concerned that playing time would be an issue.
"I'm not looking for the most comfortable situation," Thomas said. "I want the best team. In this league you want the best players. I can deal with it being a little uncomfortable."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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