Wizards Add Power in Songaila

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; E03

The Washington Wizards haven't been major players in free agency so far this summer, but the team did fill a need yesterday by agreeing to terms on a five-year contract worth around $21 million with forward Darius Songaila, according to team and league sources.

Songaila, who averaged 9.2 points and four rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent in 62 games for the Chicago Bulls last season, will hold an option for the fifth year of the contract.

The Wizards were interested in Songaila last summer before the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder signed a two-year contract with the Bulls, earning $2.2 million last season. However, Songaila declined to pick up the second-year option on that contract and drew interest from several teams before agreeing to terms with the Wizards yesterday.

Before signing with Chicago, Songaila played two seasons with the Sacramento Kings, where he averaged 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 51.2 percent. Like the Wizards, the Kings ran a version of the Princeton offense and Songaila carved out a role as a good midrange shooter who flourished in the pick-and-roll game, and as a solid rebounder.

The addition of Songaila should give the Wizards some much-needed depth in the front court, where Antawn Jamison is sometimes overmatched against traditional power forwards and Michael Ruffin lacks the kind of offensive game that can keep defenses honest.

After a four-year career at Wake Forest, Songaila was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2002 draft but began his professional career playing in Russia.

Once Songaila signs, the Wizards will have 13 players under contract. The team hopes to retain a 14th in restricted free agent guard-forward Jared Jeffries.

According to sources, Jeffries is strongly considering signing the one-year qualifying offer (around $3 million), which would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Also, the Wizards are deciding what to do with first-round pick Oleksiy Pecherov, who has not signed and remains under contract with his Ukrainian team, BC Kyiv.

Pecherov, who averaged 12.6 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent in five games in the Las Vegas summer league, has a buyout option in the BC Kyiv contract but likely will play one more season in Europe before signing with the Wizards.

"If they want me to stay in Washington and play next season, I will do that," he said. "If they want me to go back to Europe and play there one more season, I will do that. So it's up to them. I think I can play in the NBA right now, but will I be one of the top 12 players, getting into games, or will I be in the [development league]? In that case, I might be better off staying [in Europe] one more year."

Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract extension over the weekend, said he is still considering adding a defensive specialist to his coaching staff at the suggestion of President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld and owner Abe Pollin.

"I've gathered a list of about five or six names that I'm considering if it comes to that," he said. "It may not, but if the stars fall right, maybe we find the right guy with the right approach and we move forward with that. But there's no timetable."

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