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Trying to Hold It Together
Wizards Will Have Work Ahead To Keep All-Star Roster Intact

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 5, 2008

If Caron Butler has his way, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison will be in Washington Wizards uniforms when the team gathers for training camp in October.

Jamison became an unrestricted free agent after a season-ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 on Friday night and Arenas has until July 1 to opt out of the final year of his contract, a move that would make him the biggest name on the free agent market.

Team president Ernie Grunfeld has repeatedly stated that it will be his "priority" to retain Arenas and Jamison. Yesterday, after cleaning out his locker and meeting with Coach Eddie Jordan, Butler all but predicted that one of the league's highest-scoring trios will be kept intact.

"I look forward to both of them coming back," Butler said. "Obviously, I don't have that much input but publicly, I'm saying what I'm saying right now. I would love to have them back. I think that will be the case and I'm almost positive that will be the case."

Asked how he could be so sure, Butler broke into a wide smile.

"I just have a hunch," Butler said. "A reliable source."

Ultimately the decision will come down to negotiations between Grunfeld and two players who have formed the backbone of a team that has made the playoffs four straight seasons. Arenas has undergone two left knee surgeries since April 2007 and was limited to 17 regular and postseason games, but is confident that he can return to the form he showed before injuring the knee 13 months ago.

"I'll be full speed by October," said Arenas, who added that he may take up yoga and boxing workouts to improve his flexibility and conditioning. "I'm not going to do anything stupid this summer. I'm going to take my time and prepare for next season. I'm going to be smart about it this year. I'm going to have five or six months to get this thing strong again and ready to go again."

Arenas, who does not have an agent and will represent himself, said he will opt out and plans to seek a maximum contract, one that could pay him over $100 million over six years.

Jamison turned in one of the best seasons of his 10-year career, averaging 21.4 points and 10.2 rebounds en route to making the Eastern Conference all-star team as a reserve for the second time.

Jamison, 31, earned $16.3 million in the final year of his contract and may be willing to sign a contract that would pay him about $10 million next season, according to a source familiar with his thinking.

Grunfeld must determine how many years he's willing to offer Jamison, who would be in his late 30s at the end of a long-term contract.

One major factor in the negotiations is the desire of owner Abe Pollin to retain Jamison and Arenas in order to maintain the team's core.

Arenas and Butler missed last year's first-round playoff loss to Cleveland and this season, Arenas never was healthy while Butler battled through a string of injuries to his left hip, right knee and left wrist.

According to Arenas, Pollin said he wanted Arenas and Jamison back during an inspirational meeting with players before the team departed for Cleveland before Game 5.

"With our core group intact and the same system in place, we should be even better," Jordan said. "It's been a company stance all along, that we want to sign both of those guys, and I don't think that has changed."

Jordan, who has one season plus an option year remaining on his contract, said he would like to retain his current staff, which consists of associate head coach Mike O'Koren and assistants Randy Ayers, Phil Hubbard, Dave Hopla, Wes Unseld Jr. and director of player development Ed Tapscott.

O'Koren, Hubbard and Unseld have contracts that expire at the end of June.

"I would like to retain my staff, yes," Jordan said. "I think we had a great year. It was one of my greatest years being with assistants, my staff. We challenge each other, we discussed a lot of things. We added a whole lot to our staff."

Wizards Notes: Forward Darius Songaila said he is appealing the league's decision to suspend him for Game 6. The league ruled that Songaila intentionally hit Cavaliers star LeBron James in the face in Game 5, but Songaila and the Wizards were adamant that the contact was unintentional. Songaila, who will play this summer for the Lithuanian national team in the Olympics, was docked one game check and had to watch the game from home. . . . Grunfeld will address the media Wednesday, after he has had a chance to meet with each player individually. . . . The team's only other free agent is guard Roger Mason Jr., who averaged a career-high 9.1 points on 44.3 percent shooting.

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