The Washington Wizards will re-sign forward-center Etan Thomas, according to a league source.
Thomas, a bruising 6-foot-9, 260-pounder, signed a six-year, $38 million offer sheet earlier this month with Milwaukee. As a restricted free agent, the Wizards retained the right to match the Bucks' offer. Last night, they decided to do just that, according to the source.
Team officials declined to comment on the move.
Thomas, a key defensive presence off the bench, was a fan favorite who averaged 8.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game last season.
Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards' president of basketball operations, has said for months the team was interested in keeping Thomas. When the NBA's free agency period opened July 1, however, the scarcity of quality big men helped boost interest in Thomas, and his return to the Wizards became less than certain.
The deal keeps the Wizards under the NBA's $43.87 million salary cap, but likely means they will have little room to acquire any other top-level players.
While not commenting directly on the signing, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan called the 26-year-old Thomas the team's "guts, grit and glory guy."
"It's hard to keep him off the floor, especially at the end of games when the pressure is on," said Jordan, entering his second season as Wizards coach. "He's as emotionally tough and physical as they come and that is how you become a great team, by playing with guys like that."
Thomas is expected to continue to back up Kwame Brown at power forward and Brendan Haywood at center.
Besides the Bucks, the Boston Celtics were one of the teams to pursue Thomas.
Salaries for centers and power forwards have surged as teams trying to get bigger have bid up prices. In separate six-year deals, the Golden State Warriors paid $42 million to keep Adonal Foyle, the Utah Jazz needed $50 million to land Mehmet Okur from Detroit, and the Memphis Grizzlies doled out $39 million for Brian Cardinal. None of those front-court players was an all-star.
During a news conference last month shortly after the Wizards acquired Antawn Jamison in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks, Grunfeld sounded confident that Thomas would stay in Washington.
"We like what Etan brings to our team . . . He is definitely in our future plans," Grunfeld said.
The addition of Jamison gives the Wizards three bona fide scoring threats (including guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes). Jordan has long felt what the team needs are more players willing to play without the ball, take charges, rebound and play defense. Thomas fits that bill.
"His teammates love to play with him," Jordan said.
Thomas, who grew up in Tulsa, is also the kind of player management has said it wants representing the club.
Thomas took part last week in an anti-violence program for middle-school students in the Russell Senate Office Building. Surrounded by a throng of teenagers during the program, Thomas said, "Sure, I want to stay [in Washington], but we'll see what happens."
Thomas has improved his production in each of his three NBA seasons, the result of his willingness to work overtime.
"He lives in the weight room just like all the best front-court people do," Jordan said.