- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Washington Wizards will announce, possibly today, the signing of Chicago Bulls forward Darius Songaila, his agent Mark Bartelstein said yesterday.

The deal is worth $23 million over five years.

“He’s really excited,” Bartelstein said. “Honestly, the Wizards have pursued him over the last two years. I think Ernie [Grunfeld] did a great job in letting Darius know how much they wanted him.”

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Songaila averaged 9.2 points on 48 percent shooting and 4.0 rebounds last season before a broken toe kept him out the last 20 games of the season.

A 2002 second-round pick by Boston out of Wake Forest, the Lithuanian-bon Songaila has a nice outside shot and is a decent defender who will give the Wizards more depth.

The Wizards have been believed to be interested in some other available players, mainly Orlando free agent DeShawn Stevenson. However, with the signing of Songaila, that is no longer the case.

With the signing of Songaila, the Wizards now have 13 players signed to contracts.

They still hope to sign restricted free agent Jared Jeffries. Although they are over the salary cap, the Wizards can still match any offer that the 6-foot-11 Jeffries receives. As it stands now, it is almost a certainty, unless a trade is made, that Jeffries will sign a one-year deal in Washington that will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

In a press conference yesterday at Verizon Center to announce a three-year contract extension for Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, Grunfeld indicated that the Wizards are still exploring any potential trades despite being over the new salary cap ($53.135 million).

“Trades are always possible,” Grunfeld said. “We’re always exploring ways to make the team better. But we’re never satisfied. We’re always looking for ways to improve the roster, and we’re going to keep working very hard at it. In order to make a trade you always have to have a dance partner.”

A team source said Songaila’s signing probably indicates that rookie forward Oleksiy Pecherov, taken with the 18th pick overall, will not have his $800,000 European contract bought out and will return overseas.

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