Navarro Eager to Feel Out NBA

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 7, 2007

The agent who represents Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro said Navarro is serious about testing himself in the NBA and wants to play for the Washington Wizards next season.

The Wizards drafted the 6-foot-4, 170-pound Navarro in the second round of the 2002 draft and hold his NBA rights. Navarro, 27, has been a star on Spain's national team for several years and averaged 17.3 points for FC Barcelona of the Spanish Pro League last season.

Barcelona recently agreed to lower Navarro's buyout to around $2 million after the player repeatedly expressed a desire to come to the NBA. Under NBA rules, the Wizards can pay up to $500,000 of the buyout and Navarro would have to cover the rest.

"Juan has made it clear that his first option is to play for the Wizards," said Navarro's agent, Alex Saratsis. "He feels that Washington is on the cusp of doing something very good and he knows that he is the kind of player who can fit into that system and help them do something special."

Since Navarro announced his agreement with Barcelona on Wednesday, the Wizards have received calls from several NBA teams -- including the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers -- interested in possibly trading for his rights.

Should the Wizards elect to sign Navarro, they can offer anything up to the midlevel exception (a first-year salary of between $5.5 and $6.5 million, depending on the new salary cap that will be released next week). A league source yesterday indicated that Navarro could be looking for a three-year deal worth $9 million to $12 million.

However, the Wizards are expected to use the majority of the midlevel exception to retain unrestricted free agent shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson. In fact, Stevenson's situation could have a huge impact on what the Wizards decide to do with Navarro and also influence other decisions made by the team this summer.

According to team and league sources, the Wizards have offered Stevenson a four-year, $12 million contract. But Stevenson, who turned down a three-year, $10 million offer from the Orlando Magic last summer, has not accepted that offer.

Stevenson earned just less than $1 million last season when he started 82 games and averaged 11.2 points on a career-best 46.1 percent shooting. He declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations but said he is pleased with the way discussions have been conducted between his agent and Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld.

"I'm happy that Ernie is still in the process of negotiating, it's just that right now I feel that the offer that is out there is not my offer," Stevenson said. "My agent and Ernie will continue to talk and I'm confident that we'll come to an agreement that works for both sides. I know they want me and I feel good about staying in Washington."

Wizards Note: The Wizards have signed assistant coaches Mike O'Koren, Phil Hubbard and Wes Unseld Jr. to new contracts, the team announced yesterday. Terms of the contracts were not made available by the team, but team and league sources confirmed that all three assistants signed one-year contracts.

Coach Eddie Jordan signed a three-year extension last summer and said he wanted to retain his staff after last season. However, Tom Young recently retired and the team did not renew the contract of Bill Berry, who joined the staff last summer.

Tom Thibodeau was recently added as an assistant and will attempt to help the Wizards improve defensively after the team allowed an average of 104.9 points per game.

O'Koren will retain the title of associate head coach and remain Jordan's top assistant.

The coaching staff will be at Verizon Center this morning to conduct workouts with the summer league team. The Wizards open play in the Las Vegas summer league on Wednesday.

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