By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010; D01
As the Washington Wizards took the court to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, Antawn Jamison had already ditched his uniform for a cream-colored sweater and was headed to his silver Bentley, carrying a duffel bag and leaving behind a season filled with misery.
The Wizards traded Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team deal completed late Wednesday night. The Wizards will receive center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the rights to Slovenian forward Emir Preldzic and a first-round pick from Cleveland, as well as forward Al Thornton from the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers will get Drew Gooden from the Wizards and send point guard Sebastian Telfair to the Cavaliers.
"Driving off, I was thinking about all the great memories," Jamison said in a telephone interview late Wednesday night. "I didn't accomplish what I wanted to, and I feel bad because of the fans. They were great fans. But I was happy. I know that I can look myself in the mirror and say that I gave my all, but I knew the journey placed before me might be a great journey and might be the journey I always dreamed of."
Jamison, a team captain, was a favorite of late owner Abe Pollin and team President Ernie Grunfeld. Grunfeld claimed that the acquisition of Jamison -- a pre-draft deal with Dallas in the summer of 2004 that signaled a new era for the Wizards -- was the best deal he had ever made. Jamison's 5 1/2 -year run included four playoff appearances.
Jamison led the Wizards in scoring the past three seasons, averaging 21.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and was the last player remaining from the Wizards team that defeated Chicago in a first-round playoff series in 2005. On Saturday, the Wizards shipped Brendan Haywood, the Wizards' longest-tenured player, to Dallas along with two-time all-star Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson. Gilbert Arenas, who missed most of the past two seasons with a knee injury, is serving a season-ending suspension for bringing guns into the locker room during a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton in December.
"There's disappointment," Coach Flip Saunders said about moving Jamison. "He's one of the most professional guys I've ever been around. It's unfortunate the way the season took a turn with injuries. We could never get any traction. The thing with Gil really tainted everything."
Jamison's replacement, Andray Blatche, had a career-high 33 points and season-high 13 rebounds in the Wizards' 108-99 win against the Timberwolves.
As Jamison left Verizon Center, he was asked to give a message to Wizards fans. "I love them more than they love me," Jamison said. He then hugged Wizards equipment manager Jerry Walters and hopped into his car, in which Gooden was a passenger.
Gooden, a 6-foot-10 forward, arrived in Washington in the seven-player trade with Dallas, which also brought to town Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton. But Gooden made it known before his arrival that he had no interest in playing for the Wizards. He was seeking a buyout of his contract, but the Wizards used him as the piece that was needed to complete the deal with Cleveland. The teams had discussed trading Jamison for several weeks, with talks intensifying on Tuesday.
The trade also closed the chapter on the "Big Three" era in Washington, with a team built around three players who became all-stars in Arenas, Butler and Jamison. The trio never won a playoff series in three-plus seasons together, losing each time to the Cavaliers. Grunfeld recently acknowledged that the group had become "stale," prompting him to start over.
Forward Mike Miller described the flurry of trades in the past four days as, "Extreme Makeover: Team Edition."
Jamison, 33, signed a four-year, $50 million extension with the Wizards in the summer of 2008, expecting the team would contend for a title. But Arenas and Haywood missed nearly all of last season with injuries and the team stumbled to a disappointing 19-win campaign.
With Arenas and Haywood returning, Saunders taking over and Grunfeld acquiring Miller and Randy Foye in a pre-draft trade last summer, the Wizards were expected to be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Jamison proclaimed in the preseason that the Wizards would contend for a championship.
It was not to be. Pollin died in late November, and the team underachieved and sputtered to a 17-33 start to the season. The frustration of the continued losing, chemistry problems and distractions wore on Jamison as the season carried on. He privately pined for an opportunity to play for something meaningful.
Jamison had a picture of the Larry O'Brien championship trophy hanging in his locker room stall all season and plans on retiring when his contract ends in two years. He said the only thing that he is playing for is a championship, and he has his best chance with the Cavaliers, who have the league's best record at 43-11. Jamison joins forces with reigning most valuable player, LeBron James, who reportedly lobbied hard for Jamison, and Shaquille O'Neal.
The Wizards had become more open to moving Jamison after they completed the trade with Dallas, which led to a $2.5 million savings this season and cut more than $15 million in salary next season. With this trade, the Wizards moved the remaining two years and $28 million of Jamison's salary, clearing up enough cap room to become a player in free agency this summer.
They saved nearly $3.2 million as they shipped out more than $16.2 million in salaries while taking on just $13 million. After receiving a 50 percent savings for the salaries of the suspended Arenas and Crittenton, the Wizards no longer have to pay the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax. They could get more savings by negotiating a buyout with the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas, who could return to the Cavaliers 30 days after an agreement is reached.
Unlike the last trade, the Wizards received a draft pick and a talented young prospect in return. The Wizards were high on Thornton in the 2007 NBA draft, but he went two spots ahead of Nick Young. He has averaged 13.7 points per game over his career and 10.7 points this season for the Clippers. The draft pick from Cleveland will likely be late in the first round, but it is expected to assist with the franchise's rebuilding process.