By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 2008
Gilbert Arenas said he opted out of the final year of his contract with the idea he would remain with the Washington Wizards. When NBA free agency officially opens at midnight tomorrow, Arenas will have an opportunity to show he was sincere.
According to a league source familiar with the situation, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld plans on soon offering Arenas a lucrative long-term contract, one that could cover up to six years and could be worth more than $100 million.
However, whether Grunfeld and the Wizards are willing to meet the three-time all star guard's wish for a maximum-level contract -- one that would cover six years and pay him over $124 million -- remains unclear.
Arenas could agree to a deal immediately, but contracts cannot become official until a one-week moratorium concludes July 9.
To get a deal done tomorrow, the Wizards and Arenas would have to work quickly because Arenas has a 9 a.m. flight to China, where he will participate in a promotional tour sponsored by Adidas. He will not return to the United States for two weeks.
Whether the Wizards offer the maximum or not, the team appears willing to make a huge investment in a player who is coming off two knee surgeries. Grunfeld has consistently stated that retaining Arenas and two-time all-star forward Antawn Jamison would be his offseason priorities.
The Wizards have been able to discuss a new contract with Jamison since he became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but the team has not been allowed to have contact with Arenas because he opted out of the final year of a deal that would have paid him $12.8 million next season.
According a league source familiar with the team's thinking, the Wizards would like to complete a deal with Arenas before turning their attention to Jamison, who earned $16.3 million last season in the final year of a maximum-level contract he signed with Golden State in 2001.
Yesterday, Grunfeld shared little insight into his free agency plans other than to acknowledge that the Wizards still wants to sign Arenas and Jamison, two players who have helped them reach the playoffs four straight times since Jamison arrived before the 2004-05 season.
"We'll go through the process, and we'd certainly like to get both players signed," Grunfeld said.
When it comes to signing Arenas, the Wizards should be helped by a couple of factors. For starters, because he is their free agent, the Wizards can offer a six-year contract whereas no other team can offer more than five. Additionally, very few teams have the cap space to make Arenas a huge offer.
One team that could potentially make a run at Arenas is the Philadelphia 76ers, but they already have a point guard in Andre Miller and likely will look to add a forward this summer with the $11 million they have available. Philadelphia could make a run at Jamison, who drove up his value last season by averaging 21.4 points and 10.2 rebounds.
The Los Angeles Clippers could target Arenas, who is from the Los Angeles area, but they just drafted a scoring guard in Eric Gordon and would have money to make a big offer to Arenas only if Corey Maggette and Elton Brand choose to opt out of the final seasons of their contracts.
The wild card in negotiations between the Wizards and their star player could be Arenas himself. His unpredictable nature could make negotiations especially interesting.
Arenas, who does not have an agent and is representing himself, has stated on several occasions that he would like to sign a maximum-level contract, though he has never explicitly demanded one. He's also stated in the past that he would be willing to take less if it helps the Wizards add key pieces that will move them closer to a championship.
In March, Arenas said he wanted to make sure Jamison was taken care of "first" and after the season, in a blog he wrote for http://www.nba.com, Arenas said he would not come back to the Wizards if the team did not retain Jamison.
When reached over the weekend, Arenas wouldn't reveal the exact amount he is looking to receive nor would he say whether he would accept an offer should Grunfeld make one tomorrow.
"Right now, I'm just sitting back waiting to see what is going to happen," Arenas said. "I have a number in mind, a number I feel I'm worth and we'll just have to see what they come with. I guess we'll find out" tomorrow.
And if the sides don't reach an agreement before he heads to China?
"Then it will have to wait until I get back," Arenas said.
Opinions on how much the Wizards should be willing to spend on Arenas vary among executives from other NBA teams.
One Eastern Conference executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he would not offer Arenas a maximum contract.
"Why would you max him out?" the executive said. "I think one of the biggest reasons you see teams go to the second round of the playoffs, then fall out of the playoffs, is because they max out players that are not max players. The reason you see some teams sustain themselves, at least in the conference finals or the Finals mix, is because they've maxed out the right players. I can't max him out. I don't want to be one of those teams that's one and out, two and out."
However, an executive who runs a Western Conference team, expressed a different opinion.
"I'm not saying you give Gilbert Arenas max money just to do it, but I do look at it this way: If there is a team that he's a max-type player for, it's the Wizards, as long as he comes back from the knee problems," said the executive, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "He's one of those rare guys in this league who can score the basketball, he hits game-winning shots and he can put butts in the seats. What's the value in that? Another key is going to be how his contract impacts that franchise going forward. Will they still be able to sign Jamison? And, will they be able to make the moves going forward they need to make if they want to make that next step? It's an interesting situation."
Wizards Notes: The contracts of assistant coaches Mike O'Koren, Phil Hubbard and Wes Unseld Jr. expire tomorrow. Grunfeld said he plans to re-sign all three, who have been members of Coach Eddie Jordan's staff since he became coach prior to the 2003-04 season.
Assistants Randy Ayers and Dave Hopla, who joined the staff last season, remain under contract and will also be back. . . .
The team would like to have 2006 second-round pick Vladimir Veremeenko play in the Las Vegas summer league. The Wizards open summer league play July 14 against Portland. Veremeenko, a forward, has played in Russia the last two seasons and remains under contract to BC Khimki.
So far, the summer league roster is expected to consist of Veremeenko, 2008 first-round pick JaVale McGee, fourth-year forward Andray Blatche and last season's rookie trio of Nick Young, Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov.
Staff writer Michael Lee contributed to this report.