- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Antawn Jamison suspects that, barring a deep run in the playoffs, this season will be his last for the Washington Wizards.

“In the last couple years, it’s always been something,” said Jamison, the subject of numerous trade rumors in recent offseasons. “The only way I knew I wasn’t getting traded was because of Ernie and Mr. Pollin. They said, ‘You’re not going anywhere,’ and I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.”

Jamison isn’t certain similar assurances from team president Ernie Grunfeld and owner Abe Pollin will be given in the future. Jamison, 31, is in the last year of his contract, one that will pay him $16 million. This summer, he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

“This is a different situation,” Jamison said. “If this is another failure year in their eyes, why would you bring [me] back?”

Jamison’s fate is just one piece of a complicated situation the Wizards’ front office must face next summer.

Gilbert Arenas is the other piece.

Arenas, at 25, is the biggest star to play in his prime for the franchise since the 1970s. He was third in the league in scoring last season and earned an All-NBA second-team selection.

As with Jamison, Arenas’ future with the team is uncertain: He plans to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and become a free agent.

Arenas has said he is opting out to re-sign with the Wizards. He has, however, said little more about his future with the franchise, which can pay him more than any other team in the league if it so chooses.

Arenas and Jamison, along with All-Star forward Caron Butler, form the Wizards’ Big Three — the highest-scoring trio in the league last season with 67.3 points a game.

But with the future of Arenas and Jamison uncertain — Butler is signed through 2010-11 — and with just two playoff wins to show for the last two seasons, much of the team’s future hinges on what happens this season.

Arenas, who does not have an agent, said he “will make [his] decision in the summer.”

He also said he is concerned about the team’s plans for the rest of the team. He cited the examples of Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett — players likely headed to the Hall of Fame but who have no championships — and said he doesn’t want to face a similar situation.

“What if [the Wizards] decide they want to rebuild?” Arenas said. “I don’t want to be stuck in a rebuilding situation in my prime years.”

NBA free agency rules stipulate the Wizards can match whatever offer Arenas receives and can pay him for an extra season.

Few teams — and fewer good teams, certainly — will have the money available to pay a player of Arenas’ caliber next season.

Butler believes Arenas won’t just chase the cash.

“No matter what money bag is out there, everybody wants to be somewhere they can win,” Butler said. “I don’t see him going anywhere personally. He’s a franchise guy, and I look forward to playing with him for years to come and making history.”

Arenas pushed hard for the team to re-sign guard DeShawn Stevenson over the summer, and the team complied. Arenas also has said losing Jamison — Jamison said, “I want to retire here” — would influence his decision.

“That makes it hard because he is one of my outlets,” said Arenas, who has played five of his six seasons in the league alongside Jamison. “The game is harder when he is not on the floor.”

Arenas and Jamison will earn more than $28 million between them, and Arenas alone would be due close to $13 million next season.

If Arenas and Jamison leave, the Wizards would be in a position financially to pursue players in a free agent market that could be deep.

“We’ll do whatever is best for the franchise — that’s always been how we’ve operated,” Grunfeld said. “We love our players. They’ve done some very good things for us. All I will say is that this is a big season and the summer will be big as well.”

The Wizards ended a seven-year playoff drought in 2004 but have seen their regular-season wins go from 45 to 42 to 41 last season.

Last season’s team arguably was the best of the past three.

The Wizards were 10 games above .500 before injuries to Jamison, Butler and Arenas robbed them of momentum. The Wizards, once 27-17, finished 14-24 the rest of the way.

They qualified for a playoff berth, but without Arenas (knee surgery) and Butler (broken hand) in the playoffs, Jamison was forced to carry the scoring load alone.

Jamison did what he could, averaging 32.0 points and 9.8 rebounds in the first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Still, the Cavaliers won in a sweep.

The trio can send a message with their play in what may be their final redo. Then again, Arenas can decide he simply has had enough of Washington and sign elsewhere next summer.

For now, though, the focus is on the here and now.

“I don’t even look that far ahead. We are the team we are,” Arenas said. “We’ve built something here. We’ve played in different places, but our best years are here. We’ve accomplished a lot in those years here. There is a legacy here, and you don’t want to throw that away. But if something happens, something happens.”

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