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Shaun Powell

Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas is averaging 7.7 points in 21.4 minutes a game with Orlando.
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Hobbled and humbled, Arenas can't find his Magic in Orlando


Posted Mar 31 2011 9:22AM

There's nothing intimidating about him anymore except his contract, which has a lot more life and zip in it than Gilbert Arenas does right now. The last time Arenas blew past his man for 29 points a game and was a pest defensively, real estate was a great investment.

Arenas? Not so great, not right now. Maybe not ever again.

Three surgeries on the same knee within 18 months, a gun controversy, a trade and a free-fall from All-Star to backup doesn't sound like a reversal of fortune is imminent. The question now is, can he be half as good as 2007? That's what the Magic would love to know, and at this point, gladly take.

With the playoffs upcoming and Orlando needing any edge on the Bulls, Heat and Celtics in the East, Arenas could be a bonus for the Magic. Except he hasn't shown he'll be anything close to that. His time in Orlando has been as ground-breaking as another strip mall. Quick guards are giving him whiplash. He's shooting 33 percent, mainly because he isn't creating much breathing space between himself and the defender anymore. And he's yet to develop chemistry with Dwight Howard, a prerequisite for staying on the court.

At this rate, he's a 15-minutes-a-game sub, someone who at times will impact a possession or two, but whose body is preventing him from doing any more damage than that.

Welcome to the new world of Arenas, which isn't so irreverent anymore. It's just sad for a hobbled and humbled Agent Sub-Zero.

Nobody should pity a player who stands to make $60 million the next three years. Yet it's clear the basketball gods played a cruel joke on Arenas. He never enjoyed the privilege of playing alongside a franchise big man, or on a championship-contender, and as soon as he gets both, he can't give anything.

Sitting in the visitor's locker room at Philips Arena in Atlanta, less than an hour after the Magic fell to the Hawks (for the third time in four tries this season), Arenas said he was resigned to his fate.

"When I do too much in one day, I'm sore," he said. "For example, we practiced for 2 hours and I'm sore for this game tonight. No, it's not going to get better. Three years after I first injured the knee? You're going to be limited. You can only do so much.

"I have my days. At this point I'm so limited to what I can do in a day. I'd like to be explosive instead of being in the negative. I can tell what I lost when I have the ball. The things I used to do against certain guys, I don't even try anymore because I don't have that explosion."

So he sits. Against the Hawks, the Magic had two possessions in the final minute of a tight game Wednesday night. Before, the ball would be in his hands in that moment. This time? His chin was in his hands as he sat and watched Jameer Nelson miss two chances to give Orlando a shot to win.

"I mean, I haven't been in that situation in three years, so ... " His voice trailed off.

He has made peace with his plight. He doesn't have a choice. There was no future for him in Washington, not after the gun incident, nor with John Wall ready to do what Gilbert once did. The Magic didn't exactly surrender a bundle for Arenas when they sent away Rashard Lewis, one albatross contract for another. But at least Lewis had a role with the Magic, diminished as it was. Arenas hasn't yet carved one for himself, hasn't given coach Stan Van Gundy many reasons to keep him on the floor for an extended period. And when Arenas has had time, as he did replacing a gimpy Nelson against the Knicks recently, he shot 1-for-12. He did grab 10 rebounds. But he's now made only three of his last 23 shots.

Arenas came in the December trade designed not only to put the Magic on championship radar, but to convince Howard to re-sign in 2012, his option year. Three months later, Howard is having an MVP-type season, partly out of necessity. The hired help, while functional, is lacking a strong No. 2 guy. Few thought Arenas would fill that role, but fewer still expected the complete opposite.

General manager Otis Smith, tight with Arenas since the two were in Golden State, convinced ownership that Arenas would be the better contractual value than Lewis. There's no conclusive proof one way or another. All we know is Arenas is one expensive backup -- maybe one of the most expensive backups ever -- and there's no quick fix on the horizon.

"It's just a mental thing," Arenas said. "Nothing's wrong. I want to jump the way I know I can jump, but I don't jump. Or it's a very scary jump. I have no idea why. I'm scared to jump off my left leg, but I know I can. When I go for a rebound, I'm at the rim, but when I'm going in for a layup I can't explode for some reason. It's a big adjustment and all I can do is develop my leg this summer the way I developed it last summer."

Perhaps unintentionally, Arenas is already talking about next season. This one has hardly been worth the mention.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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