WASHINGTON (AP) -Eddie Jordan sat next to guard DeShawn Stevenson and could hardly stop smiling.
As the Washington Wizards' coach helped formally announce Stevenson's new contract Tuesday, he was elated to finally have a full starting lineup with experience in his system.
``It's a great relief,'' Jordan said. ``We're a step ahead of the game, as opposed to the last two or three years.''
Stevenson, 26, re-signed with the Wizards on Monday, reaching a deal reportedly worth $15 million over four years. For the first time since Jordan took over as coach before the 2003-04 season, Washington's group of projected starters is the same as the previous season.
``I really wanted to stay here because I felt like I jelled with the starting five,'' Stevenson said. ``I think the coaching staff and everything, it's easy to play with them. ... I think all around, it was a no-brainer.''
The Wizards' starting five has constantly changed since the beginning of the decade. Arrivals and departures of key players such as Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler have led to offseason uncertainty and in-season growing pains. Establishing continuity this offseason was a top priority for president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, and re-signing Stevenson was the biggest hurdle.
``We wanted to keep this group together,'' Grunfeld said. ``We felt like last year, especially toward the middle of the year when we had the best record in the (Eastern Conference), we were really rolling before injuries set in. He was a big part of that.''
After the 2005-06 season, Stevenson opted out of the final year of his contract with Orlando, hoping for a multimillion-dollar, long-term contract. Instead, he wound up with a veteran's minimum salary of $932,000 from the Wizards.
Stevenson effectively auditioned for his big contract last season, and the Wizards felt he passed the test. His contributions, especially on defense, helped Washington make the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Stevenson started all 82 games and averaged 11.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and a career-high 2.7 assists.
``The top seven guys know what we do offensively and defensively,'' Jordan said. ``From a depth standpoint, that helps.''
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