- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2007

General manager Ernie Grunfeld said yesterday he wasn’t surprised Gilbert Arenas plans to enter the free agent market after next season and that he is committed to keeping the All-Star guard with the Washington Wizards for the rest of his career.

“We expected and anticipated that Gilbert would elect to opt out of his contract,” Grunfeld said. “Gilbert has said that he intended to opt out for business reasons with the ability to sign a longer and more lucrative deal.

“As a three-time All-Star and one of the league’s best players, we understand why a player of his stature would like to be compensated accordingly.”

Grunfeld said the organization intends to make Arenas an offer that will keep him in Washington.

Gilbert has made a significant impact with his exploits on the court and a sincere connection with our fans and our community because of his compassion and generosity,” Grunfeld said. “Gilbert has said that his intention is to remain with our organization, and we are committed to having him spend his entire career as a Washington Wizard.”

Arenas, who said Saturday he will act as his own agent, already has ruled out signing a extension with the Wizards this summer that would add three years to his original deal, a six-year, $64 million contract he signed in the summer of 2003.

If Arenas opts out next summer, he will be eligible to sign a maximum deal that would provide a first-year salary of between $14 million and $16 million with any team. Arenas is expected to make about $12 million next season.

The Wizards, however, could trump any offer because they would be able to sign Arenas to a six-year deal. Any other team would be able to give him only a five-year contract.

Arenas told The Washington Times on Saturday he was “not opting out to leave” Washington but rather to test his value on the free agent market.

“I’m opting out to sign,” Arenas said.

Arenas, 25, has said on more than one occasion he would like to finish his career in Washington. However, he also has said more than once he must feel confident the Wizards are committed to building a team that can contend for a championship.

The Wizards have reached the playoffs in three of Arenas‘ four seasons with the team.

However, the team’s fortunes have declined in the past two seasons. The Wizards won 45 games and reached the second round of the playoffs in 2005, but they won fewer games in each of the last two seasons.

The Wizards also were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons, though both Arenas and fellow All-Star Caron Butler missed the postseason this year because of season-ending injuries.

“You are a little disappointed now,” Arenas, who averaged 28.4 points this season, told The Washington Times. “At the end of the day, you’re still in the first round. You get frustrated because you wonder if you are taking forward steps or if you are going backward. Our overall record is not looking better. We didn’t have any more wins this year than we did last year.”

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