By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010; D01
The Washington Wizards started their much-anticipated roster makeover on Saturday, trading Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to the Dallas Mavericks for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden and two other players.
The seven-player deal provides financial flexibility and substantially changes the look of the Wizards (17-33), who have foundered this season despite expectations that they would become a contender in the Eastern Conference.
"We haven't achieved the things that we were hoping to," President Ernie Grunfeld said when reached by telephone. "We just felt like we need some change and we needed some freshness. Maybe this group together has gotten a little bit stale. Maybe we needed to go in another direction at this time."
A person with knowledge of team's thinking said on Saturday there could be more changes before the Thursday trade deadline.
Antawn Jamison has also been the subject of trade rumors, with the league-leading Cleveland Cavaliers among his primary suitors. Jamison, 33, is owed $28 million the next two seasons after this one. Boston has also been reported to have interest, but Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, has denied having discussions with the Wizards. Multiple league sources have confirmed that the teams have not engaged in trade talks.
The Cavaliers have yet to make an offer for Jamison, according to two league sources, and they are reportedly also interested in Phoenix all-star forward Amare Stoudemire and Indiana forward Troy Murphy. Cleveland can offer Zydrunas Ilgauskas's expiring contract but has been unwilling to part with second-year forward J.J. Hickson, whom the Wizards are believed to covet.
"We're going to continue to talk to people just like everybody else," Grunfeld said, refusing to comment about specific trade rumors. "I don't know what else, if anything, will happen. We're still going to have conversations."
The deal with Dallas, which was agreed upon in principle on Friday, also sends James Singleton and Quinton Ross to Washington. In Howard, the Wizards get a former all-star swingman who is averaging just 12.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game during an injury-plagued season. Gooden, a 6-foot-10 power forward, is averaging 8.9 points and 6.9 rebounds. Ross and Singleton are noted perimeter defenders.
But the Wizards surrendered Butler, Haywood and Stevenson in what essentially is a salary dump that provides almost $15 million in salary cap relief for the 2010-11 season. Ross is the only player the Wizards receive who is signed through next season. Howard has a team option worth $11.8 million next season.
The deal also provides nearly $2.5 million in cap relief this season for the Wizards, who will ship out about $19.7 million in salaries while getting back $17.3 million. Coupled with the savings they already received after the season-ending suspensions of Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, the Wizards' luxury-tax penalty could be reduced by nearly $7 million.
"We're getting some quality players here," Grunfeld said. "Josh Howard was an all-star a few years ago and Drew Gooden was a starter for a team that went to the NBA Finals. We get some very solid players, players who are going to come in and give us some freshness. At the same time it does give us more flexibility down the road."
The Wizards have been looking to reshape the team after the suspensions of Arenas and Crittenton, who brought guns to the Verizon Center locker room in a December dispute. They rank next to last in the East despite a $79 million payroll, a roster that boasted three players who have been all-stars in Butler, Jamison and Arenas, and a successful coach in Flip Saunders.
"We all thought this would be a much more productive season for us, but a lot of things happened along the way," Grunfeld said. "Players always tell you what to do and if you are not winning as you would like to win, sometimes it's necessary to make some changes."
Butler made two all-star appearances in 4 1/2 seasons in Washington. He is set to earn $10.5 million next season and had sought a contract extension last summer but never appeared comfortable in Saunders's system. He is averaging just 16.9 points after averaging more than 20 points the past two seasons.
In a statement, Butler thanked the Wizards and their fans "for embracing me and my family the way they did while we were here" and added, "I am looking forward to my new opportunity."
Haywood, 30, was the longest-tenured Wizard and final link to the Michael Jordan era. He will be a free agent next summer and is having a career year, averaging 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. The Wizards had grown leery about being able to re-sign Haywood, since he is likely to look for a considerable raise from the $6 million he earns this season. "He's one of the better big men out there. So I think there is going to be a lot of demand for him in the offseason," Grunfeld said.
Stevenson was a starter on two playoff teams, but has struggled since having back surgery last March.