Talk to anyone around the NBA, players, coaches, analysts included, and they will all tell you that Gilbert Arenas is not a bad guy. In the last year alone, he has gone from simply being an enigmatic star on a terrible team to a pariah and all-around malcontent for the NBA and the Washington Wizards. With the arrival of John Wall and the general unwelcome feeling Arenas has highlighted, it may be time for Arenas and the Wizards to part ways.
If only the NBA weren't so centered around money and politics, Arenas might already be on his way.
Before the season even started, Arenas put his name in headlines for the wrong reasons. He faked an injury in a preseason game to give Nick Young a chance to start. A generous gesture for a teammate, but one that earned him a $50,000 fine from the Wizards. Between his half-hearted apology and citing how he is here to "teach John [Wall] the ins and the outs of the game, and then eventually go on and move on. I'm on my way,"
He also went on to say that he lost all feeling a long time ago, likely stemming from the locker room gun incident, and the ensuing felony charges and 50-game suspension last season. If if wasn't clear before that he wants out of Washington, he is certainly doing his best to make it known now.
The latest news on Arenas is hardly comforting, but just another drop in the ever-filling bucket of reasons the team and he need to part ways. He missed the team's first two games with an ankle injury and is likely to miss the Wizard's home opener against the 76ers. It is good that the injury isn't related to his previous knee injuries and surgeries, but it means he will miss even more time.
Over the last three years, since his initial knee injury, Arenas has played in just 47 games. Hardly the track record you want from the player being paid $111 million to lead a dismantled team to the playoffs.
The situation would be much easier if Arenas wasn't carrying around $80 million on his back-loaded contract. With owner Ted Leonsis running the show, Arenas would have been shipped off to greener pastures for a couple of picks and maybe a young player if not for the money owed to him. Instead, he is left to sulk on the sidelines and nurse whatever injury he fakes or allows to befall him next.
Not to sound so cold towards Arenas because Washington is just as much at fault for the situation, but it is time for him to go.
With Wall as the future of the franchise and a slew of young talent to build up, Arenas is a necessary evil. He has the experience and the Wizards need a veteran around for the leadership. Even so, Arenas is not an ideal leader and has been quick to point fingers when things go wrong. Learning anything other than how to penetrate and score off the dribble, or hit open jumpers is dangerous, especially in his current state.
There was a time when Agent Zero was a beloved, if mischievous personality on a Wizards team that reached the playoffs four straight years from 2004 to 2008. When that team stopped performing, the antics stopped being cute.
The NBA let Arenas march to the beat of his own drum until he stopped being a star in the league and brought the hammer down with the gun incident.
All that is in the past, but it is leading to a crossroads for the Washington Wizards. They can take the cap hit by simply releasing Arenas, they can let him play out his contract or they can try to work out a trade with any team willing to take him.
Rather than dwell on the future, which is clearly in Wall's hands more and more each game, let's take into account the effects of Arenas's absence right now.
As noted before, Arenas was supposed to be the veteran on a youth-laden team. The Wizards have the third youngest team in the NBA with Arenas, so his injury brings up experience issues. Wall doesn't have his would-be mentor, or a real knockdown shooter to defer to. Wall is having to carry the team's full weight long before anyone in the Wizards organization wants.
Wall's 21 points and nine assists per game are encouraging, but the Wizards 0-2 mark is not. Their 29-point season-opening loss to the Magic was atrocious and highlighted the need for a steady veteran hand, no matter the immaturity attached to one like Arenas.
Who can Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee look to on the roster for the right support or kick in the behind if not Arenas?
Kirk Hinrich is 29 but only a part-time starter, and is in his first season with the Wizards. It shouldn't fall on him to whip his teammates into shape to start his run in Washington. Head coach Flip Saunders is used to leading veteran teams to crisp, defensive-minded postseason runs. He is looking more and more out of his element in trying to mold younger players into the players he has coached in years past.
Blatche is not Kevin Garnett, McGee is not Ben Wallace, Wall is not ready to be Chauncey Billups.
Arenas being out of the line-up for three games is bad enough, but it affects the rest of the season if he is out for more than just a few games. It will be another year of his contract wasted and another black eye on his record and that of GM Ernie Grunfeld who had as much a hand in Arenas's fall from grace as Arenas did himself.
It might have been hard to say goodbye a few years ago, but the best thing for Arenas and the Wizards is to part ways as soon as possible. It may not leave much experience on the floor until Josh Howard returns from his knee injury, but it will allow the Wall era to begin the without unnecessary distractions that Arenas attracts even in his most selfless moments.