- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

The Washington Wizards continue to remain optimistic they can come to terms on a contract with guard DeShawn Stevenson. But in the event they don’t, the Wizards are working on a contingency plan that included talking with the representative of Devin Brown yesterday, according to a team source.

The source reached yesterday said negotiations between the Wizards and Stevenson’s agent are ongoing and that both sides believe an agreement could come soon.

But if negotiations with Stevenson break down, the Wizards will consider Brown, a five-year pro. Last season Brown averaged 11.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game while appearing in 58 games for the Hornets, 49 as a starter.

Washington officials no doubt took notice Jan. 12 when Brown contributed 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds when the short-handed Hornets upended the visiting Wizards 104-97.

The Wizards acquired Stevenson last year for a bargain, signing the seven-year veteran to a one-year deal at just less than $1 million, with the player having the option for a second season.

Last summer Stevenson walked away from a three-year, $10 million offer from the Magic. He signed with the Wizards for just under $1 million knowing he would not exercise the option year in his deal and that he would become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Talks with Stevenson and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, are believed to have begun with the Wizards offering $9 million over three years. The Wizards are believed to have made a second offer of $15 million over four seasons.

However, one league source said Stevenson was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $18 million over four years.

After starting all 82 games in the 2005-06 season for Orlando, Stevenson did it again this past season for the Wizards. In the process he improved his reputation as a tough perimeter defender. He also matched his career high in points a game (11.2), and he made a career-best 46.1 percent of his field goals.

Stevenson proved to be a strong complement alongside All-Star Gilbert Arenas.

However, Stevenson’s shortcomings were on full display in the playoffs when Cleveland swept the Wizards in the first round.

Without the injured Arenas and All-Star small forward Caron Butler to loosen up the Cavaliers’ defense, Stevenson made just nine of 46 field goals (19.6 percent) and connected on just three of 21 attempts from 3-point range (14.3 percent).

However, it is clear the Wizards want to keep Stevenson because of his defensive play.

Over the last few seasons the Wizards have been a strong offensive team — last season they led the Eastern Conference in scoring — but over the same span they have demonstrated that they either can’t or won’t play defense.

If the Wizards don’t sign Stevenson, this will mark the third year in a row that they have lost the player on the roster who has shown the most commitment to playing defense.

Last summer they opted not to sign Jared Jeffries, a decent, lengthy defender who signed with the Knicks. And the year before that they opted not to match the five-year, $65 million deal Larry Hughes got from Cleveland.

A need for more defensive-minded players is why the Wizards appear to be more interested in trading the rights of Juan Carlos Navarro rather than bringing the 27-year-old Spanish standout here. While Navarro has built a reputation as one of the best international players not playing in the NBA, his ability to play NBA-caliber defense is in question.

Note — The NBA salary cap came in earlier this week at a $55.63 million. The Wizards, with 10 players already signed to deals for the 2007-08 season, already have more than $57 million committed to salary.

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