- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld believes the 2006-07 version of his team will be the deepest since he took over three seasons ago. Yesterday top draft pick Oleksiy Pecherov became somewhat of a victim of that depth when Grunfeld said the rookie would play in Europe and not with the Wizards this season.

“At this time we really felt like it was very important for him to play and get significant playing time,” Grunfeld said of the 6-foot-11 forward, who was selected with the 18th overall pick. “The best option we have is to leave him over there for now to get the experience, get a little big bigger and a little bit stronger. We’re really high on him and we think he has real potential down the road. But let’s not forget that he’s only 20 years old.”

Under NBA rules, the Wizards would have had to pay up to $500,000 of Pecherov’s $800,000 buyout to BC Kiev, Pecherov’s team in the Ukrainian Superleague.

The Wizards, who begin training camp Tuesday, also could have placed Pecherov on their NBA Developmental League team, but sources close to the situation yesterday said they preferred to have the rookie play overseas.

When he is ready to contribute, the Wizards envision Pecherov as a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, one whom they see as being equally adept at both banging underneath for rebounds as well as being able to step away from the basket to hit 17-foot jump shots.

But that time will have to come later — next season, most likely — because of the roles that the team is expecting others to assume.

Second-year forward Andray Blatche was extremely impressive during the summer playing for the Wizards summer league teams in Las Vegas and Long Beach and will be given every opportunity to show that he belongs in the rotation.

The Wizards also signed 6-9 Darius Songaila over the summer — a player whom they expect to have an immediate impact on the roster who can swing between playing both power forward and center.

“We’re pretty loaded at that position right now. It would be hard for a 20-year-old to break into the lineup,” Grunfeld said.

Pecherov averaged 12.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in five summer league games with the Wizards.

Notes — The Wizards this season will introduce an alternate road uniform, according to team sources. The new uniform, it is believed, will be gold and black. …

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said guard Jarvis Hayes, who underwent season-ending knee surgery last winter, is fully recovered. Jordan also said there is no incumbent at center, where Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood are both competing for the starting job. Last season Haywood made 70 starts at center.