- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2003

The Washington Wizards signed Jerry Stackhouse to a two-year extension yesterday but denied rumors that they had been given permission by the Milwaukee Bucks to talk with Ernie Grunfeld about the vacant job of president of basketball operations.

However, several sources with knowledge of Grunfeld’s situation maintained that Grunfeld would be released from his contract and that the Wizards did have permission to meet with him.

“I have never met Ernie Grunfeld,” Wizards owner Abe Pollin said. “I have not talked to him. The rumors are just what they are, rumors. I have talked to a lot of people, and I’m not discounting having talked to anybody. We did not have permission.”

According to sources, Grunfeld, who conducted the Bucks’ draft last night, will be free to meet with the Wizards by Tuesday.

Grunfeld, who joined the Bucks as general manager in 1999, guided the Bucks to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001. Surprisingly, Grunfeld was hired by the Bucks after the New York team he put together reached the NBA Finals in 1999. Grunfeld served as general manager of the Knicks from 1993 to 1999 before being fired.

The Stackhouse situation was much more cut and dried.

Stackhouse had until Tuesday to decide whether he would opt out of the final two years of his contact. Stackhouse, who had approximately $14million coming to him over the next two seasons, will now earn between $32million and $35million through the 2007 season.

Stackhouse, who led the Wizards in scoring last season at 21.5, was grateful that the Wizards had come to him and not forced him to explore a tightening free-agent market.

“This is the first time in my career that a team has stepped out for me in any shape, form or fashion,” the eight-year veteran said. “The Wizards didn’t have to do anything, but they stepped up for me.”

Stackhouse was acquired last summer from Detroit for Richard Hamilton. In his best season, 2000-01, Stackhouse averaged a career-high 29.8 points. However, most believe that he had his best all-around year in the following season, when he led the Pistons to the Central Division title though his average fell to 21.4.

Although Stackhouse had talked about potentially testing free agency, he was well aware that the NBA market is not yielding the massive, mega contracts of the past. Had he ventured into free agency, Stackhouse probably would have been looking for a contract that would begin with him earning almost $10million a season. Only two teams, San Antonio and Denver, would have had the ability to accommodate him.

“I think guys are going to be disappointed because the market is just not there,” Stackhouse said. “I really feel fortunate. This is a huge step for the Wizards. They are asking me to be the leader and I’m accepting the responsibility.”

Stackhouse’s signing means one less headache the next president of basketball operations will have to deal with, and that person very well could be Grunfeld.

Although the Wizards have interviewed former Maryland star Len Elmore and contacted Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier, Grunfeld is believed to be the man they covet.

Grunfeld, who has one year remaining on his Milwaukee contract valued at approximately $1.5million, is believed to have wanted to interview with the Wizards for quite some time because the Bucks are about to be sold to Michael Jordan.

Despite reports yesterday that Wizards player personnel director Fred Whitfield was leaving to replace Grunfeld in Milwaukee, a source with knowledge of the situation said Whitfield “is still employed by the Wizards.” Whitfield and Jordan are close friends.

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