Wizards Go on the Defensive

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2006

When they signed free agent guard DeShawn Stevenson to a two-year contract yesterday, the Washington Wizards weren't necessarily preparing for Jared Jeffries's possible departure. Stevenson realized after meeting with Wizards officials that the organization continues to be haunted by last season's first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"They told me they felt that if they had a defensive stopper in the playoffs for three plays they would've went farther," Stevenson said, referring to LeBron James's two driving layups in Games 3 and 5 and Damon Jones's baseline jumper in the closing seconds of the deciding Game 6. "I'm not saying I'm the best defensive player in the world, but I'm going to go out there and do what I've got to do."

Stevenson, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard, signed a deal that will pay him $932,015 in the first year and includes a player option for the second year. He developed a reputation as a shut-down defender last season with Orlando, where he averaged 11 points and 2.9 rebounds and shot a career-best 46 percent in 82 starts. Magic Coach Brian Hill repeatedly challenged him to guard the best perimeter player. Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said Stevenson was an "explosive player" and "a sound perimeter defender who will add toughness to our team."

The Wizards "don't have a guy right now who's going to go out there and focus on defense. They have a lot of scorers," Stevenson said. "I am starting to come into my own, and I know my niche in the league. I have been working on my game, and that is what you have to do to get better in this league. I feel this is a great team for me, a great fit."

Whether Jeffries will be a part of the mix when training camp begins in October remains a question. The Wizards will decide tomorrow whether to match the five-year, $30 million offer sheet Jeffries signed with the New York Knicks. Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld has been mum about Jeffries since receiving the offer sheet last Monday, but there is a growing sentiment within the organization to let Jeffries go to New York rather than agree to a deal that will hinder the team's financial flexibility, according to league sources.

Stevenson, 25, provides some insurance in case the Wizards lose Jeffries, the team's best all-around defender last season, and he comes with a much cheaper price tag. Stevenson opted out of a contract that would have paid him about $3 million this season. He later turned down the Magic's three-year, $10 million offer, which backfired when Orlando -- which had already drafted J.J. Redick with the 11th pick in this year's draft -- signed Keith Bogans instead.

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