Wizards fill gap at center with Oberto

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Veteran center Fabricio Oberto has agreed in principle with the Washington Wizards on a one-year deal worth the biannual exception of $1.99 million, according to his agent.

The 6-foot-10, 34-year-old Argentine was the prime target in free agency for the Wizards, who sought a veteran presence to provide depth to a frontcourt that featured eight-year veteran Brendan Haywood and second-year big man JaVale McGee.

Oberto, a starter on the San Antonio Spurs’ 2006-07 championship team, was traded last month to Milwaukee as part of a deal that sent Richard Jefferson to San Antonio. Milwaukee then shipped Oberto to Detroit to complete the three-team deal, and the Pistons earlier this month waived the center, making him a free agent.

According to his agent, Herb Rudoy, Oberto also was being pursued by the Phoenix Suns and exploring options that included returning to the Spurs. But San Antonio signed center Theo Ratliff on Thursday, eliminating Oberto’s hopes of returning.

Oberto was “very interested in the Wizards because they’re going to have a very good team next year, being healthy again,” Rudoy said. “And he wants to win another championship.”

The signing puts the Wizards’ payroll for the coming season at $77.79 million - nearly $8 million over the league spending limit, for which they will pay a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax penalty.

It is likely the last offseason move for the Wizards, who in June sent the fifth overall pick and center Etan Thomas and forward/centers Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov to Minnesota for guard Randy Foye and swingman Mike Miller.

That deal bolstered the Wizards’ perimeter attack but left them with a roster that featured seven guards, four forwards and two centers.

Because of their financial situation, Haywood’s recovery from the wrist surgery that kept him out of all but six games last season and the encouraging development of McGee, the Wizards weren’t in the market for a high-profile free agent center.

Instead, they sought a veteran capable of playing five to 10 solid minutes a game behind Haywood and McGee who also would come at a relatively low cost.

As the free agency period began July 1, the Wizards eyed Rasho Nesterovic, Channing Frye, Jason Collins and Jamaal Magloire. But when Oberto was waived that day in a cost-cutting move, he immediately became Washington’s top target.

Oberto, who came to the NBA four years ago after a strong European career, averaged 2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.5 minutes last season and was limited by injury to 54 games. But he’s a savvy veteran who would meet the Wizards’ needs.

Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld is in Israel and couldn’t be reached for comment. An official announcement is expected from the team early next week once the paperwork is completed.

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