By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 2008
On several occasions, Gilbert Arenas has said he would be willing to take less money from the Washington Wizards if it would help owner Abe Pollin and team president Ernie Grunfeld assemble the necessary pieces to win an NBA championship.
Yesterday, according to Arenas, the three-time all-star agreed to a six-year, $111 million contract with the Wizards, two days after the team offered him a six-year deal worth between $125 million and $127 million, the maximum allowable for a player with seven years of NBA service under the league's collective bargaining agreement.
The Wizards made the maximum offer with a caveat: If Arenas, who opted out of the final year of his deal last month to become an unrestricted free agent, took the offer, it would be more difficult for the team to surround him and all-star forwards Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler with the kind of talent required to win the franchise's first title since 1978.
"I looked at like this: There is nothing I can do for my family with $127 million that I can't do with $111 million," said Arenas, who is traveling in Asia and Europe for two weeks as part of a promotional tour for a shoe company. "I mean, college is expensive but it ain't that dang expensive. Now, we have room to add a piece. There is a window of opportunity for us. Adding key pieces leads to championships and that's what we all want."
Arenas can't officially sign a contract until Wednesday, when the league's one-week moratorium on free agent signings concludes. Contract specifics still must be ironed out after the league releases salary cap and luxury tax figures for the upcoming season next week.
Had he signed for the maximum, Arenas would have owned the second-largest contract signed by a player since 1999. Kobe Bryant signed a deal worth $136.4 million with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004.
Arenas said he mulled over the situation during the long flight to China on Tuesday and ultimately decided that taking less money was worth it.
Because of the moratorium, Grunfeld is not allowed to comment on the negotiations, but a team source familiar with the situation confirmed that Arenas has agreed to the deal while adding that some details still need to be worked out.
Arenas said he believes that the first year of his new contract will pay him about $14.5 million. That would allow the Wizards the opportunity to sign a free agent and still remain underneath the luxury tax threshold, which is likely to be about $71 million.
Depending on the exact figures of Arenas's contract, the Wizards should have most of their mid-level exception (expected to be about $5.8 million or $5.9 million) to add a player. The team will also have its biannual exception (roughly $1.9 million). The team could attempt to re-sign shooting guard Roger Mason Jr., who is coming off a career season and has drawn interest from several teams, or it could go after one of several free agents.
Possible targets include small forward James Posey, who was a valuable role player on the Boston Celtics' NBA championship team, and guard-forward Matt Barnes, who has been a valuable player -- particularly as a defender -- for the Golden State Warriors.
But even if Arenas's decision doesn't make a major impact on the roster next season, it should pay off later when his cap figure grows along with that of Jamison, who signed a four-year, $50 million extension Monday.
Butler's contract expires at the end of the 2010-11 season.
"The main thing is that I didn't want to just take the big contract and then be sitting there in the same position [Kevin Garnett] was in when he was with Minnesota, making all that money but the team couldn't put any pieces around him to win a championship. I talked to him about that, and I didn't want that to happen here.
"This way, I'm still getting paid a lot of money and we can make the moves we need to make. I want to win a championship here in D.C. I want to have a parade that goes right past the White House. Me and Barack Obama. How cool would that be? I really think that with the players we already have and with a couple of moves, we can do it."
The decision capped a strange round of negotiations. Typically, teams offer a low figure and the athlete and their agent ask for more and the sides negotiate to a number. Not with Arenas, who represented himself.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Wizards feared that a low-ball offer might cause the notoriously unpredictable Arenas to take a lesser offer elsewhere. Those fears nearly were realized when the Warriors jumped out and offered nearly $100 million over five years.
Instead, according to Arenas, the Wizards immediately offered the maximum, and in doing so put him in the position of weighing a choice between taking the maximum and possibly strangling the team's salary cap situation, or taking less and creating flexibility to get better.
Arenas also said he was influenced by a phone conversation he had with Pollin before the player's trip to China.
"It just gave me reassurance," said Arenas, who accepted a six-year, $65 million deal from Pollin in 2003. "He told me: 'When I picked you up five years ago, you're my guy and I meant that. You're the face of the Wizards. When you're out of the country walking down the street, I know that I have a fine young man representing me, this organization and the city of Washington to the fullest.'
"That really got me thinking. I mean, this man has given me over $170 million so what's $16 million now? If he's put that much belief in me without hesitating, why should I hesitate on what I need to do?"