Gilbert Arenas receiving a lenient sentence Friday that includes no jail time had little bearing on his future in the NBA. That aspect of his sad fall from grace isn't any clearer than it was two months ago, when NBA commissioner David Stern suspended him for the rest of the season.
Since then, the Wizards have almost entirely divorced themselves from Arenas. They've also traded the core players they expected Arenas would lead to the playoffs this season. With Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood went tens of millions in future payroll commitments. GM Ernie Grunfeld and assistant Tommy Sheppard responded swiftly and drastically to this franchise-shaping event, getting the Wizards under the luxury tax and putting the pieces in place for an all-out rebuilding.
The problem is, the Wizards have a team built for rebuilding with a franchise player, Arenas, on the books for $81 million over the next four years. And the chasm of distrust between Arenas and some elements of management did not shrink in the least with Friday's sentencing news.
Arenas' attorneys compiled a 221-page sentencing memorandum with dozens of character reference letters -- some of them quite moving. Yet the most significant aspect of the document was the glaring absence of a letter from a single member of the Wizards' basketball operations staff.
Not every decision maker in the Wizards' organization wants to move on without him, so the team's lack of participation in trying to minimize Arenas' sentence was critical. If the Wizards considered Arenas a key piece of their future, wouldn't they pull out all the stops to encourage leniency?
That is where basketball sense collides with legal protocol. If the Wizards take the expected step of investigating whether they can void Arenas' contract over the incident, then the organization's absence from the sentencing memorandum makes perfect sense. Legal sense.
Legal and basketball observers believe that voiding Arenas' contract is a long shot at best; the collective bargaining agreement is quite clear that players cannot face punishment from the league and from their team for the same offense. But that doesn't mean the Wizards can't try. And how duplicitous would it look to take that step after submitting a character reference letter to a judge?
So the next move belongs to the Wizards, and it's complicated by the fact that ownership of the team soon will be transferred from the family of late owner Abe Pollin to Ted Leonsis, with the franchise being valued at $550 million. Will the new ownership group make front office changes, holding Grunfeld accountable for the catastrophic impact of Arenas' foolishness? Nobody knows.
Whomever is in charge will have to weigh a lengthy arbitration process if they go the route of voiding Arenas' deal vs. the more expedient route of trying to trade him. There's a tendency to overreact in situations like this -- though there's never really been a situation like this -- and presume that Arenas' contract is untradable. Just look up the list of overpaid malcontents who've been traded in this league. No contract is untradeable.
Would a team that strikes out in its pursuit of 2010 free agents want to take a chance on Arenas, who is only 28 and will be determined to use his basketball and personal gifts to do some good?
The Wizards' statement after Arenas' sentencing Friday made reference to "closure" and said the team "looks forward to moving on and focusing on building this team into the contender that our outstanding fans deserve.” Moving on with or without Arenas? That is the biggest question that still needs to be answered.