By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The Washington Wizards took care of one piece of summer business yesterday when they signed two-time all-star forward Antawn Jamison to a four-year contract extension that will pay him $50 million.
With Jamison locked up, team president Ernie Grunfeld was able to turn his attention to working out a deal for three-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas, who officially became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 a.m. today.
Arenas, who opted out of the final year of his contract, has said that he wants a maximum-level contract, one that would cover six years and pay him about $124 million. Grunfeld was prepared to offer Arenas a lucrative long-term contract, according to a league source familiar with the team's plans, but the source said it was believed the team's initial offer would be less than the maximum.
Arenas was free to agree to an offer immediately although contracts cannot become official until July 9.
Arenas was scheduled to fly to China this morning and said that if an agreement wasn't reached before he left, negotiations would have to wait until he returns in two weeks.
The Wizards were able to exclusively negotiate with Jamison right up until the free agency period opened this morning. Had the sides not reached an agreement yesterday, Jamison could have fielded offers from other teams and would have been prevented under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement from signing a new contract with the Wizards until July 9.
The Philadelphia 76ers were prepared to make an offer to Jamison with the $11 million in salary cap space they have available for the upcoming season, according to a source familiar with the situation. However, Jamison said he never seriously questioned whether his agent, Arn Tellem, and the Wizards would reach an agreement.
Grunfeld has consistently stated that his offseason priority was to retain Jamison and Arenas. Wizards owner Abe Pollin last season assured both players as well as all-star forward Caron Butler that he wanted to keep the three with the team.
"It just came down to the fact that I felt comfortable here and Mr. Pollin expressed that he was going to re-sign me and we were able to negotiate a good deal for both sides," said Jamison, who earned $16.3 million last season in the final year of a contract he signed with Golden State in 2001. "When you have both parties willing to compromise and get something done, you can get something done."
According to a source familiar with the specifics of Jamison's contract, his first year salary cap number will be less than $10 million, which is significant because that should give Grunfeld room to sign Arenas and still have enough money below the NBA's luxury tax threshold to possibly sign another player. The team's only other free agent is shooting guard Roger Mason Jr., who is likely to draw offers from other teams after a career season with the Wizards.
Before signing Jamison, the Wizards had about $42.2 million committed to contracts for next season. The salary cap and luxury tax threshold for next season has not yet been established but both figures typically rise by $2 or $3 million per season. Last season's salary cap was $55.63 million and the luxury tax threshold was $67.86 million.
Teams that go over the threshold must pay a dollar-for-dollar tax and after the season. That money is pooled and redistributed among teams that remained under the limit.
The Wizards remained under the threshold last season and the fact that Grunfeld traded the team's second-round pick in Thursday's draft for cash indicates that Washington will likely try to stay under it once again next season.
Arenas, who would have earned $12.8 million next season in the last year of his old contract, hasn't specifically demanded a maximum contract or made direct threats about taking less money elsewhere if the Wizards were not willing to offer one. But he did indicate yesterday that he wants a contract with a first-year salary of more than $15 million.
The Wizards are able to offer Arenas a six-year contract whereas other teams can only offer one of up to five years. Also, the Wizards can offer more money. As of last night, Arenas said he had no immediate plans to visit or negotiate with other teams.
"I have a number in my mind, a number I feel I'm worth and we'll just have to see what they come with," Arenas said over the weekend. "I guess we'll find out."