While Some Teams Make Splashy Free Agent Signings, the Wizards Wait for a Deal

The Washington Post's Michael Lee talks with Ivan Carter about the big free agent deals in the NBA and the options for the Wizards. Video by Comcast SportsNet
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 9, 2009; 12:00 AM

On the first day that NBA teams could officially sign free agents, Ron Artest lifted his new Michael Jackson-inspired jersey for the Los Angeles Lakers, Rasheed Wallace made the first step toward possibly establishing a Big Four with the Boston Celtics, and the Washington Wizards stood on the sideline, watching it all unfold.

Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards' president of basketball operations, observed those moves, as well as others by Detroit (signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva), San Antonio (signing Antonio McDyess) and Houston (signing Trevor Ariza). But Grunfeld said he was content with Washington's own roster upgrades, which came as a result of the trade with Minnesota for Mike Miller and Randy Foye before the NBA draft.

"We can't control what other teams do, and some teams have made some good moves for themselves. But we feel that we have also," Grunfeld said yesterday in a phone interview. "We're a much stronger team. We're adding not only Mike Miller and Randy Foye, but also Brendan Haywood, Gilbert Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson, who didn't play [much] for us last season.

"It's going to be a completely different team that we're putting out there," Grunfeld said. "We're mainly concerned about where we are and we feel good about where we are and that we're going to be a very competitive team."

The Wizards will also be one of the more expensive teams next year, with almost $75.8 million committed to 13 players. With the NBA announcing that both the salary cap and the luxury tax threshold have decreased for only the second time, the Wizards are facing a luxury tax penalty of about $6 million -- and that's before possibly adding another free agent or two to the roster.

"We knew where we'd be, but I don't think anybody could've anticipated the downturn in the economy that caused the luxury tax to go down," Grunfeld said. "Normally, it goes up 3 1/2 to 5 percent every year. This year is something that we're going to deal with, but going forward we're positioned well."

The salary cap for the 2009-10 season fell to $57.7 million from $58.68 million last season. The last time the cap dropped was 2002-03, when the cap declined by more than $2 million from the season before. The NBA also submitted a memo to teams informing them that the salary cap could decline to somewhere between $50.4 million and $53.6 million in the 2010-11 season, the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement.

In addition to player movement, the Rockets also dealt with the pending loss of Yao Ming for next season. Yao broke his foot during the playoffs last season. Houston applied for and received a $5.7 million disabled-player exception, which it used to sign Ariza, who joined the Rockets after being spurned by the Lakers after helping them win a championship. Artest essentially traded spots with Ariza to sign a five-year, $33 million deal with Los Angeles. He even chose the No. 37 in honor of the number of weeks that Jackson's "Thriller" album held the No. 1 spot on the pop charts.

Since the NBA free agent recruiting period began on July 1, the Wizards have reached out to about 10 players. According to league sources, that list includes veterans such as Chris Wilcox, Channing Frye, Fabricio Oberto, Joe Smith, Rasho Nesterovic, Sean Marks, Jamaal Magloire and Jason Collins. The Wizards are willing to be patient, with the hope that one of their targeted players will sign as the market begins to shrink.

The Wizards can use both the mid-level exception (worth about $5.85 million) and the biannual exception ($1.99 million) to add a free agent this summer, but Grunfeld said yesterday that the team is unlikely to use the mid-level exception.

"If you do use the mid-level, it will cost you $10 million for that player. I don't think there is a $10 million player left out there in the marketplace," Grunfeld said. "We'll look around. We'd like to add another big man, but I don't see another big man coming and playing significant minutes for us, but someone who can come in and play a role for us."

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