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John Schuhmann

Gilbert Arenas is healthy, willing and ready to lead the Wizards into the new season.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

From entertainer to leader, Arenas vows to change his ways

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Sep 29 2009 7:14AM

WASHINGTON -- Agent Zero has hung up his cape. The hibachi grill has been extinguished. The player who wears No. 0 for the Washington Wizards wants to be known only as Gilbert Arenas from now on.

"I'm 27 now, and I'm not the entertainer anymore," Arenas said at Wizards media day on Monday, adding that he wouldn't be talking to reporters at all if he could avoid the fines that the NBA hands down for media boycotts.

Arenas had a dour look on his face and a serious tone in his voice, but the session in front of reporters was a little bit like the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry pretends to be a dark and sullen in order to make George seem comparatively hilarious in front of a girl. It seemed to be just an act.

"When I was entertaining and playing," Arenas said, "all that you guys focused on was my words. Now, I'd rather you just focus on my basketball.

"When I had fun, I got criticized. So we'll see what happens when I'm serious."

Apparently, along with a new attitude -- as familiarly quirky as it may be -- comes a new style of play.

"In Eddie's offense, because it was made for the three and the four, I took a lot of wild shots, fast-break threes," Arenas said, acting as if he was an afterthought who had to be selfish in former coach Eddie Jordan's Princeton sets. "Since I'm going to have the ball more [under new coach Flip Saunders], I don't have to take 500 threes this year. I'm trying to take less than a hundred."

That equates to about one 3-point attempt per game. This from a guy who attempted 584 threes (almost nine per game) in his last full season, and took nearly 100 (78 to be exact) when he played just 13 games two seasons ago.

When asked about being a point guard or being a leader, Arenas first responded by asking what those things were. Jason Kidd is the only true point guard left in the league, he said, and leadership requires more than just a label. Arenas says he has accepted the "leader" role from Saunders (after turning it down under Jordan) and says he shows up four hours early for every practice.

Third-year guard Nick Young can see the focus in Arenas, admitting, "I'm just trying to stay out of his way right now."

Said Antawn Jamison: "He has that swagger. As long as he's out there performing on the court, that's the only thing that I worry about."

In the end, that's all that will matter. If Arenas plays well, plays a full season and helps the Wizards get back to being one of the four or five best teams in the Eastern Conference, no one will care if acts goofy. Is there anyone in the league who will be more interesting to see play this season than Gilbert Arenas?

It's been 2 years since we last saw him at 100 percent. His combination of talent and showmanship is one of a kind. But it's been absent since he injured his left knee in April of 2007.

He returns at a time when the city needs him badly. The two local baseball teams, the Nationals and Orioles, are the worst in their respective leagues. The Redskins just lost to the hapless Detroit Lions.

Saunders believes Arenas can lead the Wizards to the same type of turnaround that Dwyane Wade inspired the Heat to last season. Arenas, in fact, admits to drawing inspiration from Wade's comeback from knee and shoulder surgeries. With a clean bill of health and the acquisitions of Randy Foye, Mike Miller and Fabricio Oberto, the Wizards are primed for a huge jump in the win column.

Arenas, of course, is the No. 1 reason for optimism. He still has five years and almost $100 million left on the contract he signed in the summer of 2008, and he still has the ability to earn it. Whether or not you want to believe that he has permanently turned off the switch on his personality is another story.

"What's going on in his head, we'll never know," Caron Butler said. "But he looks great, he looks explosive, and I'm anxious to see him out there."

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