The Washington Times - May 4, 2008, 08:51PM

\ Jordan talked with each player about both team and individual performances and what they could do to get better next season. To get better the Wizards will have to re-sign both Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, who will both be unrestricted free agents this summer as Jamison’s contract is up and Gil will be opting out of his current deal. The gut feeling among the Wizards — and I think their hunches are right — is that both will return. \

\ Antawn has his exit interview scheduled for tomorrow, so he wasn’t there today to talk to reporters. And Gil arrived at Verizon Center super early today and gave a brief interview to a few TV cameras and was supposed to talk on his way out, but changed his mind and didn’t give any more interviews.\

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\ But both players have said they want to re-sign with the Wizards. I had a conversation with Jamison over the All-Star break about his upcoming free agency and he said “I’m a firm believer that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” He went on to say that the Wizards have a good thing going and given a chance to field a fully healthy squad they can do some serious damage. He also expressed gratitude to management for making him feel so appreciated and said he felt at home with the Wizards. Jamison came to Washington four seasons ago, having been at Golden State and then traded to Dallas for a year before being shipped to the District for the draft rights to Devin Harris. The last four years have been some of the best of his career. Abe Polin absolutely loves Antawn, and I’m told, views him as his modern day Wes Unseld. Polin addressed the entire team last week and told them that he would be bringing both Antawn and Gilbert back.\

\ Agent Zero has maintained all along that he’s not opting out to go elsewhere, but to get a pay raise and sign as long a deal as possible. The Wizards can offer him a six-year deal that would exceed $100 million while other teams could only offer him a five-year contract. In his brief on-camera talk, Gil said he will see how his knee has healed and that will determine if he asks for a max deal this year. He said both this morning and earlier this year that he would take less this year if it meant the team would hang onto Jamison. And he wants to see Jamison taken care of and then he’ll follow suit.\

\ Now, say some team comes along and offers Antawn a super deal thats too good to pass up and he leaves. Does that mean Gil will consider leaving as well? That could throw a wrench into things. Gil wants to win and has great familiarity with Antawn, having played with him two years in Golden State and four years here. And the Wizards chances without Jamison are diminished. That could make Agent Zero second guess re-signing here. But everybody from Eddie Jordan to Caron Butler, to Antonio Daniels has said they expect both players to be back. So maybe, just maybe, the 2008-09 season will be the year we finally get to see what this team is capable of doing.\

\ This summer is crucial for the Wizards. If rookies Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Oleksiy Pecherov and third-year man Andray Blatche can further develop, the Wizards’ firepower only improves and should give the team what it needs to finally get over that hump. Caron Butler said he thinks Nick has the chance to be a 20-point a night player. Imagine that as your sixth man. He has definitely shown flashes this season. It’s definitely in his reach. Blatche has shown both flashes and inconsistency. He needs to further apply himself and take advantage of his size and athleticism. If he can develop a strong work ethic — not just when he’s being called on as a fill-in starter — he could be dangerous. \

\ I hate to say it, but Roger Mason Jr. is probably gone. He turned down a deal from the Spurs last summer because he thought his familiarity here would help him improve more. He signed a one-year deal and it was a wise gamble. With all the injuries, he saw his minutes skyrocket and turned in a career-year. Now some team is going to give him a nice payday. I’m happy for Roger. One of my favorite guys on the team, he’s a local boy and has worked hard, persevered through a slow start and now will be rewarded for it.\

\ The other offseason signings needed to be addressed are the contracts of Eddie Jordan’s assistant coaches, Mike O’Koren, Randy Ayers, Wes Unseld Jr., Phil Hubbard, Dave Hopla and Ed Tapscott. O’Koren, the associate head coach, has been with Eddie since their days in New Jersey. Hubbard has done a great job with the big men this season. Ayers dramatically improved the team’s defense this year. Hopla — a specialized shooting instructor — improved the team’s free throw shooting. Tapscott was a knowledgeable mentor to Young and McGuire. Their deals are all up, but Eddie said their contributions have been invaluable and re-signing each of them is key.\

\ So, there are no shortages of storylines for the summer. Stay tuned …\

\ In parting, here are some soundbites from the interviews today at Verizon Center …\

\ EDDIE JORDAN\

\ On making four straight playoff appearances: “You look at the past four years and only us and Detroit have made it to the playoffs in each of the last four years in the Eastern Conference. That’s pretty good company.”\

\ On what goals were accomplished this season: “As a team and as individuals we wanted to get better defensively, and our defense improved tremendously in the first year of our new system.”\

\ On one word to describe the season: “Challenging. Every year it’s a challenge. Over an 82-game schedule, you have tough times that you need to recover from and come back from, and we did that.”\

\ On the NBA: “After all of the experience that I have had as a player and coach, you always prepare yourself for the worst and hope for the best.”\

\ On next season: “A key for us will be staying healthy. Right now it’s about getting guys healthy, giving them an off-season conditioning program, and getting ready for the summer league.”\

\ On Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison: “We’ve said it all along, from Mr. Pollin to Ernie to myself, it’s a priority to sign Gilbert and Antawn.”\

