Leaving Washington and heading to Cleveland is bittersweet for Antawn Jamison

"That's what it's all about, getting a chance to put myself in a position to win a championship." said Antawn Jamison, right. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010

When he left his Bethesda home on Wednesday afternoon, Antawn Jamison sensed it might be the last time he would take that familiar drive to Verizon Center. He felt some finality as he went through his game-day routine -- getting treatment and tape in the training room, listening to Lil Wayne on his iPod and lifting weights.

After he put on his uniform, Jamison was mentally preparing for the Minnesota Timberwolves when Coach Flip Saunders informed him that team President Ernie Grunfeld needed to speak with him. Jamison's 5 1/2 -year run in Washington -- which included two all-star selections and four postseason appearances -- had come to an end a little sooner than expected.

"I thought I would at least have a chance to play my last game here playing in a Wizards uniform, but it didn't happen," Jamison said in a telephone interview late Wednesday night, after he learned that he was headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team trade that involved the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a bittersweet moment for Jamison, who felt the regret of unfulfilled promise but the hope of something greater ahead.

"Ernie, he didn't want to do it. But he said he thought so highly of me and thought I had an opportunity to win one. I'm ecstatic," Jamison said. "That's what it's all about, getting a chance to put myself in a position to win a championship. It's sad it didn't happen here in D.C. We had the vision of doing some special things there."

But the Wizards repeatedly failed to launch, either through unfortunate injuries -- most notably to Gilbert Arenas -- and mishaps or running into the Cavaliers in the first round. And this season, the team grossly underachieved despite high expectations, foundering to a 17-33 start and forcing Grunfeld to break up a team that had grown "stale."

Jamison had heard speculation that he could be headed to Cleveland, which led to some anxious and uneasy nights the past few days. Not because Jamison didn't want to leave; he was unsure if he would ever have an opportunity to play for a championship. He had come to accept that he wasn't going to win a championship in Washington this season.

After Grunfeld dealt Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to Dallas, expediting the rebuilding process, Jamison knew a championship definitely wasn't going to happen before his contract ended in two years. So, the consummate professional finally did what he hoped he wouldn't have to: He made an impassioned plea for a trade.

"That's one thing I respect about Ernie. I told him, 'It'll be tough for me to be part of a rebuilding stage.' My window of opportunity is not a wide-open window. I wanted to take advantage of it," said Jamison, who has $28 million left on his contract after this season. "I appreciate them for putting me in a winning situation because they could not have done that."

Jamison said this season has been the most stressful of his career, with the Wizards dealing with the death of owner Abe Pollin and Arenas suspended for the remainder of the season for bringing guns to the locker room in a dispute with Javaris Crittenton in late December. After playing what turned out to be his final game for the organization in Charlotte, Jamison said he needed a break and didn't want to see a basketball until he came back for practice after the all-star break.

"I've never felt that way about the game," he said. "I was just tired, like, 'What is going on?' " When asked how he would've dealt with having to finish the season in Washington, Jamison said, "That would've been tough if I would've stayed here. Not being able to do the things I set out to do before the season. The distractions that happened the last month or two. Brendan and them getting traded. I still would've gone out there and been a professional in those situations, but it would've been tough to have fun and go out there and compete at a high level."

But he is thrilled about joining Cleveland, where he will team up with the league's reigning most valuable player LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal. "This is one of the most successful franchises in the NBA. You know they got all-world on the team and they can do so much," Jamison said. "For them to think so highly of me to think that I can help them out as far as accomplishing that overall goal makes me happy."

Jamison understood the oddity of the move, since he spent so much time attempting to beat the Cavaliers, with whom the Wizards had a heated rivalry in recent years. During the 2007 playoffs, the Wizards were without both Arenas and Butler, and Jamison famously carried the team on his back, averaging 32 points and nearly 10 rebounds as the Wizards remained competitive despite getting swept in four games.

"It's not weird now. Knowing those guys and knowing how much we didn't like them and the battles that we had and the most important thing, coming up on the short end of the stick. But to be a part of it now, it speaks volumes," he said. "This is a team we didn't like and we just had a rivalry, but that's behind us. It's a business, we know that. Just happy that I'm getting my opportunity to fulfill my dream, which is to go deep in the playoffs and win a championship."

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