Gilbert Arenas Speaks During the Washington Wizards' Media Day, Claiming He Only Wants to Play
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The walls inside the Washington Wizards' practice facility have been altered, as the Bullets' 1978 championship banner and the retired jerseys of Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes and Gus Johnson now cover the once drab edifice.
But in order for the Wizards to look more aesthetically pleasing on the court -- following a miserable 19-win campaign -- the franchise will need a better return on its $111 million investment who has been absent for most of the past two seasons because of problems in his left knee.
Gilbert Arenas understands his significance to the Wizards, but more important, he understands how much playing basketball means to his well-being. So, the three-time all-star finally broke down and hired renowned trainer Tim Grover to restore his career, which has been derailed by three surgeries since April 2007.
"I'm starting up another chapter in my NBA career," Arenas said during the team's media day on Monday. "We'll see how it goes."
The Wizards are hopeful that the next chapter of Arenas's career involves him leading the team out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and possibly on a deep run. Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld did his part in the offseason to help Arenas by hiring a coach with a proven track record in Flip Saunders and providing greater depth by trading for Mike Miller and Randy Foye and signing Fabricio Oberto. Those moves helped comprise possibly the deepest Wizards roster in several years.
With all-stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler already in tow, and Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson back from serious injury, the Wizards were especially optimistic with training camp set to begin Tuesday at Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond. But no offseason move compares to the return of a healthy Arenas, whose injury problems kept the team in neutral until it regressed completely last season. Arenas wouldn't make any predictions about this season, but after the season finale in Boston last April, he told his teammates on the flight back to Washington, "As long as I'm healthy, it'll never happen again."
Arenas reluctantly dominated the spotlight on Monday, claiming that he spoke to reporters only so that he wouldn't have to pay a hefty fine, as he did last season when he refused to talk. Having been relatively quiet this summer, Arenas answered questions for nearly 30 minutes.
Arenas explained the ups and downs of the past two seasons and admitted that he contemplated retirement in January, when he thought some swelling in his knee would require a fourth surgery. "That's when I blew up. I went to go see a doctor in Miami and he said I didn't [need a procedure]," Arenas said. "But for about three hours, I said 'I'd rather retire before I go through another surgery.' At least I could save the team some money."
Arenas added that he has buried his showmanship and theatrics, abandoned his bravado. He has ditched the nicknames. No more Agent Zero. No more of his trademark, "Hibachi!" No more joking around before games and at practice. Just a player focused on answering Saunders's call to be more of a leader for the team.
"I mean, I'm 27 now. I'm not the entertainer anymore," Arenas said. "I just want to play. I don't have a blog. I don't have a Twitter. When I was blogging and playing, all you guys focused on was my words. I'd just rather be focused, cut the gimmick out and play basketball."
Some of Arenas's teammates weren't ready to accept that Arenas will be able to maintain a serious fa?ade for an entire season.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Haywood said.
"Gil say one thing and do another. If you want to believe him, then okay," said Stevenson, who arrived with a new look this season. He had a tattoo of his son's name, Londyn, on one side of his hairline; a backwards Pittsburgh Pirate "P" on his left cheek; a crack on his forehead; and a picture of Abraham Lincoln on his neck.
Jamison didn't have a new look but he said of himself, "you're going to see a different guy" before adding: "Last year was an embarrassment. I haven't slept since the season was over with. I'm going hard. Whatever is asked, I'm going to do it. Whatever it takes to get it done."
Jamison repeated his statement from two weeks ago that he believes the Wizards can be a championship contender this season, despite the fact that Oberto was the only member of the 14-man roster to reach the playoffs last season. "A lot of people can look at you crazy," Jamison said. "We know what we want to accomplish and we know what maybe hasn't been done in a while. Or maybe hasn't been done period, but guys believe that we have a special team. And if we're healthy, we're not scared of anybody out there."
Asked what would constitute a failure this season, Haywood said not making it to the playoffs or losing in the first round: "D.C. fans probably got tired of that."
And after playing alongside Arenas this summer and seeing that his explosiveness had returned, Butler said that the Wizards shouldn't temper their expectations. "It's crazy to think that I'm going into the season and I got my troops healthy and we're trying to get an eight seed? Who says that?" Butler said. "I hope don't nobody say something like that the opening day of media day. We're trying to get a title. That's the goal -- and that's a realistic goal. With our guys healthy, that's what I'm pushing for."