Wizards owner Abe Pollin brought a little levity to the proceedings yesterday at MCI Center, where the team announced -- as expected -- that it had decided to match the Milwaukee Bucks' offer to Etan Thomas, thus keeping the forward-center in Washington for six years.

Pollin was asked during the news conference whether he discussed the $36.6 million contract with Thomas.

"I said, 'Etan, I love you. You're a terrible basketball player, but I'm going to sign you anyway,' " Pollin joked with reporters. "Really, Etan is a great human being . . . a great basketball player."

The Wizards have long felt Thomas, 26, a social activist who writes poetry when he's not bringing down rebounds and lending a defensive presence, is the type of player they like on the court and in the community.

The 6-foot-9 Thomas averaged 8.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season as a reserve. He signed an offer sheet with the Bucks this month. As a restricted free agent, the Wizards retained the right to match any offer.

With Thomas signed, the Wizards are left with the mid-level exception of about $5 million, the $1 million exception and the veterans' minimum to sign additional players.

Ernie Grunfeld, the president of basketball operations, declined to comment on what free agents the Wizards might be considering.

-- Greg Sandoval

THOMAS