Wizards, Stevenson Banking on His Play
Playoffs a Golden Opportunity for Guard
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.”