Wizards Dealing With Tall Tasks

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2007

Washington Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said he expects 2006 first-round draft pick Oleksiy Pecherov, a 7-foot Ukrainian, to be on his team's roster next season. The fate of the Wizards' current 7-footer is less certain.

After center Brendan Haywood walked off the court in the final seconds of the team's season-ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, two sources close to the player said he would consider demanding a trade if Eddie Jordan remains as the team's coach. During an end-of-season session with reporters yesterday, Grunfeld said that "time heals a lot of things" but made it clear he was less than pleased with Haywood's reported behavior.

"There's a certain decorum, a certain way that you should act during a game and after a game, and that message has been relayed," he said.

Haywood has repeatedly clashed with fellow center Etan Thomas and with Jordan over the past two years, and teammates said this week that they couldn't afford similar distractions in the future. Grunfeld maintained that the two centers have mended fences -- "actually they went on a date the other night, they're real good friends now," he quipped -- and said the conflict with Jordan "has not been swept under the rug, it's been talked about and addressed, privately."

"You don't want those kinds of things to happen, and it's a situation that has been dealt with internally," Grunfeld said. "If it needs to be addressed down the road, it will be addressed again. As I've said, I've been in this league for 30 years, and the only sure thing that happens every year is that issues come up. And then you have to deal with your issues. You have to fix them, and then you have to move on."

As for Pecherov, Grunfeld said the 22-year-old likely will come to the United States within the next month and will compete with the Wizards in the Summer League for a second year. Pecherov, who has bulked up since last summer and weighs 240 or 245 pounds, can play power forward or center but is most comfortable facing the basket, Grunfeld said. He could not sign with the Wizards until July.

Grunfeld said he is hopeful 2006 second-round pick Vladimir Veremeenko will play with the Wizards this summer, and that while discussions continue with the representatives of Spanish point guard Juan Carlos Navarro, his seven-figure buyout remains a stumbling block.

While almost all of the team's core players are under contract, more than half its roster will consist of free agents if starting guard DeShawn Stevenson opts out of his contract, as expected. Regular contributors Jarvis Hayes and Andray Blatche are restricted free agents -- giving the Wizards the right to match any contract offers -- while Gilbert Arenas could opt out of his deal next summer and has said he plans on waiting until the last moment to judge the team's prospects.

Grunfeld also said that forward Darius Songaila probably will play for Lithuania's national team this summer. "I think that's very important to him, and we'll work with him and in all likelihood he's going to do that."

Grunfeld declined to discuss his free agent priorities and said he has not yet spoken to Arenas about contract issues. And while he acknowledged being disappointed in this season's results, saying "it's not enough anymore just to make the playoffs," he also urged patience.

"I know everybody wants answers today to everything, but that's not going to happen, because that's not the way I work," he said. "I'm going to take my time. There's no urgency; you can't sign anybody today . . . and my experience tells me that the worst time to make decisions is right after tough losses. So you have to take a step back, clear your head, look at everything that happened throughout the season and see where you want to go from there."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company