Wizards owner Abe Pollin said yesterday he will do everything in his power to keep Gilbert Arenas with Washington, less than a month after the two-time All-Star said he would consider opting out of his contract in 2008 if he thinks the team is not progressing toward a championship.
“I talked to Gilbert and he’s not interested in opting out — I’ve talked to him personally,” Pollin said. “He wants to win a championship. I said, ‘Gilbert, what do you think I want to do? I want to win a championship, and that’s why I’m doing everything I can to win a championship. And I won’t stop doing it until we win one.’
“And,” Pollin continued, “we are going to win a championship. Maybe not this year, but we are going to win one soon. That is our goal.”
The 24-year-old Arenas, who is in Las Vegas this week with forward Antawn Jamison at U.S. national team tryouts, told The Washington Times in June he wanted to see the Wizards take steps toward a championship.
While yesterday’s official signing of 6-foot-8 forward Darius Songaila doesn’t guarantee that kind of success, his addition should help the Wizards. Songaila, who signed a five-year, $23 million contract, gives the team a big man who can play the pick-and-roll game that is such an important aspect of coach Eddie Jordan’s offense.
“We came into the offseason wanting to get a big man who could play the pick-and-pop game and be a threat,” Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. “Darius is going to be very good for us in a lot of situations.”
Songaila averaged a career-high 9.2 points a game last season, his third in the league. The Lithuanian was welcomed by representatives from his country’s embassy yesterday.
“I like to come out and play the elbow game,” Songaila said. “I can take a big man outside and go around him. This team is good for me because it has players like Gilbert and Antawn Jamison. You won’t see me doing a lot of crazy dunks but I will do what I do. I’ll be an outside threat and I’ll do some passing, play good defense.”
Songaila spent two seasons in Sacramento, where he worked closely with then-assistant Pete Carril, the inventor of the Princeton offense the Wizards use. That experience should help shorten Songaila’s adjustment considerably.
With Songaila signed, and Andray Blatche perhaps the most impressive player on the team’s summer league roster, the Wizards have taken steps to bolster their interior.
If the team is able to re-sign restricted free agent Jared Jeffries — who looks likely to sign a one-year offer with the team then become an unrestricted free agent after next season — the Wizards could be a deeper team than at the end of last season.
Notes — Both Jeffries and center Brendan Haywood, who share agent Andy Miller, were at Verizon Center yesterday. Haywood, looking trim, refused comment when asked if he and Jordan had discussed his role with the team. Haywood was benched twice last season and it is well known that he and Jordan had some testy moments last season. … Jeffries said there were no new developments on his contract front.