By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
When asked about his team's roster situation during a news conference at Verizon Center yesterday, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan replied by saying that team president Ernie Grunfeld had "some things hidden in his back pocket."
One of things turned out to be former Maryland star and former Wizards guard Juan Dixon, who signed a contract yesterday afternoon. The partially guaranteed one-year deal is for $1.03 million, the veterans' minimum for a player with Dixon's experience.
The addition provides the Wizards with some much-needed back-court depth as they prepare for the opening of training camp on Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Though both Jordan and Grunfeld said they were comfortable with the team's current foursome of guards (Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Nick Young and Dee Brown) the team will be without three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas for at least the first month of the regular season and perhaps longer.
Also, Jordan lost a valuable asset during free agency when Roger Mason Jr., who averaged a career-high 9.1 points on 44.3 percent shooting last season, signed with the San Antonio Spurs in July.
Dixon, a Baltimore native, has averaged 8.9 points on 41.4 percent shooting in 386 career games and is deeply familiar with Jordan's system because he spent three seasons with the Wizards after he was selected in the second round of the 2001 draft.
"He's someone I'm very comfortable with," Jordan said. "He's a guy who scored 35 points in a playoff game for us to help us win a series against the Chicago Bulls [in the first round of the 2005 playoffs] and he's a tough, hard-nosed guy who likes to compete."
Dixon also fits into the team's financial needs. The team had limited space remaining underneath the luxury tax threshold of $71.15 million.
Teams that exceed the threshold must pay a dollar-for-dollar tax following the season and that money is then pooled and shared among the teams that remained under the tax. The Wizards barely remained under the threshold last season and owner Abe Pollin would like to avoid paying the tax this season as well.
Both Dixon and Brown have partially guaranteed deals and the team also signed small forwards DerMarr Johnson and Linton Johnson and power forward Taj McCullough to training camp contracts, so those five will compete for roster spots.
"It makes for more of a competitive situation," Grunfeld said. "It's going to be up to the players who can play the best, fit in the best and those will be the guys we take with us."
Apart from Arenas, who expects to return in December or January, the Wizards will enter training camp with a healthy roster.
Veteran center Etan Thomas, who missed all of last season following heart surgery, has been playing in pickup games and is cleared for full duty. Forward Darius Songaila, who elected not to play for Lithuania in Beijing after experiencing pain in his back, has also been cleared, according to Grunfeld.
Also, third year forward Oleksiy Pecherov participated in his first five-on-five action on Monday after working his way back from a sprained ankle.
Jordan said he was "grateful" but also "shocked" when Grunfeld informed him Monday that the team was picking up his option for the 2009-10 season, not because he didn't expect the move but because he had been solely focused on getting ready for the upcoming season.
"I have a contract for this year, so preparing for training camp was the only thing on my mind," said Jordan, who signed a three-year, $12.5 million extension that included a team option for 2009-10 prior to the 2006-07 season. "I wasn't thinking of those things. We're in training camp mode. The coaches went on a retreat last week, we've been the office watching tape and we've been locked in on preparing this team for the season."
One thing that won't change, according to Jordan, is the overall emphasis on defense. After allowing opponents to shoot 47.3 percent and average 104.9 points during the 2006-07 season, the Wizards held opponents to 46.1 percent shooting and 99.2 points per game last season.
"The system's in place," Jordan said. "They understand where we are defensively and the system. Certainly, it's going to be an emphasis in training camp again like last year. They understand where we need to improve and they see the benefits of it."
Wizards Note: Via a text message, Arenas said he is feeling "much better" than he was before the latest surgical procedure and is looking forward to getting into the rehabilitation process. Arenas will be in Richmond for training camp.