- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

The NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline came and went Thursday without the Washington Wizards making any roster moves.

Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld received a steady flow of inquiries and offers for co-captains Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison in the last two weeks. But sticking with his plan of keeping intact the core of the two-time All-Star forwards and rehabbing guard Gilbert Arenas in hopes of a rebound next season, Grunfeld rejected all of the offers.

The Wizards also had been linked to several reports that had them unloading injured center Etan Thomas and point guard Mike James. Like Butler and Jamison, trades moving Thomas and James would have saved the Wizards money in preparation for signing the team’s lottery pick or free agents this summer. But Grunfeld never received an offer he deemed worthy enough to act on.

“We didn’t want to give away a very good player just for financial reasons,” Grunfeld said. “We like what we have and strongly believe that once we get all of our pieces back and healthy, we can contend. If we thought we could have gotten something that would’ve helped us as a team both now and down the road, then we would’ve done something, but we didn’t.”

So the Wizards will head into the offseason needing to trim from their projected salary in order to get under the NBA’s luxury tax line. Teams that go over the luxury tax are penalized dollar for dollar the amount that they exceed the limit.

The Wizards this season were just under the luxury limit of $71.15 million but have roughly $75.9 million committed to salaries next season. Only guard Juan Dixon’s $998,398 salary comes off the books this summer. The luxury tax threshold for the 2009-10 season has yet to be set, but the Wizards are projected to be roughly $6 million over the limit if it goes up slightly. However, there is a chance the tax line could drop to about $69 million, which would put the Wizards - who also must take into account having to spend anywhere from $2.7 million to $4.2 million on a top-five lottery pick - in even more dire a financial situation if they don’t make any cost-cutting moves.

While Grunfeld wouldn’t go into detail as far as what he will do to make the space, Washington likely will try to rid itself of the contracts of Thomas, who next season will earn $7.4 million, and James, who will earn $6.5 million next year. Both players’ contracts expire in 2010, when stars LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will be free agents.

“Things will take care of themselves this summer,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll address that at the appropriate time. There are a number of things we can do, and we do have some expiring contracts, which are attractive.”

Grunfeld denied claims that the Wizards won’t sign their 2009 lottery pick to avoid paying the luxury tax next season. That’s because even if they can’t move a large salary or two during the summer, they have until the February 2010 trade deadline to free up that money. Luxury tax assessments are made at the conclusion of the season based upon the money teams spend each year.

That’s why Grunfeld and his team didn’t feel pressure to make moves this week and exchange large salaries for the expiring contracts of players that they didn’t believe fit.

A number of teams pursued Butler in search of adding a piece that would elevate them into the ranks of the league’s contenders. But he never worried about switching teams.

“I’m so confident in our core and what we’ve got and seeing everybody practice together, and after we get better and healthy, and what we’re capable of doing, I think our future is just so great,” he said. “Everything’s in place. We just have to get back, and then we’ll make a push for it.”

After falling and landing awkwardly on his hip in Tuesday’s win over Minnesota, Butler returned to practice Thursday. He said he knocked off his alignment, experienced some pain and stiffness on Wednesday and saw a physical therapist for treatment.

He missed 19 games last season after suffering a labral tear in the same hip but considers this injury different.

“I feel so-so. I should be OK tomorrow,” he said. “If anything, it’ll just be a day-to-day thing, not like last year. Well, that started out day-to-day and turned out month-to-month. But no, this is nothing that serious.”

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