“Certainly you need a Gilbert Arenas to get to where we want to go — we certainly want to win an NBA championship."
After Arenas underwent debris-clearing surgery on his left knee in mid September – his third operation on the knee in the span of 17 months – Washington faces life without Gilbert once again.
Agent Zero suited up just 13 times in the regular season last year and played hokey pokey in the Wizards' First Round playoff matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers. First he was in, then he was out, and so were the Wiz as the Cavs bumped them from the postseason for the third straight season.
The good news is that Washington has learned to survive and thrive without Arenas. The Wizards were the only team in the league to beat the eventual champion Boston Celtics three times during the regular season and two of them occurred while Arenas was still rehabbing.
Arenas’ absence hurts the team in the short run, of course. At his best, he is a playmaker: quick off the dribble, strong to the rim, efficient from both the foul and the three-point line and knows how to find open teammates, particularly in the open court.
But when he went out, everybody had to dig a little deeper. Caron Butler went from being an excellent accompanying player to a guy who can lead a team on both ends of the floor night in and night out. DeShawn Stevenson relished his increase in minutes and honored Arenas’ patented swagger by not backing down to anybody, even LeBron James. Andray Blatche got some touches and the chance to show what he can do.
Nick Young benefitted doubly from Arenas’ injury. Not only did he get to see some playing time at shooting guard that would be scarce to come by for a rookie playing behind a three-time All-Star, but he got Gilbert’s undivided attention outside of the 94x50. If Arenas couldn’t play, the least he could do was coach.
Arenas took the fellow California native Young under his wing, offering him everything from veteran advice on how to split a double-team to driving him to the gym and counting out makes when Young practiced shooting to even letting him stay in his second house for dirt cheap rent as he found his way in the league.
The Wizards won 43 games last year and 37 of them were without Gilbert on the court. Washington can compete with or without their engaging star, but can they win it all without the boost that comes from a guy with career averages of 22.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.8 steals?
Eddie Jordan doesn’t seem to think so.
Best-case scenario, the Wizards’ newly minted $111 million man returns to the court on Christmas Day (come on, you know even if he’s close by Dec. 21 or something like that he’ll wait to make a yuletide splash), he integrates himself into the lineup by the All-Star break and Washington is hitting on all cylinders come playoff time.
Worst case? Next time Coach Jordan mentions needing “a” Gilbert Arenas, he’s talking about another player the Wizards are targeting who is healthy and not actually Gilbert himself.
-- Dave McMenamin