Gilbert Arenas, Not Flip Saunders, Controls the Wizards' Destiny

Bobby OlerContributor IApril 15, 2009

MILWAUKEE - APRIL 1:  Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards looks across the court during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 1, 2007 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Wizards won 121-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agreees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Gilbert Arenas' comeback has ignited DC's favorite guessing game once again: Will he play, or won't he?

The answer has almost always been "no" in the past two years.

Gilbert came back against the Pistons and played well enough to give that "bubble" team a scare. Then, he played against the Cavaliers and looked like a hero as the Wizards won 109-101.

But since then? Nothing. Out of action again.

"The knee is fine," coach Ed Tapscott said, and I believe him. There are too many reporters embedded with the team for any big problems to go unrevealed. But at the same time, a fan observing the situation can't just accept that he is "sore."

Is it possible that Agent Zero accomplished his mission for 2008-2009? Very likely.

He had 20 assists in his two games and looked sharp passing, even if his 23.8 percent field goal shooting for the season will go down as the worst in his career. What is obvious from his time back is that the Wizards offense is as good and efficient as he is.

Before he injured his knee in April 2007, Arenas was essentially a two-guard playing point. He would pass and get assists, but also look to put up 30 points. In the 2006-2007 season he averaged 28.4 points per game.

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In the two seasons since, in which he's played a total of 15 games, that average dipped to 19.4 PPG in 2007-2008 and 13.0 PPG in 2008-2009.

Ironically, that might be a good thing. Before he came back in April 2008, he was quoted as saying he wanted to come back and be an assist man. Still, he never posted more than eight assists in the games after he came back from his injury that season.

But this year, he has 20 in two games.

But now enter Flip Saunders, with a resume more impressive than former Wizards skipper Eddie Jordan's or just about any other coach on the market. He's been to the Conference Finals four times (once in the West, thrice in the East) but never won it. He's entering a situation somewhat similar to what he walked into in Detroit: a team in "win-now" mode.

If Flip can keep Arenas in this assisting frame of mind, and Arenas' shots start falling, the Wizards will be a dominant offensive team again. Plus, Brendan Haywood's continued improvement will help the team defensively, though they will never look like the Jazz or Magic.

If this team can get the No. 1 draft pick, they'll use it on Blake Griffin and continue to build for the immediate future.

Anybody besides Griffin would be a hard option for the Wizards, who may be better off trading a high-but-not-first pick for a veteran defender (preferably one with a ring or two).

The Wizards are down right now, but most people have them in the Playoff mix for 2009-2010, and rightfully so. This roster, while not dominant, is competitive and was on the rise before injuries decimated it. If this team is healthy, they could contend with Orlando for the Southeast Division.

And if Gilbert Arenas continues to develop as a player and accept coaching, the offense will run beautifully.

And if Flip Saunders can channel his hunger for a ring into the Washington players, they could progress toward that level in the next few years.

However, those "ifs" have to happen in that order.

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