It wasn’t supposed to feel like this.
As the USA Olympic basketball team brought back comfort and normalcy to fans across the country, the Wizards tried to do the same for the local Washington faithful by signing free agent point guard Gilbert Arenas to a six-year, $111 million dollar contract.
This followed the relatively recent signing of Antawn Jamison, who along with Caron Butler, kept the Wizards' season alive last year without a healthy Arenas.
With all three of the stars signed on long term, coupled with the improving young talent of Nick Young and Andray Blatche, all indications were that the Wizards are finally ready to take the next step from playoff regular to championship contender.
There was a deep sigh of relief.
That was, until the awful news hit the airwaves. Gilbert Arenas had yet another knee surgery, months after all reports indicating the success of his rehab. Like thunder following lightning, more bad news was to come. It was reported a day later that Arenas would not be available until the beginning of January 2009.
Didn’t the Wizards announce that they had confidence in his health after signing him on to nearly a max deal? Didn’t Arenas himself write on his blog about how well his rehab was going? Wasn’t he supposed to be healthy and ready to go by the start of the season?
The answer to all of those questions is, “Yes.”
What everyone failed to take into account is that this, ladies and gentlemen, is Washington. In Washington, Murphy’s Law doesn’t just surface from time to time; it is a mainstay.
It’s as if the basketball God’s are playing a cruel and evil joke on anyone donning the Wizards blue. Rest assured, Washington will say and do all the right things. There is no question that Arenas will continue to work extremely hard to rehab his knee. There is no question that the Wizards PR Department will continue to tell fans how this team will be able to be successful with Jamison and Butler leading the way until Arenas is ready to return.
All that will most likely happen.
In the mediocre but somewhat improved East, Washington should be able to manage and keep the ship afloat. Jamison and Butler are more than capable along with the efficient offensive system instilled by head coach Eddie Jordan.
But let’s be clear about one thing—Gilbert Arenas isn’t playing until 2009. That means his last season in which he participated for the majority of games was 2006-07. That’s two full years. In sports—any sport—two years is an eternity. Further, Arenas can’t possibly have the proper conditioning or the on-the-court awareness until April, at the very earliest.
People don't come back from injuries that force them to spend almost two years rehabbing instead of playing and suddenly return to star form. For those who don't believe me, give me a list of star players who, after numerous surgeries and rehab in consecutive seasons, returned to their original form or better.
This isn't sheer negativity. It’s fact.
Antawn Jamison was quoted as saying that he doesn’t believe Arenas will be back to “Agent Zero” status until late in the year or possibly next season. Let that sink in, and keep the source in mind. Jamison is the leader of the team. If anyone knows what to expect, it would be him.
The misery of Washington isn’t just the fact that bizarre things happen to go wrong here. This is the city that saw one of its most beloved players, Sean Taylor, get shot and killed. This is the city that signed Juwan Howard to the $100 million-plus deal. This is the city that had its starting quarterback at one time, Gus Frerotte, slam his head into a wall after a score and effectively take himself out of the next game.
This is the city that had three of the five starters that made up the Detroit Pistons’ Championship team (Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace). This is the city that has seen more gut-wrenching losses than it has victories.
But what’s worse than all that—worse than all the heartbreaks and letdowns—is the fact that fans keep coming back like an abused girlfriend does to her womanizing man, thinking he has miraculously changed for the better, thinking that THIS time, everything will be alright.
The naïve and “We Believe” nature will be in full effect again this year. Fans will think that once Arenas comes back, all will be well again and the buzzer beating three pointers will rain down like they once did, forgetting the nature and unexpected turns of Arenas’ injury.
While I’d love for the fans to be energized and excited, part of me hopes that all standards are lowered a bit. Hope for great things, but expect little difference from 2007-08. All things considered, with the Wizards’ season kicking off in exactly a week, the mood in DC was supposed to be different than what it is.
Maybe because of the excitement generated by the Washington Redskins, the dreary state of the Wizards will be pushed to the backburner. Perhaps if the 'Skins were to make the playoffs and have meaningful games left to play in January, Arenas can quietly slide back into the lineup while people are distracted, get his conditioning in line and be on point when most fans are ready to tune in. As long as the Redskins keep up the impressive play, everything might just be alright.
But then again, this is Washington. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.