Wizards confident team will resemble 2007-08 makeup
WASHINGTON -- There is no use speculating whether Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison will return to the Washington Wizards next season. If the attitudes expressed Sunday are any indication, their futures with the team are a foregone conclusion.
"I think it will be the case," forward Caron Butler said. "I'm almost positive that it will be the case, that Gil and Antawn will be back in a Wizards uniform next year."
Butler's words were echoed repeatedly by his teammates. Even point guard Antonio Daniels, not one normally to wade into front office matters, said keeping Arenas and Jamison is "a must."
"Crucial is an understatement," Daniels said. "My job is to play, not to make those decisions, but it is a must. We want to make a run at something that we feel is so close."
Coach Eddie Jordan, while deferring to two of his bosses, sounded confident that next season's team will closely resemble this season's team.
"We've said it all along, from Mr. Pollin to Ernie to myself, that it's a priority to sign Gilbert and Antawn," Jordan said.
Owner Abe Pollin and team president Ernie Grunfeld will ultimately make the decisions on the two impending free agents who have been cornerstones in the franchise's renaissance over the last few years. The Wizards and the Detroit Pistons are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs four years running.
But the last three years have had the same ending: a first-round series loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason to keep the gang all together is that neither Arenas nor Butler were fully healthy for the postseason last year or this year.
"Maybe one day," Jordan said, "we'll have everybody for a long stretch of time."
Jordan met with each player individually Sunday, two days after a Game 6 elimination at home against the Cavaliers. Grunfeld will also meet with the players over the next few days and plans to address the media afterward.
Jamison is an unrestricted free agent, while Arenas' status is muddled. He has said he will exercise an option to opt out of his contract so that he can increase his salary, but he's also said he's willing to accept less money if it helps the team afford to keep Jamison as well.
Neither Arenas nor Jamison spoke to reporters after meeting with Jordan, but Arenas told WJLA-TV before the meeting that he still plans to opt out and seek the biggest contract possible under the collective bargaining agreement -- unless he continues to have problems with his surgically repaired knee.
"If I'm 100 percent, then I'm going to ask for a max," Arenas told the station. "If I'm not, then it's negotiation time. If I know my knee's not going to be 100 percent, then I'm not going to sit there and say: 'I want the max.'"
But, later in the interview, Arenas again said he'd take less money if it guaranteed Jamison's return. The negotiations could be quite interesting: Arenas doesn't have an agent, and he said he has overseas trips planned for nearly all of July -- when the talks should be taking place.
Asked how he feels the negotiations will go, he said: "Hopefully for the positive, because I know Mr. Pollin wants me and Antawn back here. He believes in us. We did great things with this city, and we both want to be back here, but we don't know what the salary cap has in store for us."
Backup guard Roger Mason is the team's other unrestricted free agent. He is expected to find several suitors after posting career numbers.
"I am from D.C. I love it here and this is where I got my first real opportunity," Mason said. "I told my agent that I would love to sign back here, but it is free agency, so who knows what could happen."
The Wizards will also spend the summer recovering from various injuries. Daniels will see a specialist about an ailing wrist that will probably require surgery. Arenas will rehabilitate his knee for the second consecutive offseason, although this time he's vowed not to overdo it. Butler, bothered by his hip and knee late in the season, said his ailments require rest and not surgery.
Before leaving, nearly every player also gave a vote of confidence to Jordan, whose job status has been the subject of some speculation even though he has two years remaining on his contract.
"Coach Jordan was a rock throughout the whole season," Daniels said. "The different things that we have gone through this year, including the losing streaks and the injuries, he was still optimistic. And I tip my hat off because he did a fantastic job."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press