The Washington Wizards team that takes the court for tonight's preseason finale at Indiana will look a lot like the one that opens the regular season Wednesday in Toronto.
All-star point guard Gilbert Arenas is expected to be back in the lineup after missing two games with an eye abrasion, all-star forward Antawn Jamison will be on the court after missing Sunday's game at Houston with a bruised shoulder, and each of the 15 players on the bench tonight will be in Toronto for the opener.
The Wizards released shooting guard Billy Thomas and forward Hiram Fuller yesterday, trimming the roster to the NBA maximum of 15 players, and they picked up the fourth-year option on guard Jarvis Hayes's contract.
The move means that Hayes will be under contract with the Wizards through the 2006-2007 season. Had the team not picked up the option, which is worth $2.56 million, Hayes would have been a restricted free agent after this season.
"I am excited to be a part of this team," Hayes said. "We have a good thing going here in Washington. This feels good to be in a situation that I am comfortable in. It feels good that they made the commitment to me."
Hayes, the team's first-round pick in the 2003 draft, won't play tonight because of soreness in his knee but went through shooting drills after practice at MCI Center yesterday and said he plans to be ready for the season opener.
Hayes isn't alone in looking forward to the start of the regular season. According to several veterans, the best thing about tonight is that the next time the Wizards hit the road and get ready for a game, it will be for real.
"We're ready for the games to start counting," Jamison said. "In the regular season, you play different. You approach the game different and really play hard. The new guys are anxious, and I know that I'm anxious, the coaching staff is anxious, the organization is anxious and it seems the whole city is anxious. Guys are really ready to start playing games that mean something."
Center Brendan Haywood summed up the feelings of many players when asked about his priorities heading into tonight's game.
"The main thing is, you don't want to see anybody get hurt," Haywood said. "You want to go into the regular season as healthy as possible because we have 82 games to go and then the playoffs."
Awvee Storey will go into tonight's game knowing that he won't be playing for his NBA life. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward, who graduated from Arizona State in 2002, was invited to training camp in Richmond just days before it opened and beat the odds by making an NBA roster for the second time. Last fall, Storey made the New Jersey Nets roster out of camp.
However, after Storey played in nine games, the Nets released him just a few days before Christmas. Storey headed back to the basketball wilderness, first with the CBA's Idaho Stampede and then to a league in South Korea where his team, the TG Xers, won a championship.
"It's been a long time coming and I'm just extremely happy about getting this opportunity," said Storey, now 28. "I took that experience from last year [being cut by New Jersey] into this experience here with the Wizards and thought about it every time I've been on the floor. This is not going to happen again, there's not going to be a repeat. I need to learn every time I'm out there on the court and pick up on things."
To make the 15-man roster, Storey had to beat out Fuller, who played well for the Wizards' summer league team and received a partially guaranteed contract. In six preseason games, Storey averaged 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 17.5 minutes while impressing the coaching staff with his energy, hustle and offensive skill.
"He was something different, something unique and something special with what he brings to the floor," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "He has a knack for offensive rebounds, he has a knack for doing things hard, to run the floor hard and he comes up with plays sort of like Michael Ruffin in a sense. He's a terrific kid to coach; well, actually he's not really a kid."
Wizards Notes: Andy Miller, the agent representing forward Jared Jeffries, said he does not think the team and Jeffries will reach agreement on terms of a contract extension before Monday's deadline.
If he does not sign an extension, Jeffries, who is in the final season of his original four-year rookie contract, will be a restricted free agent after the season, meaning the Wizards will have the option to match any offer made to him. . . .
Tonight's game, which tips off at 8 p.m., will be available via streaming audio at www.washingtonwizards.com.