- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Antawn Jamison was playing pool in a sports bar in Chapel Hill, N.C., last Wednesday with Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood when someone told him to look at the television.

That’s how he learned he and Haywood, former teammates at North Carolina, were going to play together again.

“I looked up and saw Dallas [sends] Antawn Jamison to the Wizards,” said Jamison, who was introduced at a press conference yesterday at MCI Center. “Ever since then there was a smile on my face.”

Ernie Grunfeld likely had the same expression. The Washington general manager unloaded disappointing veterans Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner — both of whom were locker-room liabilities — and the fifth pick in the NBA Draft for Jamison. The Mavericks likely made the move to help precipitate a swap for Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal.

Meanwhile, the Wizards obtained a versatile 6-foot-9 forward known for his squeaky-clean image and workmanlike approach.

“Adding Antawn gives us another piece in our goal to become perennial playoff contenders,” Grunfeld said. “When you have a young team like we do, one of the youngest in the league, he is the type of player that young players are going to look up to.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan called Jamison — at 28 one of the oldest players on the roster — a “terrific person” who is very “coachable.” Jordan sees him as an offensive weapon who likes to run and can rebound from either forward position.

“Quicker than anybody I’ve seen since Bernard King, who was very quick off the dribble,” the second-year coach said. “He’s not your typical ‘pull-up jumpshot’ type of player. He’s not your typical post-up player. However, he’s very athletic, fast and quick. He can get out on the floor.”

Jamison, who has averaged 19.1 points and 7.2 rebounds over his six-year NBA career, is expected to start at small forward alongside Kwame Brown. Guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes and Haywood could constitute the remainder of the starting lineup.

Jamison said he didn’t put much stock in Washington’s 25-57 record last season or its seven-year absence from the playoffs.

“I just looked at it as a situation that had some great pieces,” said Jamison, who won the NBA’s Sixth Man award last season while averaging 14.8 points and shooting 53.5 percent from the floor (third best in the league). “There could have been a lot of other places I could have gone, and it was like, ‘Whoa, there was probably no opportunity that they could find a way to get it done.’

“When you have a guy as explosive as Gilbert Arenas, who could be an All-Star in this league one day; Larry Hughes is a very steady veteran in this league who can get you 35 or 40 any particular night, and he’s very unselfish; then you add myself, that’s a great trio.”

Jamison already is familiar with several Wizards. He played with Hughes and Arenas with Golden State and called it a luxury to have a shot blocker like his former Tar Heels teammate, Haywood.

The Wizards’ next order of business could be re-signing Etan Thomas, a restricted free agent Jamison called a “beast” on the boards. Washington has the right to match any offer made to the forward, and Grunfeld promised Jamison that Thomas would stay in Washington.

“I think I have. Yes,” Grunfeld said with a straight-face. “We like what Etan brings to our team. We like what he brings to the table. And at the appropriate time we will sit down with him and his representative, who just happens to be the same as Antawn’s representative, and see if we can hammer out a deal. He is definitely in our future plans.”

That future seems a lot brighter without the injured Stackhouse, who was at odds with the team and missed much of last season with various injuries, and Laettner, an enigma who was suspended for five games after violating the league’s drug policy last season.

Jamison said he learned about a winning and selfless atmosphere last season in Dallas, a contrast from the five seasons he spent in the Warriors’ culture of losing. As a result, the Naismith Award winner as the top college player in 1997-98 plans to be a positive role model on and off the court.

“This is not a situation that I’m coming to be the face of the team or just to have good guys in the locker room,” said Jamison, who made $11.3 million last season and is signed for three more seasons. “I really think we have enough to really make a run for the playoffs. By bringing me here, this is not ‘Let’s wait three or four years to see what can happen.’ We are trying to find ways to get this done very quickly.”

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