- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

One of the principal issues before the Wizards in the offseason is to have a thorough exchange of ideas with the ever-unpredictable Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas has made it clear he does not want to end up like Kevin Garnett in Minnesota or Paul Pierce in Boston.

You probably could add Kobe Bryant in his post-Shaquille O’Neal seasons to the list.

Arenas has said he does not want a maximum contract if it means limiting the capacity of Ernie Grunfeld to secure talent.

One thing is certain: The Wizards are not about to become a team that pays luxury tax as long as Abe Pollin is the owner.

The wants of Arenas are fairly simple. He wants to be with a team that can go deep into the playoffs.

That team possibly could have been the Wizards this season, considering where they were situated before Antawn Jamison succumbed to a knee injury at the end of January.

We’ll never know how it all would have turned out because of the injuries to Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler. We can say the Wizards would not have been an easy out in the playoffs. We also can say that the old order in the Eastern Conference is shifting.

Who would have thought as recently as two weeks ago that the Bulls would eliminate the Heat in four games?

There is no reason to think the Wizards would not have been bunched with the Pistons, Bulls and Cavaliers if they had managed to stay healthy.

And please drop the spiel that the Wizards somehow do not handle the loss of their leading players as well as other teams.

Pick an NBA team — any team — and remove its two leading players from it and see how well it would hold up.

Just how well would the Suns absorb the loss of Steve Nash and Shawn Marion over the course of a season?

That Suns team would not qualify for the playoffs.

The Wizards are perhaps a 25-30-win team without Arenas and Butler.

Arenas, without overstating it, is the franchise, as he must know.

You can debate whether Jamison or Butler is the No. 2 player. Each has considerable qualities.

Although Butler made his first appearance in the All-Star Game this season, the honor just as easily could have gone to Jamison.

Butler merely resonated more in the local media because of his breakout season and because Jamison earned the honor two seasons ago.

Arenas could opt out of his contract after next season.

It is an option Arenas said he would exercise if the franchise is not where he thinks it should be.

If the team is found wanting next season, the burden in large measure will fall on Arenas.

That is the responsibility that comes with being one of the top 10 players in the NBA.

That responsibility extends beyond the court as well.

Bryant is suffering in Los Angeles partly because of that maximum contract he so desperately coveted. His $17.7 million salary this season mushrooms to $24.8 million by 2010-11.

The result is the Lakers have not had the money to be genuine players in free agency.

Jamison will be one of the potential elements in the thought process of Arenas.

Jamison has one year left on a contract that will pay him $16.3 million next season. He will be nearly 32 and looking at a considerable pay cut after his contract expires. How much a cut depends on Jamison’s health, how the Wizards finish next season and who might be available in free agency.

Arenas and Jamison go back to their days in Golden State and clearly have a comfort level.

It would not be out of character for Arenas to opt out of his contract and negotiate for both himself and Jamison.

Coincidental or not, the Wizards announced the contract extension of Eddie Jordan soon after Arenas went public with his support of the coach last summer.

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