Gamble pays off for Stevenson

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DeShawn Stevenson took a huge risk last summer when he turned down a $10.5 million extension in Orlando and opted to sign with the Washington Wizards for less than $1 million.

That gamble paid off for Stevenson. Appearing yesterday at Verizon Center with team president Ernie Grunfeld and coach Eddie Jordan, Stevenson spoke for the first time since signing a four-year deal worth $15 million Monday. Stevenson has the option for the fourth year.

“It was tough,” Stevenson said about not accepting the deal in Orlando. “You’ve got $10.5 million on the table, and they snatch it off the table. So you go to another team, and you play with guys that you have never played with. I’m just glad Ernie and Eddie gave me the chance to play here. And if you think about it, I made the money up. Some things happen for a reason in your life.”

In what amounted to an audition year, Stevenson averaged 11.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and a career-high 2.7 assists while starting all 82 games for the Wizards. He also registered career highs in field goal percentage (46.1) and 3-point field percentage (40.4).

He also doesn’t shy away from the 19.6 percent he shot in the playoffs last season when the Wizards were swept in the first round against Cleveland.

“That [stunk], man,” Stevenson said. “I regret that.”

When Stevenson first sat down with the Wizards last summer, both the player and the team knew that Stevenson planned to opt out of his contract at the end of the first year and enter free agency unrestricted.

“It’s a credit to DeShawn that he was able to come in and fit in and not worry about everything that had gone on with him before in his old situation,” Grunfeld said. “He didn’t let outside influences get to him.

“We told him not to worry about numbers, and that’s hard for free agents to do,” Grunfeld added. “We told him to just help us get ‘W’s‘ and the rest will take care of itself.”

By keeping Stevenson, the Wizards won’t have to worry about going into the regular season without their best defender for the third straight year. In the two previous seasons the Wizards have lost their best defenders — Larry Hughes and Jared Jeffries — to free agency.

Jordan sounded relieved that, barring a trade, he will bring back all the starters from last year’s team.

“It’s a great relief. It puts you a step ahead of the game as opposed to the last two or three years,” Jordan said. “DeShawn’s a good complement to [Gilbert Arenas]. Having someone who can play with Gil is good. DeShawn sacrifices his game a lot. Last December we had to tell him to shoot more, and that’s when we started winning. He’s one of the most coachable players I’ve ever coached.”

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