Wiz­ards, Steven­son Bank­ing on His Play

Play­offs a Golden Op­por­tu­nity for Guard

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Ivan Carter

BY

In seven NBA sea­sons, DeShawn Steven­son has never been asked to be “the man,” and he’s not go­ing into the first-round play­off se­ries that be­gins to­day against the Cleve­land Cav­a­liers look­ing to adopt that role.

In­stead, Steven­son views him­self as the same player who helped the Wiz­ards get off to a 31-21 start while shoot­ing to the top of the East­ern Con­fer­ence ear­lier this sea­son. An ideal com­ple­ment to all­stars Gil­bert Are­nas and Caron But­ler and high-scor­ing for­ward An- tawn Jamison, Steven­son’s job was to play de­fense, ini­ti­ate and some­times fin­ish fast breaks and knock down the oc­ca­sional open jump shot.

Steven­son thrived in that ca­pac­ity, start­ing all 82 games and av­er­ag­ing 11.2 points on 46.1 per­cent

shoot­ing while mak­ing more three­p­oint­ers this sea­son (74) than he’d made in six pre­vi­ous sea­sons com­bined.

With the loss of Are­nas and But­ler, how­ever, Steven­son sud­denly finds him­self in a po­si­tion he never imag­ined he’d be in when he signed a two-year con­tract in Au­gust.

In the play­offs, Steven­son will be asked to in­crease his scor­ing out­put, do his part de­fen­sively against Cleve­land’s two best of­fen­sive weapons — James and for­mer Wizard Larry Hughes — and pro­vide lead­er­ship to a team that is a heavy un­der­dog.

A great se­ries would help Steven­son earn back what he lost last sum­mer when he turned down a three­year, $10 mil­lion of­fer from the Or­lando Magic, be­liev­ing he could get more. When that didn’t hap­pen, Steven­son fired his agent, hired a new one and signed with the Wiz­ards hop­ing to in­crease his value. This sea­son, he’s be­ing paid $932,000 and he plans to test free agency by opt­ing out on the sec­ond year of the con­tract this sum­mer.

“The thing about it is, and I’m not be­ing cocky or any­thing, I think I’m go­ing to make it back,” Steven­son said, who is only 26. “For a per­son to come into a sit­u­a­tion like this where I didn’t even know I was go­ing to start and be ef­fec­tive on this team, to do what I had to do, showed a good at­ti­tude, played in all 82 games — I feel that I’ve put my­self in po­si­tion to earn that kind of money. Any­thing I do in the play­offs will only help me.”

Wiz­ards Pres­i­dent of Bas­ket­ball Op­er­a­tions Ernie Grunfeld, Coach Ed­die Jor­dan, Steven­son and Are- nas have ex­pressed a de­sire to see Steven­son in a Wiz­ards uni­form next sea­son. But, as re­cent off­sea­sons have proven, things can change when free agency hits and money starts fly­ing.

Steven­son will be one of sev­eral con­sid­er­a­tions for the Wiz­ards. Guard Jarvis Hayes and for­ward Andray Blatche (re­stricted) will also be free agents and the team has yet to of­fer con­tract ex­ten­sions to the as­sis­tant coaches (Mike O’Koren, Phil Hub­bard and Tom Young), who have been with Jor­dan since he started coach­ing the Wiz­ards in 2003.

Jor­dan signed a three-year, $12 mil­lion ex­ten­sion last sum­mer.

The play­ers who pre­ceded Steven­son as start­ing shoot­ing guards for the Wiz­ards — Hughes and Jared Jef­fries — wound up sign­ing else­where af­ter help­ing Wash­ing­ton reach the play­offs. Steven­son won’t say how much it will take to keep him, Grunfeld won’t say how much he’s will­ing to of­fer and both sides un­der­stand that the mar­ket tends to set it­self any­way.

Hughes was lured to Cleve­land by a five-year, $65 mil­lion-$70 mil­lion of­fer in 2005 and Jef­fries signed a five-year deal with the Knicks worth around $30 mil­lion last sum­mer, a move that prompted the Wiz­ards to sign Steven­son as a re­place­ment.

Hughes and Jef­fries helped them­selves in the post­sea­son, Hughes by help­ing the Wiz­ards reach the sec­ond round, and Jef­fries by im­press­ing the Knicks with his de­fen­sive ver­sa­til­ity against LeBron James and the Cav­a­liers last spring.

“He’s been a good fit for what they do,” an East­ern Con­fer­ence scout said of Steven­son. “He’s shown the abil­ity to stick the out­side jumper more than he has in the past and he’s re­ally blended his game well into what Ed­die runs. I wouldn’t call him a shut­down de­fender but he’s com­pet­i­tive and he’s tough. He’s one of those guys who is bet­ter off on a good team be­cause he has no prob­lem ac­cept­ing his role.”

Af­ter Are­nas went down against Char­lotte on April 4 and Steven­son’s new role in­cluded car­ry­ing more of the scor­ing and play­mak­ing load, the Wiz­ards went 2-6 and Steven­son’s field goal shoot­ing dropped to 33.3 per­cent. He shot 28.9 per­cent from three-point range and av­er­aged 13.3 points with 3.7 as­sists. Steven­son scored 25 points at a win in At­lanta, but in con­sec­u­tive close losses to the Nets and Heat he came up short on drives to the bas­ket that would have tied the score.

Even with so much on the line in the play­offs, Steven­son said he is not look­ing to go out and try to be some­thing he hasn’t been since the Utah Jazz drafted him out of high school in 2000.

“There’s been a lot of hoopla and peo­ple talk­ing about how this is a big op­por­tu­nity for DeShawn but no, DeShawn needs to go out there and do what he did to put him­self in the sit­u­a­tion he’s in right now,” Steven­son said. “That’s knock down open shots, maybe be a lit­tle more ag­gres­sive, but I’m not look­ing to go out there just be­cause it’s the play­offs and score 30, 40 points. Next year, when Gil­bert and Caron come back, that’s not go­ing to be my role any­way.”

So that means Steven­son is plan­ning to re­turn?

“I hope so,” he said. “I like it here. This place feels like home to me.”

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