By JOSEPH WHITE
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 7:56 PM
WASHINGTON -- It was tough enough for DeShawn Stevenson to accept a minimum wage contract to play for the Washington Wizards. What he didn't expect as part of the bargain was second-banana billing to Gilbert Arenas in a hit video on YouTube.
With both of those facts in mind, Stevenson had a good all-around night in the Wizards' first game following the All-Star break. Not only did he score a season-high 23 points in Tuesday's 112-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he managed a nice return salvo at Arenas by publicly needling the point guard over his shooting percentage.
"He's 'Hibachi,' but I'm 'Mr. Fifty,'" said Stevenson, who raised his average to 50.1 percent _ well ahead of Arenas' 42. "Put that in the newspaper so he'll get mad."
His comments quickly got back to Arenas, who brought them up when the two players resumed their playful bickering at practice on Wednesday.
"He was kind of ticked off about it," Stevenson said. "But, you know, Gilbert and I go back and forth."
The pair really went back and forth after a practice a few weeks ago when they staged an ad hoc 3-point shooting competition. The video of the contest _ which has more than 350,000 views on YouTube _ shows Arenas doing everything he can to distract Stevenson, including a break dance. The loser was supposed to pay the winner $20,000, but Arenas didn't collect after a narrow victory.
"He knew he cheated," Stevenson said. "But he liked the simple fact that everybody said he won."
Stevenson has received more attention for the video than for any shot he's made this season.
"I got crazy feedback," Stevenson said. "That's what happens when you're on a winning team, things will happen. And you've got a talented guy like Gilbert that's got everybody's ear."
Arenas usually likes to get the last word when someone takes a public swipe at him, but he was mum on the "Mr. Fifty" jab Wednesday, avoiding reporters by leaving the locker room through a back exit.
Meanwhile, Stevenson talked up the idea of a 3-point rematch.
"I think there will be," Stevenson said. "Me and Gilbert, we're so competitive. Something's going to happen. When it does, it's going to be fun. I feel if he doesn't distract me, I'd win."
In the contests that count in the standings, Stevenson has been invaluable. He's started all 51 games, averaged 10 points and is one of the best defenders on a team that could use a few more. He's become more aggressive offensively in recent games, helping to make up for the absence of injured forward Antawn Jamison.
"He stays within his role," coach Eddie Jordan said. "And he saw that his role changed when Antawn went out. So, as good veterans will do, he said 'Well, I've got to be aggressive and take a little bit of the responsibility to score.' And that's a good, sound, solid veteran."
Stevenson expects his solid play to translate into a contract more befitting his skills next season. He is currently paying for a very expensive gamble from last summer, when he opted out of the final year of his contract with Orlando. He gave up $3 million in salary because he thought he could get more as a free agent.
Instead, all he received was an offer from the Wizards that will pay him $932,000 this season, making him one of the NBA's top bargains in 2006-07.
"I actually like the role that I'm in right now," Stevenson said. "I play defense, pick up the best guy on the team, and knock down shots. I fit into it. I'm on a team where I don't need to score 15, 16 points to get a contract. I can do the things I need to do and still get the nice contract I'm looking for."
And he hopes that contract will come from the Wizards, even if means putting up with Arenas' antics.
"I would love to be here long-term," Stevenson said. "I jell with these guys. Me and Gilbert, we're like longtime friends. I feel like this is my team, and it can't get any better than this."
Notes:@ Etan Thomas, who returned this week from a two-game suspension for punching fellow center Brendan Haywood, is ready to put the incident behind him. "We don't have to be best friends, but we can definitely work together," Thomas said. Thomas said recent visits with troubled youths and parents of Iraq-bound soldiers have helped put the spat in perspective. "In the bigger scheme of things, I can't really list this as a problem," Thomas said. ... The trade deadline is Thursday, but don't look for the Wizards to make a move. "We like where we are," president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. "Having said that, if something comes along, we'll take a look at it."