"I thought I would at least have a chance to play my last game here playing in a Wizards uniform, but it didn't happen," Jamison said in a telephone interview late Wednesday night, after he learned that he was headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team trade that involved the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a bittersweet moment for Jamison, who felt the regret of unfulfilled promise but the hope of something greater ahead. "Ernie, he didn't want to do it. But said he thought so highly of me and thought I had an opportunity to win one. I'm ecstatic," Jamison said. "That's what it's all about, getting a chance to put myself in a position to win a championship. It's sad it didn't happen here in D.C. We had the vision of doing some special things there."
By tacking the Clippers on the deal and forcing Cleveland to take Telfair's contract, the Wizards benefited quite a bit financially. A straight-up deal sending Jamison for Ilgauskas would have been cap-neutral, but they saved $2.8 million in payroll in the Thornton-Gooden exchange. That's enough to get Washington under the luxury tax and become eligible for the distribution of the tax (worth somewhere between $4-4.5 million). Factor in savings on an Ilgauskas buyout and all told the Wizards will make nearly $9 million with this move. The financial factor is why Washington ultimately had to do this deal, rather than keeping Jamison around. It's also something of a favor to Jamison, who gets to chase a championship rather than spend his 30s playing out the string with younger teammates. In isolation, the move was an obvious one for the Wizards in the absence of other offers for Jamison. The bigger picture, however, remains dark in Washington over the next few years.
Don't get me wrong; I understand this is what had to happen. I wrote as much back in December, that the Gilbert Arenas/Caron Butler/Brendan Haywood/Antawn Jamison team had reached its expiration date. Just because you have nice pieces doesn't mean they fit the puzzle. Not a single basketball executive of the five I talked to Wednesday thought the Wizards should do anything but start over, which meant trading Jamison just as they had traded Butler and Haywood in the previous days. Let's give President Ernie Grunfeld this: He made a pretty good deal. In fact, it's a better deal than expected because the Wizards got four things a team needs when starting over: 1) They got a big, expiring contract and salary cap room by dealing for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who makes $11.5 million in this, the last season of his contract. 2) The Wizards got Cleveland's first-round draft pick. 3) They got a young player of note in Al Thornton, from the Clippers. 4) They'll get immediate luxury-tax relief from the buyout they will negotiate with Ilgauskas.
MJ: Are there any regrets that two years ago you re-signed here two years ago thinking this was going to be that special team and like you said, your window of opportunity is shrinking and basically it was two years wasted?
AJ: I don't have any regrets. I did believe this was an opportunity to be apart of something special but unfortunately with outside distractions and injuries we never got to the point to accomplishing those things, but at the particular time I thought this was an organization that was on the up. We just came up short. But I still learned a lot of things and I don't regret it. These last two years have made me the person I am right now and you never take anything for granted and you play every moment like it's your last especially if you're in a great situation and really soak it in and enjoy it. When I signed here I thought this was the perfect fit for me and you wanted to accomplish some things that didn't happen but you just move forward and know that if I hadn't re-signed here and gone somewhere else, I wouldn't be in the situation that I am now [headed to Cleveland] and this great of a chance to accomplish something.
Washington badly needed to dump salary, the team wasn't going anywhere even with Gilbert Arenason board, so dumping Jamison (and, last weekend, Caron Butler) makes sense. And while I can appreciate the need to bring in warm bodies to close out the remnants of a miserable year, I don't get the add-ons. Why do you need Al Thornton? For the rest of this season, I understand, but in a summer that is probably going to see your franchise work like mad to use up all this existing cap space, Thornton's $2.8 million salary is going to be rather annoying. Tradeable, sure, but why do you need him? He's certainly worth the money he makes, but unless he's fodder for a mid-July sign-and-trade, I don't get it. And why do you need the 30th pick in next June's Draft, a guaranteed contract for a player that usually doesn't deserve it?
Jamison was the spokesman for the team, the guy management last season sent out in front of the fans to apologize for such a poor season, and had him go out in front of the fans again this season to apologize for the Gilbert Arenas gun mess. Jamison was the good soldier who went off at his teammates with a locker room tirade after they went through the motions up in Indiana earlier this season -- remember, the honeydew mellon game? He could've demanded a trade, but he kept on fighting. When asked if he thought he deserved to play somewhere with a chance, he said, yeah he had a right, but that he wanted it to still happen in DC and expressed gratitude for everything that Abe Pollin and his family had done for him, and because of that, he was going to keep battling for the Wizards. But despite the fact that all Jamison did was average 20.6 points and 8.8 rebounds over the last six seasons, some Wizards fans called him "MeTwan" others called him soft. There will be some who are glad to see Jamison go. I never got all the hate. I'm not a Wizards fan, so maybe since I had no emotion invested, I just looked at the numbers and his performances rather than how what he did or didn't do hurt my feelings. But D.C. basketball fans lost not only a good player, but a good man tonight. No guns in this locker, no crapping in teammates' shoes. No off-court antics with this dude. And, he's a darn good player -- after Steve Nash, probably the best over-32-year-old in the league.
Two things stand out about this trade. First was that Cleveland was in the driver's seat -- the Cavs and the Mavericks being the only contenders willing to take on longterm contracts -- and that general manager Danny Ferry executed the turns perfectly. He was able to leverage interest in Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire in order to drive down the price on Jamison, who was viewed by many rivals as the best possible fit for Cleveland. Second is that this trade, more than anything, is proof that the current collective bargaining agreement is broken and badly in need of overhaul. If the team with the best record can acquire a no-nonsense star like Jamison and then retrieve an asset like Ilgauskas, something is seriously wrong with the system. No one can say there is anything dirty about an Ilgauskas buyout either, because it is in the best interests of the Wizards to pursue such an agreement to limbo themselves under the luxury tax, and Ilgauskas may well decide it is his ambition to return home to Cleveland in order to avoid disrupting his young family. The current CBA has essentially leveraged this deal, with Ferry knowing how to manipulate it in his team's favor.
There's no question that Grunfeld has a lot of work to do to fix this team, especially with the years and huge amount of money that is still due to Arenas. But the Wizards do have the rest of the season to see how good some of their young pieces are. Is Andray Blatche ready to step up and take over a leading role on this team? Can JaVale McGee improve his post defense and stop fouling so much? Can Nick Young prove to Flip Saunders that he's more than just a one-dimensional player? Will Foye prove that he can run the point and show that he can be a complementary piece to a winning team? How will Thornton fit in? That's a lot to find out, but those questions will probably need to be answered at some point -- along with figuring out who the next owner of the Wizards is going to be.