- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Washington Wizards added another piece to the puzzle Tuesday by signing former Maryland Terrapin Juan Dixon to a partially guaranteed contract.

The move helps shore up the guard position following the free agency departure of sixth man Roger Mason Jr. in July and last week’s news that point guard Gilbert Arenas will miss at least the first month of the season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

It will be the second stint in the District for the 6-foot-3 Dixon, who has averaged 8.9 points during his NBA career. The Wizards drafted him 17th overall in 2002 and he spent three seasons in Washington before signing with Portland in 2005. Dixon’s best season with the Wizards was 2003-04, when he averaged 9.4 points and made 20 starts.

The six-year veteran, a key player on Maryland’s NCAA championship of 2002, made stops in Toronto and Detroit last season but was without a job this summer. He trained at Verizon Center, which isn’t uncommon for players living in a particular city to do, and had been in talks with the Wizards to make a return.

The Wizards, who have little wiggle room under the luxury tax spending cap, weren’t offering the guaranteed deal Dixon, who made $2.5 million last season, was seeking. But eventually, Dixon decided returning here was his best option, and management believes he can be a key contributor.

“Juan is a proven NBA player, and we like what he brings to our team,” team president Ernie Grunfeld said. “He is a tough, hard-nosed competitor who can score, and his familiarity with our system is an added plus.”

Dixon will join a backcourt that for the moment includes 11-year veteran point guard Antonio Daniels, eight-year shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson and second-year players Dee Brown and Nick Young.

Brown will serve as a backup to Daniels and the Wizards hope to count on Young for his explosive scoring ability, but Dixon will add much-needed experience.

“He’s an experienced veteran and so he already knows how the NBA works,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “And he’s played in our system, so that also helps.”

Said Dixon: “I’m excited to return to the area and to resume my career with the Wizards. I’m looking forward to the start of training camp and I’m ready to step in and contribute wherever Coach Jordan and the team sees fit.”

Dixon’s signing brings the Wizards training camp roster to 17 players. In addition to the five guards, the Wizards have nine forwards after Monday’s free agent signings of DerMarr Johnson, Linton Johnson and Taj McCullough and three centers in Brendan Haywood, rookie JaVale McGee and Etan Thomas, who missed all of last season recovering from heart surgery.

“We like our training camp to be a very competitive situation,” Grunfeld said. “We always like to have a roster spot available to give these guys hope that ‘if I try out, and play well, I’m going to be able to make this team.’ So it makes for a very competitive situation, and it’s going to be up to the players to see who plays the best and fits in the best, and those are the guys we’ll take with us.”

If the team doesn’t happen to add extra players, Jordan feels comfortable with the roster he has, even with Arenas out for the first stretch of the season.

“I’m very confident in the group we have,” Jordan said. “It’s going to be a journey. I’m not putting out a number for wins, but we’re like the 29 other teams: We’re competing for an NBA championship. But certainly it’s going to be a journey.”

And it will start with training camp, which runs from Saturday to Oct. 3 at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

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