As the Washington Wizards await word from the commissioner’s office on the length of Gilbert Arenas’ suspension, there is hope among some members of the team’s hierarchy that the relationship between the franchise and its disgraced All Star can be repaired.
The Wizards have thoroughly distanced themselves from Arenas since he was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 6 for bringing four guns to the Verizon Center locker room and mocking the offense with a finger-guns salute in a pre-game huddle in Philadelphia. Arenas, according to people who know him well, feels betrayed by the organization and is convinced that the team didn’t do enough to support him during the ordeal.
Be that as it may, Arenas’ path back to the NBA – whether it’s this season or next – thoroughly depends on reconciling with his Washington teammates, the coaching staff, and management. Regardless of the length of suspension David Stern imposes, Arenas won’t be able to broker a return to the Wizards or achieve a fresh start somewhere else without repairing his relationship with the team.
In the meantime, the Wizards are stuck in limbo, waiting for Stern’s punishment to come down so they can begin making plans to move past this crisis, which has devastated the team’s immediate and long-term future. The possibility that Arenas also will face jail time after pleading guilty to felony gun possession last week – and the fact that his sentence won’t be known until March 26 – further complicates their strategy.
Despite speculation that the Wizards will seek to void the four years and $81 million left on Arenas’ contract, such a nuclear option has yet to rise to the level of serious discussion within the Wizards’ basketball department, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Legal experts believe that a contract termination would be extremely difficult to achieve under the collective bargaining agreement, which protects players from being sanctioned by the league and the team for the same offense. Further clouding the issue is the fact that such a drastic move likely would be dictated by the new ownership group led by Ted Leonsis, the successor to late owner Abe Pollin.
According to the Washington Post, Leonsis was operating under a soft Wednesday deadline to agree on a price to purchase the Wizards and Verizon Center from the Pollin estate. If the two sides fail to agree on a price, they could opt to extend their exclusive negotiations. The deal would increase Leonsis’ stake in the Wizards to 56 percent from 44 percent.
Leonsis, 54, has long been a public supporter of Arenas, but has not commented publicly on his legal troubles; Leonsis’ last blog post on Arenas came Oct. 28.
With the Feb. 18 trade deadline less than a month away, the Wizards are incapable of trading Arenas until the length of his suspension is known. Sources say the sticking point in the league office’s completion of its investigation has been its inability to interview Javaris Crittenton, the other player involved in Dec. 21 locker-room dispute. Under provisions of the CBA, Crittenton eventually will be required to speak with league investigators, but is not required to do so until he is out of criminal jeopardy in the case. Crittenton has not been arrested or charged, in part because the firearm he allegedly wielded during the argument with Arenas has never been found. In a puzzling twist, sources say the three players who were in the locker room at the time of the dispute – Randy Foye, Mike Miller, and DeShawn Stevenson – have given different accounts of the incident.
So the Wizards can do nothing but wait. With rival executives sensing their desperation, sources say the Wizards have not received any realistic offers for their most tradable assets, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood. In the end, everything hinges on Arenas – which is why it’s so crucial for him to reconcile with the team, thus restoring management’s negotiating leverage and giving himself the best chance to eventually return to the court.
If Stern suspends Arenas for the rest of the season, he would become effectively untradeable until next summer. A 20- or 25-game suspension would open the door slightly to a trade or buyout, but neither can happen without cooperation between Arenas and management. Arenas fired his former agent, Dan Fegan, but sources say Fegan has been advising Arenas and could be employed to broker a solution.
Even Arenas’ biggest supporters in Washington admit that there’s a chance he will never again suit up for the Wizards. But if Arenas is going to return to the court anywhere, the possibility of rejoining the Wizards has to at least be explored – and viewed by rival executives as a realistic option. Otherwise, who would offer fair value for him? Once that hurdle is cleared, league sources believe the Orlando Magic will be among the contenders who will at least express interest in Arenas. Orlando is only 9-11 in its last 20 games, and GM Otis Smith – who was in Golden State when the Warriors drafted Arenas – remains one of Agent Zero’s closest friends in the NBA.
