Gilbert Arenas of the Wizards has been indefinitely suspended by the NBA for bringing guns to the Wizards' locker room. Alan P. Santos/DC Sports Box
Gilbert Arenas has always been Gilbert Arenas. Anyone who thought that forcing the role of team captain upon him, or throwing insane amounts of money at him would somehow cure him of his defiance of the status quo, or trigger a growth spurt that would force him through his Peter Pan syndrome simply has not been paying much attention.
From the time Arenas arrived in Washington, Wizards fans have been treated to a gym rat prone to spectacular on court performances, and a quirky, fun-loving (and sometimes bizarre) quote machine off the court. For $111 million, Arenas has, when healthy, been equal parts franchise foundation caliber player, and outright entertainer. He’s been Agent Zero, The Hibachi and just plain old Gil. One thing Arenas has never been, as far as we know, is a liar.
Arenas deserves the benefit of the doubt when he says he initially brought his collection of firearms to the Verizon Center to keep them out of reach of his children and turn them over to team security. Likewise he deserves the benefit of the doubt when he says that he wasn’t brandishing firearms in the locker room in a showdown with reserve guard Javaris Crittenton, rather he displayed the guns in an attempt to bring humor and levity to an argument that was escalating from disagreement into dangerous. Arenas has always been, if nothing else, a prankster who finds solace in laughter. Perhaps gunplay is a hilarious show-stopper in Arenas’ Peter Pan Never-Never Land, you can’t say for sure unless you’ve been there.
Whether or not Arenas is telling the complete truth surrounding the events that have helped to morph him from entertaining to infamous in the eyes of NBA fans and onlookers nationwide should be beside the point however. The fact of the matter is, intentional or not, guns in a locker room (loaded or not) just isn’t funny. It’s a violation of league rules, an exhibit of the type of questionable decision making that has held Arenas from joining the upper echelon of NBA superstars, and, depending upon the findings of investigators, who Arenas gave his version of the story to on Tuesday, a punishable violation of District of Columbia law.
It’s also shot (no pun intended) to the top of the list of reasons that Wizards brass and Arenas should find a way to amicably part ways. A divorce is in order here and now.
The lack of overall team chemistry and a record that puts them on pace to win only a handful of games more than they managed to win last season with Arenas out of the lineup for the better part of the year should be reason enough for Ernie Grunfeld and company to admit their error in judging the ceiling of this team and start tearing it apart piece-by-expensive-piece. Now add to that embarrassment the additional shame of the bright red spotlight the Face of the Franchise’s latest antics have thrust upon the team and the city and it’s clear, even to Arenas’ most adamant District of Columbia supporters (myself among them) have to admit that perhaps a fresh start is in the best interest of all involved parties.
Chances are Grunfeld and his team was going to make a move or two before February’s trade deadline anyway, but Arenas was one of the most unlikely pieces to be moved. Arenas’ hefty contract makes moving him difficult in the NBA where trades not only should bring you back the right pieces, but where salaries must match within roughly ten percent for the league to approve a deal. Grunfeld has been known to make magic with his dealings before, but if finding a market for Arenas before the Showdown at the OK Corral mess came about was difficult, imagine the headaches he’ll have finding a partner willing to part with anything of value for a talented guard with a franchise player’s contract but no desire to take on the franchise player’s burdens.
Here’s where Grunfeld really earns his salary though because the task, difficult as it may be, is unavoidable. Either distance yourself from Arenas by finding someone who’ll deal, even if it means coming out on the bad side of the deal in the short term, or explore every option to void his contract and prepare for a fight (that may very well be lost) with the player’s union when the contract is voided.
Grunfeld shouldn’t be tempted to mortgage the entire future of the organization to rid himself of Arenas’ troubles, but he should be willing to accept a deal for Arenas as an opportunity to start a rebuilding project that he is, honestly, probably a year or two late in starting. Taking marginal players with ugly short term deals who are packaged with future draft picks or a talented youngster would be ideal for Washington right now. In the short term, as bad as they are, the Wizards are still within striking distance of a playoff spot in the putrid Eastern Conference – trading Arenas now probably doesn’t hurt the team’s playoff chances any and it forces the team to figure out exactly what they have in guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller, both scheduled for free agency this year (Foye will be restricted giving the team the right to match any offers he receives) and Javaris Crittenton and Nick Young. In the long term Washington would gain a tremendous amount of cap flexibility and draft picks to keep the rebuilding process going through this summer and into the next. Sure, you miss what are probably the most productive years of Antawn Jamison’s career, but Jamison is a professional who understands the business side of basketball – he knows that sometimes you have to take a step back before you can sprint forward.
Caron Butler has appeared lost with Arenas back on the court. Butler went from a strong number two and part time number one option with Arenas gone, to an afterthought in the offense when he returned. Maybe Butler regains some confidence and some of the form that propelled him to career numbers last season with Arenas gone. And who knows what kind of serviceable pieces you may get back in trade for Arenas, there could be a young blossoming star somewhere in the NBA who could flourish under Saunders’ system and develop into a key piece in the reformation of the franchise.
Grunfeld has to do something, and quick. Fans have reportedly called the Wizards front offices to complain that Arenas is even still suiting up for games. The Wizards’ woes were the subject of late night talk show host David Letterman’s Top Ten List just a few evenings ago (sure, Letterman is in no position to throw stones after his recent infidelity escapades, but come on, “Coach didn’t specify what kind of shootaround it was” – that’s just funny). Community and Civil Rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton has urged NBA Commissioner David Stern to come down hard on Arenas. And if Tuesday’s win over the 76ers was any indication of how this team is going to be received by fans as long as Arenas is on it, then Grunfeld and Saunders owe it to the other players to figure something out quickly.
Punishment is coming for Arenas. Punishment from the Commissioner’s office (Arenas himself expects that Stern will come down on him hard) will likely be more harsh than what we’ve seen for other NBA players who have been caught up in bad situations with firearms because Arenas has already been disciplined by the league for a weapons violation before. Punishment will come from the team, and they will likely follow suit with the severity of whatever punishment Stern hands down.
Here’s the kicker – punishment may also be coming from the District of Columbia should investigators decide to press charges. Arenas could face more than twenty years in prison should he lose a criminal trial in court.
No one wants to see Arenas locked up, well, no one who’s ever been around him for more than five minutes – which is more than enough time to realize the kid doesn’t have an ounce of malice in his body – but the best scenario for everyone involved might be criminal charges for Arenas that ultimately end in him being completely acquitted of any wrongdoing. See, NBA contracts can be voided without fear of retaliation from the player’s association if felony charges are filed against Arenas. And while no one really wants to see that happen, it may be the easiest route to a divorce and the Wizards without Arenas and Arenas without the Wizards might just be the best thing for everyone involved right now.
Hopes are that the Wizards strike fire, Arenas only gets a minimal suspension from the league and the team, and the District decides that pursuing any criminal actions would be a waste of time. Winning has a way of curing a lot of ailments. The fans will forgive, the media will forget as soon as the next big story comes along, and everyone lives happily ever after. Time does, after all, heal all wounds.
Reality is that Arenas has dug a deep ditch for himself and the organization and that perhaps it is in his best interest to use this experience to start over again in a new city, with new fans and a clean slate. Divorce is never easy, but some differences are simply irreconcilable. Sometimes people change and grow apart. This time everyone stayed the same and realized they just aren’t a good fit.