Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Former Maryland guard Juan Dixon, easily one of the most liked players on the Washington Wizards, might have played his last game for the team.

Dixon, drafted with the 17th pick overall in 2002, might be too tempting to pass up when the Charlotte Bobcats begin to build their roster for their initial season via today’s expansion draft.

“I’d have to say that of the players the Wizards have made available, Juan is probably the most enticing,” a league source speaking under the condition of anonymity said.

Although teams don’t have to make the list of their available players public, Dixon, Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and Lonny Baxter reportedly were left unprotected by the Wizards. However, Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld would not confirm that.

Meanwhile, most of the Wizards’ focus has been on Thursday, when they have the No.5 overall selection in the NBA Draft.

“This is completely different from the draft,” Grunfeld said of the expansion draft. “We just turned in our list and started to concentrate on the draft.”

Stackhouse, who played at North Carolina, is the best player on the list. However, the Bobcats are likely to stay away from players with large contracts, and Stackhouse still has more than $22 million remaining on his contract through 2007.

Laettner, who will turn 35 this summer, was suspended for five games last season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy — something that won’t go over well in Billy Graham’s hometown. He is in the final year of a contract that will pay him approximately $6.2 million. By the end of last season, Laettner played sparingly, and he clearly doesn’t fit in Washington’s plans.

Dixon led the Terrapins to their lone NCAA men’s basketball championship in 2002. In his two seasons with the Wizards, Dixon has averaged 8.3 points and 1.6 assists a game. He is scheduled to make $1.1 million next season.

Last season Dixon was forced to battle with Steve Blake, a former Maryland teammate and good friend, for playing time in the Wizards’ backcourt behind point guard Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes. Blake appeared to be the better point guard, but Dixon is a better scorer.

Teams are permitted to protect eight players from the Bobcats. Charlotte will select 14 players overall but just one player from any roster.

This season the Bobcats will have a salary cap of about $30 million, which will be approximately two-thirds of the yet-to-be-determined salary cap for the rest of the teams in 2004-05.

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