- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

Etan Thomas will be the Washington Wizards’ starting center, coach Eddie Jordan announced yesterday, a decision that does not sit well with backup Brendan Haywood or his agent.

While Haywood was unavailable for comment shortly after Jordan went public with his decision, agent Andy Miller said his client felt the decision was made along personal lines — not based on performance — and indicated Haywood may want out of Washington.

“He’s got a contract that he’s going to live up to, but this doesn’t bode well for his future in Washington beyond the contract,” Miller said of Haywood. “I’d like to seem him treated with the optimum level of respect, and that’s not going to happen in Washington. I don’t know how this situation is going to unfold.”

Jordan explained his reasons for naming Thomas the starter shortly after Haywood outperformed Thomas in practice.

“I’m ashamed to say it, but Brendan kicked his [rear] up and down the court, but that’s a good thing,” Jordan said. “What we saw as the preseason wound down with all of our evaluations and what we heard from our core players was that Etan showed a bit more force and a little more aggressiveness in terms of what we’re looking for to protect the rim and the paint.

“Brendan is a pro, and I told him I want him to continue to compete, and he will. That spot is always going to be competitive. It was an agonizing decision.”

Haywood has four years remaining on his contract and is owed $21 million. Thomas’ deal expires at the same time, and he is owed around $28 million.

At the start of training camp, Jordan announced that two spots — shooting guard and center — were up for grabs. As camp progressed and the preseason neared its end, Jordan announced newly acquired DeShawn Stevenson had won the shooting guard job over Jarvis Hayes.

Hayes, who started 13 games last season, missed most of the year with a knee injury that ultimately required surgery. Stevenson, who signed as a free agent, started all 82 games last season with Orlando.

The center situation was more complex.

Haywood has started 268 of the 367 games he played in since he joined the Wizards in 2001, averaging 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds. Thomas has started just 34 of the 282 games he played in and has battled injuries since the team acquired him from Dallas in the Juwan Howard trade.

Thomas averaged just 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds last year but supplanted Haywood in the starting lineup late last season. However, injuries forced Thomas out of the starting position at the end of the season and in the playoffs.

Haywood’s numbers also slipped last season. He averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds, down from 9.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in 2004-2005.

The tension between Haywood and Jordan also is well documented. Haywood felt slighted last season when he was benched and heard from reporters that Jordan had told Antawn Jamison — also temporarily benched at midseason — via phone conversation that he would be benched.

Both Haywood and Jordan have mentioned a meeting between the two this summer, but yesterday Miller said the outreach was totally on Haywood’s part, not Jordan’s

“We were the ones who tried to mend the relationship,” Miller said. “Eddie didn’t reach out to Brendan; Brendan reached out to him. I don’t know. Maybe he has a problem with my clients.”

Chucky Atkins, another Miller client, was the odd man out at point guard last season. The Wizards bought out his contract, and Atkins eventually signed with Memphis. Jared Jeffries, who signed with the Knicks, also employs Miller. The year before, veteran guard Anthony Peeler, also a Miller client, saw limited playing time with the Wizards.

“I can tell you that none of those guys knew what their roles were,” Miller said. “It seems like every year this is an ongoing situation where every year there is a veteran player that seems to be the focal point of Eddie’s frustrations, and now it appears to be Brendan’s turn.”

Thomas, meanwhile, remained focused on his new role with the Wizards.

“I look at it as a blessing,” Thomas said. “I came to coach this summer and told him that I wanted to start and have a bigger role. He told me specifically the things I needed to work on to compete for a starting spot — rebounding, blocking shots, defense and scoring when I get a chance.”

Note — The Wizards cut former George Washington forward Mike Hall yesterday to reduce their roster to the league-mandated limit of 15. Hall averaged 3.8 points in 14.8 minutes in five preseason games.

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