\ On Nick Young, Oleksiy Pecherov and Dominic McGuire: “For our rookies this is the most crucial summer of their career. They have a little change in their pocket now, but three weeks of rest can’t turn into three months rest for them. I’ve experienced that with players earlier in my coaching career. It’s important that they keep their conditioning right and that they stay professional. We want them to be more consistent and more professional.”\

\ CARON BUTLER\

\ On the key to the summer: “Just stay healthy. Take care of our bodies, make sure our minds are clear, and be ready for next training camp.”\

\ On another season dealing with injuries: “It was a shock, but it is what it is. We overcame a lot of things this season. I told everybody that we had a great year. We rallied together and accomplished a lot this season.”\

\ On Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison: “I’m looking forward to everybody coming back. I would love to have those guys back, and I think that those guys will be back in a Wizards uniform next season.”\

\ On what the Wizards accomplished this season: “The knock on us has always been our defense. In that area, we made a great improvement. We used to be ranked in the low 20’s in the league, and this season we were in the middle of the pack. Next season we want to be in the Top Ten and continue our push for a Championship. That’s what it’s all about.”\

\ On Eddie Jordan: “He should have been considered for Coach of the Year. When we had our injuries, everyone counted us out. All of a sudden we were talked about as a playoff team. Somehow, some way, he made it happen.”\

\ On Andray Blatche: “This is a key summer for Andray. Everyone has been patient with him, and he’s shown some flashes, but this is a big summer for him.”\

\ BRENDAN HAYWOOD\

\ On what the Wizards need to do to improve next season: “The biggest thing we can do is find a way to stay healthy for a long period of time. It would be interesting to see what we could do if we could stay away from the injury bug. If we can do that, I think we’ll be fine.”\

\ On the season: “Our season was very interesting. We had our ups and our downs, but everybody on this team at some point helped us win games, and we have to be proud of that.”\

\ DESHAWN STEVENSON\

\ On the season: “I think it was a good season for us overall. Obviously we lost in the playoffs, and that hurts, but we did a lot of good things this year. We got better defensively, and a lot of people had breakout years.”\

\ On the quest to be healthy: “We got close, but Gilbert came back too late. We lost Caron for too many games\0x2026and we still finished fifth in the East and put ourselves in a position to take the series to Game Seven, but we lost in the end. Still, we did a lot of good things.”\

\ On Eddie Jordan: “He should have been Coach of the Year. He didn’t have Gilbert — an All-Star player — and Caron got hurt, but we still made the Playoffs, played above .500, and he really kept everyone together. He did a great job.”\

\ More on Jordan: “There are a lot of different characters in here, but he’s a player’s coach. He asks our opinion, he doesn’t put us down, and he lets you go out there and play and make your own decisions\0x2026to be your own man. He’s the best coach I’ve played for in that sense. He makes it easier.”\

\ ANTONIO DANIELS\

\ On the season: “I think we have to be pleased with the way that the season went overall. We had a number of injuries to the key guys and that made it kind of tough. We were a very resilient group and we believed in each other and the coaching staff and we continued to push forward. We earned the fifth seed, which we were pleased with under the circumstances, but we lost to Cleveland and you can never be pleased with losing to the same team three years in a row.”\

\ More on the season: “It was a tough year for us because of the amount of obstacles and hurdles we had to go through. That makes it a little bit more rewarding to make it to the playoffs and earn a fifth seed. Who knows what would have happened if the circumstances were different? A healthy Gilbert (Arenas) makes us a much deeper team. We can’t do much more about it now. We just have to pick our heads up and move forward. I am very proud of my teammates and the coaching staff.”\

\ On Coach Jordan: “Coach Jordan was a rock throughout the whole season. The different things that we have gone through this year, including the losing streaks and the injuries, he was still optimistic, and I tip my hat off because he did a fantastic job.”\

\ On re-signing Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas: “Crucial is an understatement. My job is to play, not to make those decisions, but it is a must. We want to make a run at something that we feel is so close.”\

\ DARIUS SONGAILA\

\ On the 2007-08 season: “It was a roller-coaster, just like every other season. I know we’ve been repeating ourselves for the last two years, but we just have to stay healthy. That’s the biggest problem we’ve had. We just have to stay healthy.”\

\ ROGER MASON JR.\

\ On the season: “It was a good year. We had a better record than last year even with the injuries and I think that says a lot. Personally, I had the best year of my career. I would say it was a breakout year for me, as far as minutes and production.”\

\ On his free-agent status: “I am from DC, I love it here and this is where I got my first real opportunity. I told my agent that I would love to sign back here, but it is free agency, so who knows what could happen.”\

\ On what he improved on this season: “I felt I was consistent this year. I worked hard last summer and I felt my approach to the game was much better. I was always ready whenever my number was called on.”\

\ NICK YOUNG\

\ On his rookie season: “I was able to do some things that I thought I could not do out there. This is going to be a big summer for me to work on my game and improve. I want to improve on everything, but my ball handling and my jump-shot especially.”\

\ On playing in summer league: “I want to be able to learn more during summer league. Last year I was kind of shocked that I was actually playing in the NBA. This year I will be more prepared. Dominic and I will be working out a lot this summer. We are trying to improve and earn more playing time next season.”\

\ — Mike Jones