Wizards Offer Arenas Top Dollar

Wizards owner Abe Pollin, left, with forward Antawn Jamison at a news conference, talk about the deal that will keep Jamison on the team.
Wizards owner Abe Pollin, left, with forward Antawn Jamison at a news conference, talk about the deal that will keep Jamison on the team. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Washington Wizards yesterday offered unrestricted free agent guard Gilbert Arenas a six-year contract that would pay him between $125 million and $127 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, multiple sources said.

Arenas, who flew to Asia yesterday for a promotional tour with Adidas and will not return to the United States for two weeks, said he is strongly considering whether to accept the offer. He said he is mulling over whether to meet the Wizards' request that he settle for less money to help give Washington greater financial flexibility for signing additional players, this year or in the future.

Arenas would not say how much less he might take. That amount would be determined in part by the new salary cap and luxury tax thresholds that will be released by the NBA next week. Until then, neither Arenas nor the Wizards would be able to pin down specific contract figures.

Although the free agency period opened yesterday at 12:01 a.m., players are not allowed to sign new contracts until July 9.

The free agency period opened early yesterday with Arenas receiving an offer from the Golden State Warriors -- his former team -- for a five-year deal that would pay him just less than $100 million. But it did not appear yesterday that Arenas was seriously contemplating the offer.

The Warriors made the offer to Arenas after learning that guard Baron Davis had opted out of the final season of his contract. Last night, according to a report published on ESPN.com, Davis orally agreed to a five-year, $65 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers.

During a layover in Toronto yesterday, Arenas spoke by telephone with Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who made it clear to the three-time all-star guard that the team wants to do everything it can to retain him.

"I talked to Mr. Pollin and he told me I'm his guy and he won't let me leave no matter what," Arenas said via a text message.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Pollin gave Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld the clearance to offer Arenas a contract that met the league's maximum amount if that was what it was going to take to retain him.

A team source expressed confidence that Arenas and the Wizards will come to an agreement.

"It's going to happen -- he's going to be here," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The question is how much is he going to take and what impact is it going to have on us going forward? The ball is in his court now."

On Monday, the team fulfilled one Arenas wish by signing two-time all-star Antawn Jamison to a four-year, $50 million contract extension. In March and again at the end of the season, Arenas said that he wanted Jamison back and at one point suggested that he would not return if Jamison signed with another team.

The Wizards had planned on retaining both players but faced serious competition for signing Jamison from the Philadelphia 76ers, who have $11 million in salary cap space and were interested in the veteran forward, who averaged 21.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last season.

During a news conference with Jamison at Verizon Center, Pollin called yesterday a "really, really happy day for me" as he expressed his enthusiasm over retaining Jamison. The forward's performance on the court and professionalism have endeared him to the longtime Wizards owner.

"He reminds me of one of my all-time favorite players and great humans that have played for me: Wes Unseld," Pollin said. "I have never had anybody else that I have said that to. Antawn knows that my goal is to win another championship. I'm getting a little old and a little sick but I'm still around and I'm going to be around until we win the [darn] championship. I'm stubborn and hardheaded."

Jamison's first-year salary cap figure will be $9.9 million, which is significant because that could give the team needed space underneath the luxury tax threshold -- which is expected to be set near $71 million -- to sign Arenas and possibly add another player depending on the size of Arenas's contract.

Grunfeld was not able to comment on details of the Arenas negotiations yesterday because of the moratorium on signing free agents, but he acknowledged that the team and Arenas had made "contact." The team's only other free agent, shooting guard Roger Mason Jr., is unrestricted and has drawn interest from a handful of other clubs, including the New Jersey Nets.

If Arenas agrees to a contract under the league maximum, it would give the team salary cap space this season and in future years, when the annual salary figures for Arenas and Jamison would rise.

A players agent said the Wizards are clearly attempting to put the burden on Arenas to make a decision.

"They're making it clear that, 'Hey, we love you, we want you here, we didn't lowball you, we made a big offer,' but at the same time, they're putting the onus on him to think about the direction of the franchise," said the agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did want to be quoted speaking about a player who is not his client. "It's an interesting strategy and makes sense when you think about how he is. This way, he can still get way more from them than he can get anywhere else and he can say to the fans, 'Hey, I took less to help the team.' "

From the Wizards' perspective, if Arenas were to sign with another team, they could at least tell their fans that they had offered him the largest contract permissible.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company