WASHINGTON Antawn Jamison is back in the Washington Wizards fold. Now it's time to focus on Gilbert Arenas.
The Wizards achieved a major free-agency goal Monday when two-time All-Star forward Jamison signed a four-year, $50 million contract. The deal does more than retain the team's co-captain and leading scorer from last season: It serves as an expensive piece of bait to lure Arenas, who had said he would not return unless the team also kept his longtime friend.
"He said he'd take less money if they got me, and they got me," Jamison told The Associated Press. "So I think everything will get worked out with Gilbert."
Two words describe Jamison above all others: steady and reliable. The 32-year-old strong locker room leader has averaged at least 19.6 points and 7.6 rebounds each year since his arrival in Washington 2004. Last season was arguably the best in his 10-year NBA career 21.4 points and a career-high 10.2 rebounds as he and Caron Butler helped lead the Wizards to a fourth consecutive playoff berth while Arenas was injured.
"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."
Jamison previously played five seasons with Golden State and one with Dallas. His career averages are 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds. Last year he was one of only five NBA players to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, and he also posted a career-high 44 double-doubles.
"There wasn't any doubt in my mind that I'd be back," he said.
The Wizards will hold a news conference for Jamison on Tuesday, which is also the first day the team can begin talks with Arenas. The team was able to negotiate with Jamison because he became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, while Arenas had to wait until July 1 because he opted out of his contract.
"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."'
Arenas has said he took the opt-out to sign a more lucrative deal, likely in the $100 million range for a six-year contract.
But he is also acting as his own agent and is known for doing the unexpected and negotiations could be complicated by the fact that he plans to leave for a sponsor-related trip to China on Tuesday.
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, though, 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?"