Washington Wizards guard Larry Hughes said at the beginning of training camp that his pending free agency was something he can't help but think about.
"You try not to," he said.
Center Brendan Haywood said he won't let his contract situation "control" him. And power forward Kwame Brown said he won't let the possibility that he'll be a restricted free agent at season's end affect the way he approaches the game.
"You just play ball and don't think about the money, 'cause if you chase it you always lose it, especially in Vegas," Brown said.
The Wizards have eight potential free agents on the roster, including projected starters Hughes, Haywood and Brown. Haywood, Brown and second-year point guard Steve Blake could be restricted free agents after this season, and Hughes an unrestricted free agent.
Anthony Peeler and Samaki Walker both signed one-year deals last summer. The team also has until Oct. 31 to pick up the options on Jared Jeffries and Juan Dixon, otherwise one or both could become free agents as well.
With so many players having so much on the line this season, Coach Eddie Jordan doesn't know whether people playing for contracts will help or be a hindrance this season.
"When I was a player, I wanted to play hard every day," Jordan said yesterday. "Whatever motivates them, whether it's eating Cream of Wheat in the morning or their thinking about their contract, I don't know. I don't care. I want them to be motivated to come out to play hard every day and to improve."
The Los Angeles Clippers were in a similar situation two seasons ago, with a talented class of restricted free agents in Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Andre Miller and Corey Maggette and an unrestricted free agent in Michael Olowokandi. The season proved to be disastrous, with players fulfilling their own agendas, then-coach Alvin Gentry losing his job and the Clippers stumbling to a 28-54 record.
"I don't think it will affect this team at all," Haywood said. "I don't think this is a situation like the Clippers, where guys started to [go one-on-one] and get their own numbers. Our offense isn't even built for that. So, if you tried to do that, you'd look crazy. You wouldn't even be effective.
"I think guys know that if the team wins, we take care of business, everybody's contract situation will be taken care of," Haywood said. "When you win, your numbers can be lower, but you'll look better."
Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said he doesn't expect free agency to be a distraction. "More than likely, it will be a motivator," Grunfeld said. "All of these things take care of themselves. We'll see how things play out."
Grunfeld has had preliminary talks with the representatives of both Haywood and Brown, who can both sign extensions before the end of the month. "I don't think anything is imminent," Grunfeld said yesterday.
The collective bargaining agreement will expire after this season, but Brown said he doesn't think anything will get done until next summer. "I'm not thinking about contracts, I'm just trying to get healthy so I can play again," said Brown, who has missed all of training camp with a broken bone in his right foot. "We've got to get the new deal on the table for the whole entire league, so it doesn't make sense for an owner to talk about a deal right now."
"This is definitely an important year for me, but I can't look at it like, 'It's my contract year. It's my contract year,' and put undo pressure on myself," Haywood said. "Just play every game to the best of my ability. If I do that, the contract thing will take care of itself. I think it's motivation. If you have a bad game, you can be like, 'It's my contract year.' But you don't let it control you."
Wizards Notes: The Wizards will have a free open scrimmage from 1 to 2 p.m. today at MCI Center. They will play the defending champion Detroit Pistons twice this week. They will be in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday and Auburn Hills, Mich., on Friday. . . . Brown is expected to get another update on his foot on Thursday.