Until Arenas Gets Well, Zero Chance to Win

By Mike Wise
Saturday, November 10, 2007

After maybe the eighth or ninth playground dunk deposited in a Wizard's face by Kenyon Martin or Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith -- there were so many, who can remember? -- a few peeved fans in the lower bowl of the building began the chant:

"Eddie must go! Eddie must go!"

It never gained steam, which was a good thing. Because Eddie Jordan is not the problem. He happens to be the coach of this pitiful team that played a dog of a game last night at Verizon Center. The Wizards got blown out on their home floor by the Denver Nuggets to tie the worst start in franchise history, and now the finger-pointing has begun.

Let's be clear: This is not about the coach.

This is about Gilbert Arenas. As long as he's here, it always will be. As he goes, so goes the franchise.

And at 0-5, with a monstrous ice pack strapped to the surgically repaired left knee of their best player, the Wizards are simply not yet open for business. The performer who gunned the throttle and took the District's long-suffering basketball fans on a pixie-dust joy ride is not himself.

It's apparent in his occasional hesitancy to dart toward the rim, or the microsecond difference between the step-back jumper he shot last season and the one he rises up for this season. It's apparent in his placid gaze, the one he had after the Wizards had been nearly booed off their home court following the 118-92 loss.

Jordan sat him down with less than five minutes left in a game in which his team was losing by 30 for most of the fourth quarter; he probably would have taken him out sooner, but he might not have wanted to risk the ego bruise of benching the franchise player with eight or 10 minutes left.

Arenas rubbed his chin, scratched his head and watched the carnage continue -- his slow-footed, almost disinterested teammates getting maliciously dunked on and shot down by Anthony, Allen Iverson and the rest of the most expensive AAU team in the history of hoop.

Remember when the Wizards were that team -- running and gunning, stopping and popping, shooting down everyone who deigned to come into the Phone Booth and talk junk?

Unless some of these allegedly good role players show up soon, it may be a while before that magic is felt again.

Antawn Jamison and Arenas came into the game shooting worse than 35 percent. DeShawn Stevenson was shooting 21 percent and was just 1 of 6 from behind the three-point line. The Wizards are giving up 100 points a game and averaging just 90. Arenas was just 3 for 24 from beyond the arc going into the Nuggets game and finished just 5 of 13 from the field in 36 minutes last night.

Bottom line: The Wizards are not going to win many ballgames if Arenas is taking just 13 shots per game.

Key role players aren't doing their jobs. Before last night, Andray Blatche has six rebounds and two blocked shots -- in four games and 43 minutes. Antonio Daniels had nine points and 10 assists -- in 73 minutes. Darius Songaila is the only player off the bench proving his worth.

The game became a freelancing eyesore in the third quarter, that last, lazy game at the park before dusk. Four straight turnovers in four possessions. With about 1 minute 30 seconds left in the quarter, the Wizards gave up three offensive rebounds on one possession -- until Marcus Camby scored on a layup.

Again, it might be a while before things are back to normal. Maybe two or three months.

In summer 2006, Stevenson had the same meniscus surgery that Arenas had. He said he didn't feel back to his old self physically until February of the next year. Arenas's expectations are much higher than that.

But the truth is, he's not right. He won't admit this -- no elite athlete would -- but he probably needs rest. So it's up to the organization to show some courage and sit down Arenas for maybe a week, maybe more.

I don't want to hear he's all right physically and this is just a mental thing. If your mind is telling you your knee is not yet right, that you can't push off and explode like you once did on a nightly basis, that's real and tangible.

It's a gamble because getting too far down too early in the standings puts the season in immediate jeopardy. But for the long haul, it might be need to be done. This is not about Arenas's contract year; he's going to be paid $100 million by someone next year. It might as well be by the Wizards, who can repay the guy who made them matter again by looking out for his long-term health instead of the short-term gain.

If it can avert any more ugly nights at Verizon Center like last night, the gamble will be worth it.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company