Jerry Stackhouse. Mitchell Butler. Juan Dixon. Larry Hughes. Jarvis Hayes. Laron Profit. Caron Butler. Antonio Daniels. Chucky Atkins.
What do all of those players have in common? They started at least one game at shooting guard between Gilbert Arenas' arrival in 2003 to the end of the 2006 season.
In case you're not counting, that's nine different shooting guards in the three preceding years. DeShawn Stevenson is number 10. Last year, he started all 82 games alongside Arenas. Now, after signing a 4 year, 15 million dollar extension, Stevenson will guarantee that number stays at 10 when the 2007/08 season begins.
There may have been better players out there, and there may have been a way to get Stevenson for less money, but the chemistry factor makes the deal worth it, especially for a team that's been through so much turmoil at the 2 in the last few years. It's no coincidence that the one year during this mini-run that began with a hot start (2004/05) happened when there was the most stability at the shooting guard position from year to year. In 2005/06, the Wizards started 12-18. Last year, they started 4-9. That's what happens when you're always replacing one of your starters. Obviously, it's important to play your best ball at the end, but if there wasn't that adjustment period, don't you think the seeding position would have improved? Even if the Wizards started 8-5 this year, those four wins would have been enough to win the division. Now, they won't have to worry about incorporating a new piece into the relatively complex Princeton scheme.
As far as the money goes, I see no reason why, taken on it's own, this is a bad contract. Last year, there were only three starting shooting guards not on their rookie contracts that made less than 3.75 million annually: Jason Kapono (who is now at 6 million), Keyon Dooling, and Michael Finley (who still has his massive contract from Dallas). Perhaps Stevenson is a slightly below-average player, but he was certainly very effective before all the injuries hit. His terrible playoff performance was a blessing in disguise, because it eliminated his leverage. The Big 3 will all be healthy again, so why waste time worrying about Stevenson's performance without them when there's a 99 percent chance he'll never be in that situation again? I see no reason why we shouldn't expect to see the same Stevenson we saw for most of the season again.
A couple of you seem to be concerned that the contract is going for four years because, if all breaks well, Stevenson will be replaced in the lineup by Nick Young anyway. First off, it's three years with a player option, so it's not exactly four years. Knowing Stevenson's penchant for testing the market, I think there's a decent chance he'll utilize that option. Secondly, Stevenson's annual salary is small enough where, even if he is a bench player, it's not a bad contract on it's own. Finally, it's incredibly naive to automatically assume Young will be good enough to start at shooting guard. Even if he is talented, we've seen in Summer League that he has a ways to go with his development, and many of his flaws (lack of focus, poor passing ability) aren't very easy to fix. If Young never develops, at least Stevenson is there for insurance.
There's only one way that this contract can make me upset, and that is if it means we can't afford Andray Blatche. By making Stevenson the priority instead of Blatche, Ernie is taking a bit of a risk. Based on the market, all indications are that Ernie can sign Blatche to a reasonable contract (<4 million annually) and still avoid the luxury tax. As Ivan mentioned, the fact that Amir Johnson, a player very similar to Blatche, signed a reasonable 4 year, 12 million dollar deal bodes well for the Wizards. But what happens if a team like Dallas, who has money to burn, throws a big offer (e.g. the full MLE) at Blatche, knowing that the Wizards can't afford to match because of the Stevenson contract? Blatche may be unproven, but it would be a catastrophe if the Wizards, who desperately need a splash up front, let a young, promising big man get away just because they made a shooting guard the priority. I trust Ernie knows what he's doing, but he's taking a risk here.
The other side effect of this signing is that it's unlikely that Juan Carlos Navarro sticks around. When I heard that Navarro was leaving FC Barcelona, I was ecstatic and couldn't wait to see him in a Wizards uniform. Since then, however, I've adjusted my view on the matter. I have no doubt that Navarro can play, but I don't think he is the solution to our problems. Even if he adjusts to the NBA game effectively, the fact that he's undersized and adverse to playing defense concerns me. I see the value in using him as a scoring sniper off the bench, but isn't that why we drafted NY1? No matter what, his skills seem redundant.
The other argument is that Ernie has lost leverage with JCN now that Stevenson has signed, because teams will adjust their offers knowing the alternative -- JCN playing for the Wizards -- probably won't be happening. I think that this point has some merit, but at the same time, it's not like JCN is actually under contract. Additionally, it's not like teams were offering the moon for JCN anyway. They were offering less than what Ernie ideally wanted before the Stevenson signing, and they'll probably offer less than what Ernie ideally wanted after the Stevenson signing. The only difference now is that dumping either Etan or Haywood becomes a major priority.
Again, I have no problem with this move, provided Blatche is re-signed as well. After two years of overhauling the shooting guard position, the continuity factor cannot be underestimated.