The Washington Wizards got a jump on their offseason business.
Forward Antawn Jamison was kept off the free-agent market with a four-year extension worth $50 million. The deal comes before Jamison was to become an unrestricted free agent.
Jamison traveled from North Carolina to Washington on Monday to sign the deal.
“I just signed. We got it out of the way,” Jamison told The Associated Press.
Free agency in the NBA begins at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and Jamison was expected to draw serious interest from the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the few teams — along with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers — to have salary-cap room this summer to bid for top players.
A deal had to be completed before midnight or the Wizards would have been forced to wait until July 9 to re-sign Jamison, when the league’s moratorium on signings and trades is lifted. That could have also exposed Jamison to interest from other teams.
Although he just turned 32, Jamison is coming off his best season as a pro. He averaged 21.4 points and a career-best 10.2 rebounds in 79 games, earning a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team and helping the Wizards (43-39) reach the playoffs as a No. 5 seed despite injuries that limited franchise guard Gilbert Arenas to 13 games and fellow All-Star forward Caron Butler to 58 games.
Washington’s first-round loss to Cleveland in six games was its third consecutive playoff elimination inflicted by the Cavaliers, but the Wizards believe that they can compete with the East’s elite if the Arenas-Butler-Jamison core could find some sustained health. The Wizards did post a 3-1 record last season against the eventual champions from Boston, with no other team in the league beating the Celtics more than twice during the regular season.
Securing Jamison’s signature enables the Wizards to focus on re-signing Arenas, who has opted out of next season’s $12.8 million salary to become a free agent despite the knee problems that have plagued him for more than a year.
“He said he’d take less money if they got me, and they got me,” Jamison said. “So I think everything will get worked out with Gilbert.”
Arenas maintains that he intends to represent himself this summer as he seeks a new six-year contract in excess of $100 million.
“Once he heard that I had reached a deal, he congratulated me,” said Jamison, repeating a text message conversation he had with Arenas. “And I said ‘I can’t wait to congratulate you tomorrow.'”
The Wizards can’t negotiate with Arenas until Tuesday because he opted out of his contract.
“Signing Antawn to a contract extension was a top priority for us this summer,” team president Ernie Grunfeld said. “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.”
Arenas plans to leave for a sponsor-related trip to China on Tuesday, but Jamison is confident his teammate will be back.
“Let me ask you: If somebody offered you, what is it, $100 million?” Jamison said. “I don’t care if you’re Gil or you’re so-and-so, would you take the deal?”
Earlier Monday, Grunfeld joked about trying to negotiate with Arenas in a different hemisphere.
“What are you doing?” Grunfeld said, holding his hand to his face as if he were talking on the telephone. “Oh, you’re at the Great Wall? Great phone reception.”
Jamison earned $16.4 million last season in the final year of max extension he received from the Golden State Warriors back in August 2001. Although he’s taking a healthy pay cut in terms of annual average salary, Jamison has maintained for months that he hoped to re-sign with Washington after four successful years with the Wizards following a one-season stint with the Dallas Mavericks in 2003-04, which earned him NBA Sixth Man Award honors.
“There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that I’d be back,” said Jamison, 32.
In December, Jamison also spoke fondly at the time of his role as Washington’s elder statesman, saying: “You know what? I’ve been in a lot of situations before. I’ve been the young fella, I’ve been the guy who’s trying to learn how to be a leader, I’ve been the guy coming off the bench as a sixth man. And now all of a sudden I’m the old head. It’s been 10 years and it’s gone by fast. But I’m really enjoying this.”