By David Aldridge, TNT Sports
Posted Jan 1 2010 9:38PM
Washington -- Trouble, discord and potential legal difficulties leapfrogged 2009 and have followed the Washington Wizards -- and their star player, guard Gilbert Arenas -- into the new year. The potential ramifications are franchise-altering.
While the details are not yet clear, the substance of what was reported Friday by Yahoo! Sports and the New York Post -- that Arenas had a confrontation in the Wizards' locker room late last month with teammate Javaris Crittenton in which both players had guns in their hands -- was confirmed Friday by a league source. The incident, the source said, apparently involved a debt of $25,000 that Arenas owed Crittenton. It is not clear why Arenas supposedly owed Crittenton the money, but the dispute apparently began on a team flight as the Wizards came home the night of Dec. 19, after Washington completed a road trip in Phoenix.
The team had the next day, Sunday the 20th, off, but was back at Verizon Center on Monday, Dec. 21, which is when the incident allegedly occurred. The source indicated that it happened before the team was in the locker room for the scheduled practice, but that there may have been one or more players in the room at the time.
Arenas did not talk to the assembled media Friday, but spoke with me briefly as he left Verizon Center.
After joking "I hear it was the O.K. Corral," Arenas said, "I'll put the real story out in a couple of days. That's not the real story."
Regardless of the details, though, Arenas could be in a world of trouble -- with the District and Federal governments, with the league and with the Wizards -- with the possibility, remote for now but still there, that the team could ultimately seek to void the remainder of his $111 million contract, signed in 2008.
NBA vice president of basketball communications Tim Frank released a statement Friday afternoon, reading: "There is an active investigation by D.C. law enforcement authorities, which we are monitoring closely. We are not taking any independent action at this time."
The league is likely to wait until local -- and, perhaps, federal -- officials complete their investigation. If Arenas is found guilty or pleads guilty to committing a felony, he would likely face severe discipline by the league.
The Wizards also released a statement Friday, reading: "The Washington Wizards take this situation and the ongoing investigation very seriously. We are continuing to cooperate fully with the proper authorities and the NBA and will have no further comment at this time."
Wizards coach Flip Saunders referred reporters to the team's statement and said he would not comment further. Players also declined comment on the record to reporters and camera crews at Verizon Center after practice on Friday. The 10-20 Wizards, perhaps the biggest disappointment in the league to date, play at home against San Antonio Saturday.
The new investigation also has put any notion of trade talks between Washington, which is resigned to performing radical surgery on its roster and is now willing to trade anyone -- including Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison -- and other teams on hold indefinitely. A league source indicated Thursday that the Wizards would make a play for the expiring contract of Houston's Tracy McGrady, which another source confirmed Friday. However, the second source indicated that Washington was only one of several teams that were bidding for McGrady, who has been allowed to leave the Rockets indefinitely while the team tries to work out a deal for him.
"It's not close to happening," the second source said. "Anyone who tells you that doesn't know what they're talking about."
Regardless of whether a trade ultimately occurs, Arenas may be on borrowed time in Washington.
Two sources indicated Friday that Washington, while not actively considering it at this time, would not shy away from at least having internal discussions about voiding the rest of Arenas's contract, which has three years and $67.7 million remaining on it after this season. The team has waited two-plus seasons for Arenas to return from three knee surgeries, and his numbers this season have been very good for someone who's been out of regular action since 2007: 22.7 points, a career-high 6.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds.
But Arenas's teammates, who've tolerated a lot over the past few seasons because of his immense talent, have grown weary of constantly having to answer for or explain his behavior. This latest incident goes well beyond a garden variety "distraction." Said one disgusted teammate on Friday, who stressed that he did not witness the alleged incident: "the locker room is sacred. You're supposed to be safe in there." One source said that Butler, who has struggled to find his way in Saunders's new system, was frustrated by Arenas's inability or unwillingness to get him the ball. But on Friday, Butler said nothing was irretrievably broken between him and Arenas. "We're fine," Butler said. "People always thought it was a situation or something. We haven't had no issues. It was a lot of people that thought it was an issue. I just attacked it head on and asked him a question: 'you don't have no problem with me, do you?' We looked at film together, some of the things I should be doing more of. That was a coach thing, that wasn't a player thing. Like any captain or any leader on a team, we're pushing each other. We want each other to be successful, and in order for us to be successful, me and him both have to playing at high levels, along with Antawn and the rest of the core guys.
"That's all it was. I'm a man about it. I'm not going to go to no media and address it. It was just like, 'all right, all right, well, that's it?' 'Yeah.' 'Okay, we're moving forward.'"
If Washington were to void Arenas's deal, it would suddenly become a player in the celebrated free agent class of 2010. Without Arenas's $17.7 million on the books next season, the Wizards would only have a little less than $38 million committed for the 2010-11 season, including a $2.27 million option Washington holds on the final year of Crittenton's contract. It must be stressed, however, that the team is currently planning to keep Arenas--pending whatever possible penalties he has to endure both from the local and/or state governments, and the NBA.
Even after the District's existing gun ban -- which made possession of any firearm in the city a crime -- was struck down by the Supreme Court last year in the case District of Columbia vs. Heller, the Washington, D.C. City Council passed an amendment last year to be in compliance with the Supreme Court that still requires anyone with a handgun to register it with the city -- in a building, ironically, that is just three blocks from the Verizon Center.
It is illegal for a person to have a gun in the District if the person is a drug addict, has ever been convicted of a felony in the District or anywhere in the United States, has ever been convicted of a firearms charge or has ever been convicted of certain misdemeanor charges such as vagrancy. Arenas plead no contest in 2003 to a misdemeanor for possessing a concealed weapon and driving without a license while he was a member of the Golden State Warriors. After he signed with Washington in the offseason, he was suspended for the Wizards' season opener in 2004 for the no contest plea.
It is also illegal to have a gun in the District without a license, or a gun that can be concealed. If the possession is outside the person's dwelling place, business place or property, the crime is a felony as is subject to a maximum five-year prison term, and/or a $5,000 fine. It is not clear whether Verizon Center would be considered Arenas's "business place." However, the NBA's constitution strictly prohibits bringing any weapons into NBA buildings.
Arenas acknowledged last month that he had three guns in his locker after an initial report by CBSSports.com last week detailed a league investigation into the guns in his locker, but that he turned over the guns to the team's security detail soon after. He said then that he'd initially brought the guns to the locker room from his home after the birth of his third child, and did not want to have the guns in his home any longer.
At the time, the Wizards informed both the local police and the league about the matter. Soon after, the District's Police Department issued a statement that the police was assisting the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia "with an investigation into an allegation that weapons were located inside a locker room at Verizon Center." The statement did not mention Arenas or the Wizards by name.
The language in the NBA's standard contract with players allows teams to void existing contracts if players engage in prohibited offseason activities, such as hang gliding and the like that are viewed as dangerous by the league, if players are convicted of or plead guilty to a felony crime, or if they engage in acts of "moral turpitude," generally defined as behavior that would be viewed as embarrassing for a company or employer if disclosed publicly.
In 1998, the Golden State Warriors terminated the remaining three years and $23.7 million remaining on the contract of guard Latrell Sprewell after Sprewell attempted to choke then-Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo during an argument at practice. NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Sprewell for a year, but after Sprewell took the case to arbitration, the arbitrator reduced the penalty from a calendar year to the remainder of the 1997-98 season and informed the Warriors that they could not terminate Sprewell's contract. Sprewell was ultimately traded to the Knicks.
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