Wizards’ Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza both intend to complete contracts

We should be back with you John. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
We should be back with you, John. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The Wizards fully expected that Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza would be under contract through the 2013-14 season when they acquired them last June from the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for Rashard Lewis’s expiring contract. Okafor and Ariza have early-termination options in their contracts for next season, but both confirmed this week their intentions to finish out their respective deals.

“I don’t know many people who are going to leave money on the table and I’m not one of the people to do that, so most likely,” said Ariza, who is slated to earn $7.7 million next season.

Okafor is the Wizards’ highest-paid player and said he never considered opting out of his deal to become a free agent this summer, even as the team stumbled to a 4-28 start.

Under the current collective bargaining agreement, Okafor would risk taking a considerable pay cut from the $14.5 million that he is slated to earn next season if he were to opt out. But Okafor said the direction of the team has convinced him that staying in Washington is the best option.

“I think that this team can do something,” Okafor said. “I definitely think that if everybody was healthy, we’d be a playoff team this year.”

Okafor has appeared in all but two games this season and is averaging 9.9 points and a team-best nine rebounds. He said he was “fully confident” that he would be back in a Wizards uniform next season.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here immensely,” said Okafor, who first made his intentions to known to CSN Washington. “I think this team, we have good chemistry. Everybody gets along, we’re always joking and laughing. It’s a good unit.”

Ariza has reluctantly accepted a reserve role but he has performed well, and without complaint. In 20 games after the all-star break, the veteran swingman has averaged 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds and been the team’s most valuable perimeter defender all season.

The Wizards came close to dealing Ariza to the Los Angeles Clippers at the trade deadline, but Clippers owner Donald Sterling reportedly balked on a deal that would’ve sent Caron Butler back to Washington. Ariza was uncertain about his future beyond this season.

“I’m here now, so I don’t make those decisions,” Ariza said. “I haven’t even thought of it, as of right now. We’re trying to win games, trying to finish the season out strong. It’s pretty much all that I’ve been thinking about.”

The Wizards currently have $57 million committed to nine players next season (Andray Blatche’s $7.8 million contract does not count against the salary cap). Martell Webster, A.J. Price, Garrett Temple, Jason Collins, Cartier Martin and Leandro Barbosa will all be free agents next summer.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · April 4, 2013