Word out of Washington, along with every major sports site and agency covering the NBA, is that Gilbert Arenas, also known as Agent Zero, Hibachi and Clutch Touch (Ok, I made that last one up), is seeking a six year, $124 million dollar deal after opting out of the last year of his contract.
If the figure he is demanding seems outrageous, it is because it is the highest salary a team can offer an unrestricted free agent. Another member of the "Big Three," Caron Butler, of whom it can be said finally asserted himself as rising star in the league, is under contract through 2010-11, and is not seeking a new deal. Gilbert made close to $12 million last year, while another member of the "Big Three," Antawn Jamison, made close to $16.3 million.
If you haven't heard, Jamison is also an unrestricted free agent with several teams, most notably the Wizards and the 76ers, pursuing him.Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld has stated that resigning Jamison and Arenas are his top priorities, but that is now under question because of the salaries each of the two would command. Jamison is one of the most sought after free agents not only because of his stellar 21.4 points and 10.2 rebounds, but also because of the veteran leadership he would bring to a young team along with his playoff experience.
Arenas, in typical Gilbert fashion, has gone on record as saying that he will not return to the team if they do not "take care" of Jamison first. Furthermore, he has even offered to lower his asking rate in order to ensure that Jamison gets paid. While Gilbert's sincerity is admirable, it is also a little questionable because by demanding a max deal, he has put the Wizards in the questionable position of maybe having to choose between Jamison and himself.
So the central question is, who do the Wizards need more, Antawn Jamison or Gilbert Arenas?
Gilbert missed most of last year following a knee surgery and his return, while widely heralded as a possible lightning rod for the Wizards to rally around, has since drawn criticism. It has been said, even amongst Wizards fan circles, that Gilbert's larger than life personality overshadowed the team spirit and camaraderie developed by the Wizards going into the playoffs. They were playing better team defense, relying less on steals, and committing less turnovers. Finally, Arenas has always been a shoot first point guard, focusing more on his point total than the assists he hands out—perhaps not the best mentality for a point guard.
On the other hand, no one can fault Eddie Jordan, the Wizards' head coach, for inserting Arenas into the lineup almost immediately following his return. Arenas is undoubtedly one of the most underrated superstars in the league, if not a top five player. When healthy, he is a threat night in and night out impose his will and score without check whenever he wishes. Before the 2007-08 season began, there was a general feeling shared by Wizards fans and league pundits alike that he was one of the candidates to win the NBA scoring title before he went out with the injury.
Evaluating the degree of necessity Jamison provides to the team is a little more difficult as he has missed only 15 games in the last three years, while putting up a very consistent 20 points, 10 rebounds average on the stat sheet in his tenure with the Wizards. Despite his strong rebounding presence, Jamsion is also a serviceable three point shooter, putting up 33.4% from the three-point line last season, respectable considering he is listed as a forward on the roster.
However, as another columnist on BR pointed out, his tendency to settle for the three takes away from the Wizards' ability to collect offensive rebounds as their best rebounder is 20 feet or more away from the basket. Despite providing veteran leadership on the Wizards team for the last four years, Jamison is a veteran of nine full years in the NBA, and at 32 years of age, one has to wonder about offering him a lucrative long term deal.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Arenas will not get his wish of a max contract as most teams with the money to spend to employ his services (already few in number) are set at the point guard position. Interestingly, Jamison has kept quiet about his wishes—while he seems to want to stay with the Wizards, he has made no indication that he will not test the free agency waters before making a decision.
Compounded with the fact that he might be a more tempting target than Arenas, Jamison might end up being the more difficult to retain asset the Wizards have. Consider that the Wizards drafted JaVale McGee, an extremely raw young power forward out of Nevada with an NBA body but not an NBA game. Furthermore, the Wizards already have Nick Young and Dominic McGuire, two promising young guards with solid passing and ball handling ability on the roster. This team will have no problem scoring.
Taking all these factors into account, the fact of the matter is, the Wizards will hurt themselves more in the long run by passing on Jamison to retain Arenas, rather than the other way around. Both players should be aggresively pursued, but Jamison is the clear cut, must-have player in this equation.