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Wizards tab Thomas as starting center

WASHINGTON -- Etan Thomas picked up the phone this summer
and called Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. The gist of the
conversation: Thomas wanted to know if he could have a shot at the
starting center job.

Well, now it's his.

Thomas beat out Brendan Haywood in their preseason competition,
and Jordan announced his decision Monday, two days before the
Wizards play their regular-season opener at the Cleveland
Cavaliers.

"What we saw as the preseason concluded, and after all of our
evaluations, was that Etan showed a little bit more force and a
little bit more aggressiveness," Jordan said. "We are looking to
protect the rim and the paint."

Thomas and Haywood alternated starts during exhibition games.

Last season, Haywood was the starter for the most part,
averaging 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 23.8 minutes. Thomas
averaged 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds in 15.8 minutes; he made nine
starts.

During the offseason, Thomas called Jordan to find out whether
he could move out of his spot as a substitute.

"I wanted to have a bigger role, and I asked him specifically
things that I needed to work on so I could come back and have the
opportunity to compete for a starting spot," Thomas said.

For his career, the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Thomas has averaged 6.2
points and 5.0 rebounds in five seasons, all with the Wizards. He
was drafted out of Syracuse in the first round in 2000 by Dallas,
which traded him to Washington.

The Wizards' starting five this season also includes All-Star
Gilbert Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson at guard, and Antawn Jamison
and Caron Butler at forward. Arenas, Jamison and Butler formed the
league's highest-scoring trio of teammates last season, and Jordan
has made a point of focusing on defense heading into 2006-07.

"I am ready to contribute the best that I can," Thomas said.
"Coach told me we are going to have four scorers on the floor at
the same time, so I have to really concentrate on rebounding,
blocking shots, and helping our defense -- and scoring when I get a
chance."

Washington also trimmed its roster to the 15-player limit Monday
by waiving rookie forward Mike Hall, an undrafted free agent from
George Washington University. He averaged 3.8 points and 3.4
rebounds in five preseason games.