- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

The Washington Wizards believe they have improved their defense with yesterday’s free agent signing, and no one sounded more adamant about that than the man who signed, DeShawn Stevenson.

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Stevenson, considered on his way to becoming one of the league’s better perimeter defenders, finalized terms of a two-year deal yesterday, saying he recognized he would fit with Washington while watching the Wizards try to stop LeBron James in the playoffs.

“They have guys like Caron [Butler] and Gilbert [Arenas] who are going to give them scoring,” Stevenson said. “But they didn’t really have that lockdown guy who was going to come into games and concentrate on just doing that. They need someone who is going to come in and lock down the other team’s best player and I think I can be that guy.”

He might have to be that guy for the Wizards almost immediately. Although no one has said so, by adding Stevenson — one of just 12 NBA players to start all 82 regular-season games last season — the Wizards have moved one step closer to parting with starter Jared Jeffries, who signed a $30 million offer sheet to play in New York for the next five seasons.

The Wizards have until tomorrow to match the Knicks’ offer. Jeffries already has turned down the Wizards’ six-year, $33 million offer.

Stevenson, the second free agent the team has signed this summer — they added forward Darius Songaila last month — sort of fell into the Wizards lap.

After averaging 11.0 points last season in Orlando, Stevenson, who was scheduled to earn $3 million next season, opted out of the final year of his contract. Later, he turned town Orlando’s three-year, $10 million offer and eventually the Magic opted to sign guard Keith Bogans and stopped efforts to re-sign Stevenson.

Stevenson fired his agent over that matter. His deal with the Wizards will pay him $932,015 this season, and he can opt out of the final year next season.

Despite leaving the money on the table, Stevenson is not looking back.

“No, I don’t think it was a mistake,” Stevenson, 25, said of his decision to test free agency. “Everything in life is written down in God’s book. I think it was meant for me to be in D.C. They are a playoff team and that’s very good. I think this is a new starting point and maybe I can make this my new home.”

If Jeffries is not with the team, the starting job opposite Arenas looks like a two-man battle between the oft-injured Jarvis Hayes and Stevenson, who indicated yesterday he had become used to starting.

“I was a starter and you always want to start once you’ve done that,” Stevenson said. “But as long as you’re winning it doesn’t matter. I would love to be a starter but at the same time I want to come in and help the team.”

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