Grunfeld Aims to Keep Arenas, Jamison

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 9, 2008

In his annual postseason news conference, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said his summer priorities are to retain Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, praised the coaching efforts of Eddie Jordan and his staff, and listed health, continuity and the development of the team's young players as keys to next season.

Grunfeld put a positive spin on Arenas's statement, via his blog, that he won't return unless the Wizards retain Jamison, who is an unrestricted free agent.

"It's good because we're on the same page, because we want to sign Antawn and we want to sign Gilbert," Grunfeld said. "I kind of like that he's supportive of his teammate, he's supportive of Antawn and that's been our plan all along. So, I'm glad to see everybody in the organization on the same page."

Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on July 1. Arenas, who has said that he plans to opt out of the final year of his contract in order to become an unrestricted free agent, has until that day to file the necessary paperwork with the league.

Jamison and Arenas have said that they would like to return, and Arenas has repeatedly expressed a desire to see Jamison taken care of first. On March 30, Arenas went so far as to suggest that he'd take less money if it would ensure Jamison's return.

Jamison earned $16.3 million this season, the final year of his deal. Arenas made $11.9 million this season and could earn $12.8 million next season if he does not opt out.

If Grunfeld is successful in retaining Arenas and Jamison, the Wizards could look very much like the team that has made the playoffs four consecutive seasons but has been eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the last three.

Guard Roger Mason Jr., the team's only other free agent, could sign for more elsewhere. And the Wizards might be looking to free up more playing time for Nick Young, who averaged 7.5 points in 15.4 minutes while showing flashes of being a big-time scoring threat as a rookie.

The team holds the 18th and 48th picks in the June 26 NBA draft. Grunfeld said he is open to adding a player with the first-round pick but also will consider packaging the pick if a good trade opportunity presents itself.

Grunfeld said he understands the frustration felt by some Wizards fans who want him to make drastic changes but believes the team can be competitive in the playoffs if key players such as Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler stay healthy.

Arenas and Butler missed the team's 2007 first-round playoff loss to Cleveland; and this season, Arenas's knee injury limited him to 17 games, including the playoffs, while Butler missed 24 games with hip, ankle, wrist and knee injuries.

Grunfeld said he has not considered breaking up the team's current group of core players and starting over.

"From my standpoint, no," Grunfeld said. "This team has shown that it can be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference when we have all of our pieces together. I think the team has grown. I think our young players have improved. Brendan Haywood had an outstanding year, the bench is much deeper and better than it has been in the past and I would like to see how we can do with all three players [Arenas, Jamison and Butler] playing for a significant amount of time. Very few teams in the league can put three legitimate all-stars out there."

Grunfeld also touched on a number of other subjects:

· When asked if he considered making a coaching change, his answer was an emphatic "No."

"The coaches did a very good job for us under tough situations and kept us afloat," Grunfeld said. "I think that if you would have said that our leading scorer was going to be out for as long as he was, I don't think most people would have said that our record would be what it was and we'd have the fifth seed, so I think our coaches did a very nice job for us."

· Center Etan Thomas, who missed the entire season following open-heart surgery, is expected to return at full speed by the opening of training camp.

· He has no firm mandate from team owner Abe Pollin to remain under the luxury tax threshold, which was $67.9 million this season. Teams that go over the threshold must pay a dollar-for-dollar tax. Following the season, that money is pooled and split among the teams that remained under the threshold.

Because of this season's rash of injuries, Jordan was forced to run some practices with seven or eight healthy players. "That's going to be determined by how much it costs to sign everybody," Grunfeld said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company