Wizards playing a waiting game in free agency

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Like every other NBA team, the Wizards made calls when free agency started Sunday. They have needs to fill if they're going to contend for the playoffs for the first time in four years. But because they're not in the market for one of this summer's high-priced movers, it's taking a bit longer for the dominoes to fall and those calls to be returned.

Washington has interest in a number of players who were on the roster last season, including Cartier Martin, James Singleton, Maurice Evans and Roger Mason Jr. They've also inquired about Kirk Hinrich and John Lucas III, and there are reports that they reached out to Courtney Lee.

But the Wizards prefer to consider the two key trades they have executed in the last four months as their principal foray into the market.

"Instead of going into free agency to fill our needs, we did it through a trade," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said after the recent acquisition of Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. The message was similar when Washington brought in Nene at the trade deadline back in March; the three will be the Wizards' three highest paid players next season.

"Right now, I see the draft and trades as the best way to use cap space to rebuild or replenish with certainty," Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said on his blog. "I am hopeful we can use free agency as well -- time will tell. But it may be that having cap space is a bit overvalued in free agency."

With that in mind, Washington's primary pursuit this summer is for a reasonably priced veteran point guard to play behind John Wall and additional depth on the wing and in the locker room, where the team is determined to change the culture.

"We need some veterans in several different positions," Grunfeld said. "We'll see how the summer goes, how summer league is. We're excited about where our team is. We're probably two deep at every position."

That's not quite true at point guard, where Wall expressed the need for a veteran mentor following last season, when he was backed up by rookie Shelvin Mack. Hinrich is an unlikely candidate to return after his dismal half season in Washington when Wall was a rookie. Lucas is a more reasonably priced option if he doesn't return to Chicago. In a surprise start for the Bulls in place of Derrick Rose in January, Lucas torched the Wizards for 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

How much Washington spends on a point guard could dictate what is remaining for role players like Singleton, who averaged 8.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 12 games last year, or Martin, who led Washington with 38.7 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Mason and Evans both were expected to be a presence around the team as it prepares for the Las Vegas summer league, independent of possible free agent interest. The team has since clarified that neither will assist in coaching.

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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