- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

The deal consummated by the Washington Wizards during last night’s NBA Draft indicated that the team intends to make the playoffs sooner rather than later.

The trade sent Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the fifth draft pick (which became the rights to Wisconsin point guard Devin Harris) to the Dallas Mavericks for forward Antawn Jamison.

“If we had kept the pick, I would have been happy with it because I think we would have gotten a very solid player, but it would have been a player we’d have had to wait on for a couple of years to really contribute,” said Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld. “By getting Antawn, we get a player who is ready to go from the very beginning.”

The Wizards also sent Dallas an undisclosed amount of cash.

In acquiring Jamison, the Wizards — 25-57 in 2003-04 — landed a 6-foot-9, 223-pounder who averaged 20.2 points and 7.5 rebounds over his first five seasons with Golden State.

Last season, after going to Dallas in a blockbuster deal, Jamison accepted a reserve role on a team loaded with talented forwards and won the league’s Sixth Man Award while averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.

The addition of Jamison should make the Wizards a much more athletic and versatile team next season as they begin play in the new Southeast Division with Orlando, Miami, Atlanta and expansion Charlotte.

If Washington doesn’t make any more moves, expect Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes to start in the backcourt; Jamison and Kwame Brown at forward and Brendan Haywood at center.

“Antawn is a good fit in any type of offense because he is so efficient at scoring the basketball,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s very good at running the break. He’s very athletic. When he touches the ball it goes to his hands to the basket about as quick as anybody in the league probably since Bernard King.”

Had the Wizards kept the fifth pick, they would have had the opportunity of selecting Josh Childress (Stanford), Luol Deng (Duke) or Andre Iguodala (Arizona). But Grunfeld, who put together Eastern Conference finalist teams in New York and Milwaukee, indicated he would rather have a proven commodity right now.

“What he gives us is great leadership He’s an inside presence, an inside scorer,” Grunfeld said of Jamison. “He doesn’t need the basketball in his hands. He can play the three spot or the four. When he plays the three, we really become a big basketball team. We’re really pleased to get a player of his caliber.”

Arenas, Jamison and Hughes were teammates in Golden State. When the Warriors improved their win total by 17 games in 2002-03, both Arenas — whom the Wizards acquired last summer via free agency — and Jamison thrived. Hughes had already left via free agency.

The subtraction of Stackhouse and Laettner leaves the Wizards with nine players whose guaranteed contracts are worth approximately $38million. They are still under the yet to be determined salary cap, and last night Grunfeld acknowledged that he might not be finished dealing.

However, even last season the Wizards’ front office had its eyes focused on next summer. That’s when the Wizards can have three players — Arenas, Jamison and Hayes — under contract and in theory can have more than $20million available to bid on free agents.

Stackhouse, a two-time All-Star in Detroit whom the Wizards acquired in a trade that sent Richard Hamilton to the Pistons in 2002, never became the player the Wizards envisioned

He averaged 21.5 points in his first season in Washington. However, a nagging knee injury sustained at the end of that season — which ended with him receiving a two-year contract extension through 2007 worth about $18million — resulted in knee surgery last October with ruinous results.

Stackhouse didn’t play his first game last season until Feb.1. He appeared in 26 games and averaged a career-low 13.9 points. At the end of the month, following a game against the Lakers that saw him score 20 points, hand out five assists and grab five rebounds, Stackhouse announced that he was going to sit out the remainder of the season — without notifying Grunfeld, who was overseas, or coach Eddie Jordan.

Dallas will be the sixth NBA stop for Laettner, 34. The one-time Duke star spent the last 31/2 years with the Wizards but dropped out of favor in the organization last season when he received a five-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. His value is that he is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $6.2million, plus an additional 20 percent of his salary because of a trade clause.

But that is the past, and last night Grunfeld stayed focused on the future.

“We’re not exactly where we want to be, but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “Our foundation is becoming solid, but we still have steps to take.”

The Wizards went for height in the second round when they drafted 7-3 center Peter John Ramos. Last season Ramos, just 19, averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and blocked 2.4 shots while playing for Criollos de Caguas (Puerto Rico).

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