- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Leave it to Antawn Jamison to sum up exactly where the Washington Wizards are as they prepare to disperse for the summer.

“I think this is the most important year; you have a lot of scenarios that can play out,” said Jamison, already looking ahead to the 2007-08 season. “If you have another season like we had this year, you can start all over again. Not only for myself and Gilbert, but for the rest of these guys this season coming up can dictate whether we are here for the rest of our careers or whether you are looking to find some place to play after next year.”

After the Wizards were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers — the second straight season in which they have been eliminated in the first round — they head into the offseason with a core of players that in fact could be disbanded.

Most prominently, the Wizards are now virtually auditioning for superstar Gilbert Arenas, trying to prove to him they are the team with which he will want to sign an extension next summer rather than opt out of the final year of his contact.

Jamison, who averaged 32.0 points and 9.8 rebounds against Cleveland, enters the last year of a contract that will pay him more than $16 million next season, in which he will be 32.

There are immediate concerns this offseason. To begin with, Brendan Haywood’s relationship with coach Eddie Jordan has soured so much that the center wants to be traded if Jordan comes back, according to two sources close to the situation. Jordan signed a two-year extension at the end of last season and is a lock to return.

“I know for a fact that if Eddie returns, Brendan is going to want to be traded,” a league source said. “Those two have differences that they have to work out.”

Haywood, the only active Wizards player not to appear in the team’s 97-90 loss to Cleveland, removed his metal name plate from above his locker stall immediately after Monday’s game.

“I’m not going to say in the paper whether I want out of here or not,” a guarded Haywood said yesterday. “All I know is I’m going to be a professional, I’m going to work hard and I’m going to let the chips fall where they may.”

Jamison said that he hoped his coach and teammate could work out their differences.

“It was difficult,” he said. “I love Eddie, and I think he’s a great coach who has made me and other players in this locker room better players. And I love Brendan. When he’s at his best, he’s one of the best defensive centers in the league, and with him I think we have a great chance at winning a championship. I think we should keep Brendan, and hopefully we can start off on the right foot and keep it that way next season.”

Said Jordan of Haywood’s future with the team: “That’s something we’ll talk about. He’s a contract player, and if he’s in our locker room on Oct. 2 we’ll coach him.”

But heading into this summer, the Wizards’ biggest concern is the health of Arenas and Caron Butler, their two All-Stars who suffered season-ending injuries at the beginning of April, almost immediately ending the Wizards chances to advance in the playoffs.

Arenas had successful surgery on his torn meniscus and is expected to make a full recovery by Aug. 1. Butler is recovering well and possibly could have played had the team reached the second round.

As for the rest of the players, guard DeShawn Stevenson — just 9-for-46 from the field in the Cleveland series — has said he intends to opt out of a contract that would pay him just more than $1 million next season and test the open market.

Jarvis Hayes, 15-for-46 in the playoffs, is a restricted free agent and one of seven free agents on the roster. The others are Andray Blatche, Michael Ruffin, Donnell Taylor, Calvin Booth, Mike Hall and Roger Mason. They officially become free agents July 1.

The NBA salary cap, just more than $53.1 million this year, is not set for next season. That figure will dictate what, if any, flexibility the Wizards will have to sign players.

An addition to the post could be 7-foot Oleksiy Pecherov, the Wizards’ first-round pick last summer. The 18th pick remained in Europe to gain more experience but will get a camp invite from the Wizards this summer.

While Jordan refused to comment on personnel moves, he appears to be comfortable with the team’s core. Also, he finally acknowledged how injuries hurt the Wizards’ playoff hopes.

The Wizards were 27-17 when Jamison went down with a knee injury, and they were never the same, going 14-24 the rest of the season to finish 41-41.

“Hey, we had injuries,” Jordan said. “Our guys understand and know where we are with our core and how good we can be. They know how good we were without Darius. The goal this summer is to either surround the core or expand the core. Maybe that’s a good idea.”

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