There are other things going on in the NBA besides Arenas, which brings us to the rest of the Weekly Post-Ups:
• The parade of 2010 free agents passing through Madison Square Garden and being peppered with questions about playing for the Knicks continued last week, with Chris Bosh assuming the position in the corner locker of MSG’s cramped visiting dressing room. Bosh’s most interesting answer came when he was asked (by yours truly) if he’d like to see an extension offer from the Raptors before the clock strikes midnight on July 1. “Everything is just procedure,” Bosh said. “It’s just business. All that stuff, it really doesn’t matter. I just want to concentrate on playing basketball and address everything else when it’s time to address it. Right now, we’re trying to get above .500. We have enough challenges as a team, so I don’t really want to take on any extra baggage right now because my plate is full.” That would seem to be a no. Unlike the Cavs and Heat, who immediately offered the proverbial extension to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade last summer, the Raptors decided not to go through with the charade. Well aware that Bosh wanted to see where the team was headed before making a long-term commitment, management knew that a premature offer would only prompt an automatic, “No.” GM Bryan Colangelo has the ability to extend an offer at any time, but all parties seem content to wait it out. The Raptors fully intend to keep Bosh, but they won’t be forced into a corner by the possibility of losing him with no compensation. Colangelo is not actively seeking to trade Bosh, but he’s bracing for an avalanche of offers between now and the trade deadline. If it becomes apparent that Bosh is intent upon leaving, Colangelo can maintain control by brokering a sign-and-trade next summer, which would be a win-win because it would bring back assets in return and get Bosh an extra year and more money on his deal.
• Trail Blazers executives remain in wait-and-see mode as they closely monitor the team’s performance with 6-9 Juwan Howard – drafted the same year as assistant coach Monty Williams – starting at center after the loss of Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla. GM Kevin Pritchard and assistant GM Tom Penn are traveling with the team on its current East Coast trip, and rival execs expect the Blazers’ brain trust to soon make a recommendation to ownership about whether to trade for a big man or ride it out with Howard. The Wizards’ Haywood, whose $6 million contract expires after the season, would be a major upgrade. Haywood also would be a close match in a deal that included point guard Andre Miller. But as noted above, any move by the Wizards to acquire a point guard is hamstrung by the uncertainty surrounding Arenas’ suspension and criminal sentence.
• It has not been a good month for NBA headlines – from Arenas, to Jayson Williams, to Shawne Williams (the forward traded from the Mavs to the Nets and then arrested in Memphis on drug charges). Now, Kings rookie Tyreke Evans has been named in a wrongful death civil lawsuit. Evans’ cousin, Jamar Evans, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and weapons charges after fatally shooting a man from the passenger’s seat of an SUV driven by Tyreke Evans in 2007. No criminal charges were filed against Tyreke Evans, who fully informed NBA teams of the incident prior to the 2009 draft. The family of the deceased, Marcus Reason, is seeking a judgment of at least $50,000.
• All-Star starters will be announced Thursday night, and barring a change, the NBA could have an untenable situation on its hands. Online and wireless voting ended Monday, and as of the last time returns were announced on Jan. 7, Tracy McGrady held a 2,375-vote lead over Steve Nash for the second starting backcourt spot in the Western Conference behind Kobe Bryant. If Nash or Chris Paul fails to catch McGrady, the league will have to seriously consider instituting a rule whereby Commissioner David Stern can overrule fan voting if an injured or inactive player is voted into the starting lineup. Better yet, McGrady could solve the problem himself by politely declining the All-Star invitation, seeing as he’s not currently suiting up for the Rockets and has played only six games all season. The other curious starter would be Allen Iverson, but I have less of a problem with that. Iverson certainly deserves it based on his career accomplishments, and at least he’s currently playing.
• Here is the best evidence I’ve seen as to why Stephon Marbury’s decision to sign with Shanxi Zhongyu of the Chinese League won’t end well. Jason Rabedeaux, who has coached in China since 2008, told HoopsHype: “If you are looking to be pampered, spoiled or subject to superstar treatment, you might want to miss that connection to Shanghai.”