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Wizards Focus on Their Free Agents
Team Will Try To Keep Blatche And Stevenson

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 2, 2007

With a huge chunk of salary cap space invested in players already under contract, the Washington Wizards do not figure to be major players in the NBA free agency period.

Instead, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld has said his focus will be on retaining the team's two key free agents: shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, who opted out of the final year of his contract over the weekend, and third-year forward Andray Blatche, who is a restricted free agent, meaning the Wizards can match any offer made to him.

Teams were eligible to begin negotiating with free agents yesterday, but contracts won't become official until July 11 when the new salary cap is established.

Last year's salary cap figure was around $53.1 million, an increase of about $4 million from the previous season. The Wizards have around $54.1 million in payroll committed for next season and are in the process of working on standard rookie contracts for this year's first-round pick, shooting guard Nick Young, and last year's first-round pick, forward Oleksiy Pecherov.

But the Wizards will be able to utilize the full mid-level exception (a first-year contract of around $5.5 million) and the biannual exception (a first year salary of around $1.7 million).

Prior to settling for a two-year contract with the Wizards last summer that included a first-year salary of just under $1 million, Stevenson turned down a three-year, $10 million offer from the Orlando Magic.

While acknowledging that Grunfeld and Stevenson's agent, Mark Bartelstein, have talked about a new contract, multiple sources said a published report citing a Wizards offer of $9 million over three years was just a possible starting point in negotiations.

A source close to Stevenson said the veteran guard is hoping to land a five-year deal closer to a team's full mid-level exception. After beating out Jarvis Hayes in training camp and the preseason, Stevenson started all 82 games and averaged 11.2 points on a career-best 46.1 percent shooting.

"DeShawn wants to be here and [the Wizards] want to keep him so it's just a matter of agreeing on a number that will work for both sides," said a source familiar with the situation.

Said another source: "I can promise you this: There is no way DeShawn is taking [three years, $9 million]. He'll go somewhere else again for $1 million before he does that."

According to sources, Blatche, who started 13 games last season, is expected to attract interest from several teams, but the Wizards are expected to match any reasonable offer.

Pecherov, who was taken with the 18th overall pick last June before playing in Ukraine last winter, is eligible to sign a two-year contract with a first-year salary of around $1.1 million.

Young, who was taken with the 16th pick in Thursday's draft, will be eligible to sign a two-year contract with a first-year salary of around $1.24 million. The Wizards would hold a team option on both players for their third and fourth seasons. The team also plans on signing second-round pick Dominic McGuire, a forward from Fresno State.

Wizards Note: The summer league squad -- which will consist of Pecherov, Young, McGuire, former George Washington forward Mike Hall and several free agents -- will meet for workouts Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The team plays its first game in the Las Vegas Summer League on July 10 against the Sacramento Kings.

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