- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Washington Wizards and team captain Antawn Jamison agreed to a contract extension Monday night, freeing management to focus on re-signing franchise player Gilbert Arenas as free agency opened Tuesday.

Jamison signed a four-year extension worth roughly $50 million, according to sources close to the situation, a move that kept the former All-Star off the open market when the NBA’s negotiating period began shortly after midnight Tuesday.

Jamison averaged 21.4 points and 10.2 rebounds last season.

“Signing Antawn to a contract extension was a top priority for us this summer,” Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement. “He has been a leader for us both on and off the court over the last four seasons, and we’re proud to reward his efforts by bringing him back.”

The other priority for the Wizards is re-signing Arenas, who last month opted out of the final year of his $65 million contract. Despite missing 69 games last season while recovering from knee surgery, the guard is seeking a long-term max contract that could be worth as much as $120 million over six years.

When reached Monday, Arenas said he hadn’t had any discussions with Grunfeld. When asked about negotiations, Grunfeld said, “We are going to talk to Arenas at some point. I can’t tell you an exact time. We’re going to get it done. We’ll see where we are.”

Arenas, a three-time All-Star, had said he wanted to see Jamison - his teammate for six of his seven NBA seasons (two in Golden State and four in Washington) - taken care of before he re-signed with the team.

The Wizards likely will act quickly in negotiating with Arenas, who had scheduled a 9 a.m. flight Tuesday to China as part of a two-week promotional tour with Adidas. League sources believe Wizards management planned to contact Arenas with an offer as early as 12:01 a.m. Tuesday - a minute after teams are permitted under NBA rules to begin negotiating with free agents.

A source close to Arenas said the guard would like to agree to a deal before departing for China but that if talks stalled, he would wait until his return to the United States on July 15 to resume negotiations. After midnight Tuesday, players cannot sign a contract until July 9.

Whether the Wizards would be willing to meet Arenas’ max demands remains unclear. But Grunfeld repeatedly has said the team would do what it takes to re-sign Arenas, who, when healthy, is one of the most prolific scorers in the league, averaging 29.3 and 28.4 points a game, in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Arenas desperately wants to contend for a championship. But no teams on the verge of contending have the salary cap space to rival what the Wizards could offer.

Because of his $35 million deal with Adidas, Arenas has flexibility and - according to a close friend of the guard - could consider signing for another team for less if it meant having a greater chance at contending for a title more quickly.

But the source added Arenas has not scheduled any visits with other teams and will not consider fielding outside inquiries until any possible scenario that includes a return to the District is ruled out.

Arenas views the “ideal situation” as rejoining Jamison and fellow All-Star Caron Butler in the District to continue the pursuit of a championship.

The Wizards’ only other free agent is guard Roger Mason Jr., who had a career year with 9.1 points a game and shot a team-high 39.8 percent from 3-point range. Mason played more with Arenas injured, and when guard Antonio Daniels missed time with injury, the Virginia product increased his production. As a starter, Mason averaged 17.4 points and made 43.1 percent of his 3-pointers.

The Wizards’ backcourt appears crowded with Arenas - if he returns - Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson and Nick Young, who is entering his second season. But Mason can play either guard position, and the Wizards intend to try to re-sign him, according to a team source. That lines up with Grunfeld’s stance that he would like to see how well Washington’s entire squad can do when entirely healthy.

Mason spent his second season with the Wizards last year after turning down an offer from the San Antonio Spurs and accepting a $770,610 deal with Washington believing he could benefit from the continuity.

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