- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

Washington Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson will almost certainly opt out of his contract after this season and explore free agency, a source close to the player said yesterday.

At the same time, Stevenson knows he wants to be in the District next season.

“I want to come back,” said Stevenson, who late last summer signed a one-year contract with a player option for a second. “We’ve got a good veteran team. We’ve got a coach who is a players’ coach. I feel this is a good situation.”

Stevenson signed with the Wizards after things went awry in his pursuit of an extension with his former team, the Orlando Magic. This season he is making $932,000 — well below the average salary of an NBA starter.

Stevenson, overestimating his worth to the Magic, opted out of the final year of his contract that would have paid him $3 million, and in July he turned down a three-year, $10 million deal.

Before signing with the Wizards, Stevenson — who started all 82 games with Orlando and averaged 11.0 points a game — eventually fired his agent, hired Mark Bartelstein in his place and quickly signed for the veterans minimum.

At the time, Stevenson no doubt believed he would sign with the Wizards and then, by opting out, attempt to recoup the money he left on the table.

Stevenson would be part of a very intriguing group of young Wizards free agents. Jarvis Hayes and Andray Blatche will also be free agents this summer.

Stevenson has fit in nicely in Washington. He and Gilbert Arenas are the only two players to start all 60 games for the Wizards. Stevenson is shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the floor while averaging 10.4 points a game.

He is the Wizards’ best perimeter defender, and coach Eddie Jordan has already said Stevenson is a better overall defender than Jared Jeffries, who the team refused to sign to a contract and ultimately lost to the New York Knicks last season.

Jordan’s offense, which Stevenson and most of his teammates describe as “an equal opportunity offense,” was what appealed to Stevenson when he first signed with the Wizards.

Stevenson, a sixth-year veteran who played his first three years in the league in Utah, believes the Wizards are the best team on which he’s played. In Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, Stevenson believes the Wizards have a young group of players that will only improve in the coming seasons.

“This team has the best core of players I’ve ever been on,” said Stevenson, a one-time teammate of Karl Malone and John Stockton’s in Utah. “I feel like this team has more of an upside than the others because they already have their core players. They already have their scorers. I just have to come and play hard and some nights I have to come down and just knock down my shots.”

If Stevenson does not opt out of his contract next season, he won’t make much more than $1 million, which is well below market value for a player who has played as well as he has this season.

“Like I said, this is a great situation and I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Stevenson said. “I signed knowing that I want to come back long term, but at the same time it’s a business and you have to do whatever you can to get your value up. If we keep winning and I’m playing a role on a winning team, my value goes up.”

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