- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Washington Wizards enter the offseason with plenty of unknowns, but the immediate future of last year’s top pick, Oleksiy Pecherov, is almost certain.

“I anticipate having him on the roster,” Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said yesterday at Verizon Center. “He had a very solid year, and we anticipate having him here and playing with us next season.”

Pecherov, a 7-footer whom the Wizards chose at No. 18 in the NBA Draft last summer, is playing in the Ukrainian Superleague as a member of BC Kyiv. He has an $800,000 buyout attached to his contract, of which the Wizards can contribute a maximum of $500,000.

While Grunfeld addressed several issues yesterday at his annual state of the team address at Verizon Center, he said only one thing was certain: The Wizards will look to get Pecherov over here in “about a month” and plan to have him play in summer leagues and signed to a contract soon. With several free agents on the roster — teams can begin signing players July 1 — Pecherov likely will have a role next season.

When Pecherov does take the court in training camp, the team’s core almost certainly will be back — Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Antonio Daniels, Darius Songaila and Etan Thomas. Starting guard DeShawn Stevenson already has said he likely will opt out of the last year of his deal.

Grunfeld did touch on the apparently tattered relationship between coach Eddie Jordan and center Brendan Haywood. Haywood started 49 games during the regular season but was benched late in the season. He was the only Wizards player dressed for the team’s final playoff game who did not play.

Afterward, Haywood removed the metal nameplate from his locker stall and left without talking to reporters.

Grunfeld, who never publicly discusses personnel moves, did not commit either to trading or keeping the 7-footer.

“I think any organization wants players that can help them win,” Grunfeld said. “If we feel we have players who can help us win, we’ll do whatever it takes to keep them here. If not, we’ll have to act accordingly.”

The Wizards’ free agents who probably will garner the most attention — forwards Jarvis Hayes and Andray Blatche — are both restricted, meaning the team can match any offer made by another team.

However, much of what the Wizards will do will be determined when the salary cap for the 2007-08 season is set this summer. The Wizards have approximately $58 million in contracts already committed, and the cap, when it is announced, will give them little flexibility to sign players.

The Wizards will have the opportunity to improve via the draft. The team has two picks, the 16th and 47th overall.

“I think we will be able to find a good player available at the 16th spot,” Grunfeld said.

Grunfeld also looked toward next summer, when Arenas said he will consider opting out of his deal if the team does not appear headed toward a championship. Arenas, who was third in the league at 28.4 points a game, has two years left on his contract that will pay him close to $25 million.

“Gilbert is very committed to this city and this organization,” Grunfeld said. “He really likes it here, and I think we’re heading in the right direction. We’d like to have Gilbert end his career and put his name up in the rafters, and I think he’d like that.”

Note — Point guard Juan Carlos Navarro, whom the Wizards chose with the 40th pick in 2002, is still playing in Spain. His contract can be bought out for $3 million, but the Wizards won’t pay that much, meaning someone else — mainly Navarro — will have to come up with it.

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