By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009
RICHMOND, Oct. 1 -- Gilbert Arenas sat on a scorers' table, flanked by JaVale McGee and Vincent Grier, with a protective sleeve hanging loose below his left knee. Arenas was a spectator for the second consecutive day on Thursday, getting his left hand examined as his Washington Wizards teammates engaged in some heated scrimmages.
After the white team defeated the black team, Coach Flip Saunders sent his players to the sidelines for sprints, and Arenas appeared to be favoring his left leg as he jogged gingerly up and down the court. Given his history of knee troubles -- Arenas has had three surgeries since April 2007 -- the slightest hint of a problem is usually a cause for concern. But Saunders said that Arenas's left middle finger, not his surgically repaired left knee, forced the team to keep him out of the final scrimmages.
"Gil got his finger hit again yesterday," Saunders said after the Wizards' fifth practice in three days on Thursday at Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center. "It swelled up a little bit, but we taped it up and he went through a lot of stuff. We held him out of the scrimmage, but he did all the drills and everything else."
Arenas originally dislocated his finger playing pickup basketball a week before training camp, but Saunders said that he sat him from the scrimmages for precautionary reasons: "If we had a game today, he'd be playing."
Arenas wasn't willing to offer an explanation. He hasn't spoken to reporters since media day on Monday. When approached after practice, Arenas said: "I'm not talking. I'll see you guys media day next year."
He also didn't immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. Although Arenas appeared to move with a similar gait when the team ran on Wednesday, Saunders also was adamant that Arenas's knee was fine. "You saw that he was running. He ran sprints at the end," Saunders said. "He's got no problems at all."
The day before, Saunders said Arenas looked good after participating in three practices in a little over 24 hours. "I don't see any ill effects of anything. He exploded when he needed to explode," he said.
Arenas missed all of training camp last season, recovering from his third knee procedure. After dodging personal trainer Tim Grover for almost two summers, Arenas finally hired the man who once trained Michael Jordan and helped revive Dwyane Wade's career. He spent two months working out and playing basketball at his Attack Athletics gym in Chicago. Grover is in Richmond this week and plans to stay through Saturday, monitoring Arenas and familiarizing the Wizards' training staff with his program. Arenas said on Monday that it mostly involves weightlifting and strength exercises.
He added that he slimmed down to 209 pounds after weighing 234 during the two games he played last season, which should take some of the pressure off of his limbs. "I'm lighter than I've been since my rookie year," Arenas said on Monday.
Antawn Jamison said this week that Arenas has a "bounce in his step" and explained the importance of a healthy Arenas for the success of the Wizards.
"Let's be honest, he's the best player on this team. If we're talking about contending for a championship, he's the guy that's going to put us over the edge and take us to the next level," said Jamison, who has teamed with Arenas for seven of Arenas's eight seasons in the league. "We have so many expectations the last couple seasons, but we didn't have him. It's like having the Lakers without Kobe, or Cleveland without LeBron. He's one of those guys. And I expect that to happen from Day One. I don't expect him to gradually get into his role 15, 20 games into the season. Knowing Gilbert, he's going to be out there proving to everybody he hasn't lost a step at all."
Arenas has accepted Saunders's challenge to be a leader this season. He has been the first player to arrive for each practice, often several hours before they begin.
"It's too early to say he looks like the same Gilbert Arenas, but I'm happy with what he's done," Brendan Haywood said. "He's being a leader on and off the court and that's something we need more than his 30 points a game. That leadership is key."
Saunders was asked if he was concerned about evaluating the team and who best complements Arenas with his star sitting out of the past two days of scrimmages. "No," he said. "We did a controlled-type scrimmage and we did up and down. He was playing with those guys. He's had repetitions with those guys on a daily basis."
Arenas participated in scrimmages on Tuesday and Saunders said, "When we had our meeting afterward, a lot of our coaches weren't aware of how well he sees the floor, how well he can get rid of the ball and push it up the floor and do some of those things. He's trying to understand what we're trying to do and be a leader as far as running the show."
Arenas has carried a serious demeanor through training camp, but he helped lighten the mood after practice on Thursday, engaging Randy Foye in a three-point shooting contest. He exchanged some trash talk with Foye, leaning low to make sure Foye's feet were behind the arc.
At one point, Foye argued that Arenas wasn't keeping a fair count. "Everybody is going to co-sign for Gil," Foye said, shaking his head. "I ain't going to say who won. Ask him. He'll tell you."
When told that Arenas isn't talking to reporters, Foye smiled and said, "Well I won't tell you, either."