- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas won’t get a chance to start earning his six-year, $37 million contract extension anytime soon.

Thomas’ strained abdomen, which he injured early in training camp last month, is worse than originally reported and could keep him out until Thanksgiving or longer, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

Thomas signed his new deal over the summer. Fellow center Brendan Haywood followed suit yesterday when he and the team came to terms on a five-year contract extension worth approximately $16 million. Haywood, however, will miss the team’s first three games of the season because of a suspension he received for his part in a fight during a preseason game with the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 25.

Thomas, who was unavailable for comment yesterday after the severity of his injury was confirmed, was placed on the injured list along with Kwame Brown (foot surgery) and Steve Blake (ankle surgery). Players placed on the injured list must miss at least five games.

Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld wasn’t specific about when Thomas would return, but he had held out hope the reserve center would be ready to play at the start of the season.

“Obviously he is not ready to play,” Grunfeld said. “Everybody’s different. It’s a very difficult injury to put a time frame on. Everybody mends at their own pace.”

Last season Gilbert Arenas missed 27 games because of a severely strained abdomen. What makes Thomas’ injury a concern is that the area surrounding the injury must be strengthened significantly before the actual abdominal injury can be addressed, the source said. When Washington’s season begins tomorrow, Thomas will be one of seven players unavailable to the Wizards because of either injury or suspension.

While the Wizards signed Haywood, the team was unable to come to terms on a new contract with Brown, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2001 draft.

“We had numerous conversations with Kwame and his representative,” Grunfeld said. “We just weren’t able to work something out. We have every intention of getting something done with Kwame next year.”

Still, Grunfeld was relieved to get the deal done for Haywood, who has averaged 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in 220 games.

“I am very happy to sign an extension with the Wizards,” Haywood said in a statement. “This is a great opportunity for me to continue to work with my teammates and coaches and grow with this team. I feel like the franchise is going in the right direction, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Haywood, acquired from Orlando in exchange for current teammate Laron Profit in summer 2001, originally was the 20th pick overall of the Cleveland Cavaliers that year.

The deal avoided the possibility of losing Haywood to free agency next summer. According to Haywood’s agent, Jeff Austin, the two sides negotiated right up to the midnight deadline Sunday night.

Earlier Sunday, Haywood said he and the Wizards were “not on the same page” and that the previous offers “were not market value.”

“It was a last-minute deal; I didn’t think it was gong to come together,” Austin said. “We were quite a ways apart [Sunday] around mid-day. But I guess that’s why they have deadlines. If you had asked me [Sunday], I would have said this deal had no chance.”

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