By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008
For the second straight year, the Washington Wizards will enter a season unsure about the health of three-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas.
Arenas, who signed a six-year, $111 million contract in July, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee yesterday morning and said he expects to miss training camp, the preseason and at least the first month of the regular season.
It was the third surgical procedure performed on the knee since Arenas went down with a torn left meniscus following a collision with Charlotte Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace on April 4, 2007.
The Wizards open training camp Sept. 27 and open the regular season Oct. 29 at Verizon Center against the New Jersey Nets.
Arenas recently increased the intensity of his rehabilitation workouts but experienced discomfort in the knee area and the decision was made to have him undergo yesterday's procedure following a meeting with team doctors on Tuesday.
"It really isn't that big of a deal, I was expecting to be out for a few more months anyway," Arenas said. "I just had some floating debris in there that was slowing me down. It was irritating the knee so we decided to go in there and clean it out. This should actually allow me to come back faster."
Arenas said he will be cleared to resume rehabilitation immediately and plans on continuing to work his way back into basketball condition. Exactly when that will be is a mystery.
"It just depends on when the knee feels right again," Arenas said. "We all want to make sure that everything is the way it should be before I go out there again and push it. I want to be my old self again and I plan on getting there."
While Arenas is pointing toward early December as a possible time frame for a return to game action, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld repeatedly stated that the team has established no such schedule and said he expects the Wizards to remain competitive until Arenas returns.
"I don't know that it is a setback; we have a lot of guys with a lot of pride and they are very, very competitive," Grunfeld said. "Obviously we all wanted Gilbert with the team but we didn't know if he was going to be ready for training camp anyway. So there's really no time frame on it. It all depends on how his rehab goes."
After undergoing season-ending surgery on April 5, 2007, and a summer of intense rehabilitation, Arenas returned in time for the opening of training camp last season and was in the starting lineup for the first eight regular season games.
However, he was hampered by constant soreness and stiffness in the knee joint and was forced to undergo a second surgery to repair a medial meniscus tear and an articular surface defect in November.
After missing 66 games, Arenas returned on April 2 but lacked the explosiveness he displayed prior to suffering the original injury and shut it down for the season following Game 4 of the team's first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Arenas said he was too aggressive in rehabbing the knee last summer and vowed to take a more cautious approach this time around.
According to Arenas, as well as several team sources familiar with the situation, Arenas has followed the rehabilitation guidelines established by team doctors and trainers during the offseason.
Arenas waited until Aug. 1 to resume on-court basketball activity but said he has been bothered by soreness related to "floating particles" in the knee and made the decision to have it taken care of yesterday.
"It was my decision," Arenas said. "They told me that I could be back in two or three months without pain or discomfort if I just took care of it now, so that's what I decided to go with."
The procedure was performed by team doctor Marc Connell at Sibley Memorial Hospital.
"After Gilbert's normal course of rehabilitation was ramped up, he experienced some swelling and discomfort in his knee," Connell said in a statement released by the team. "A subsequent MRI showed that the knee is structurally sound. The decision was made to perform an arthroscopic lavage procedure, during which a moderate amount of debris was removed after saline solution was washed through the knee. The presence of the debris is common with the nature of his previous injury. This was a proactive procedure that will enhance his rehabilitation process."
Grunfeld said the team was aware that Arenas was still going through the rehabilitation process when it signed him to the $111 million contract in July and was not caught off guard by the recent developments.
"This is not a one- or two-month proposition for us," Grunfeld said. "Gilbert is 26 years old and we are looking at the big picture and we are expecting to have him in this franchise for a long time and to be an outstanding player for us."
Including Arenas, the Wizards have 14 players under contract. League rules allow a maximum of 15 players but Grunfeld said he would be content to open the season with veteran Antonio Daniels and Dee Brown manning the point guard position. DeShawn Stevenson returns as the starting shooting guard, and Nick Young will likely be asked to increase his production following a solid rookie season.
The team lost a valuable contributor at guard when Washington area native and former Virginia star Roger Mason Jr. signed with the San Antonio Spurs in July.
"Yes, we do," Grunfeld said when asked if the team feels comfortable. "We went through the same process last year and we had success. We have other guys who can handle the ball. We have a two-guard offense anyway so we don't primarily rely on a point guard. So I feel good about where we are right now and think that we'll be a very competitive team."