After latest episode involving guns, it's clear Wizards' Gilbert Arenas is his own worst enemy
Gilbert Arenas has an enemy in the Washington Wizards' locker room, undermining his confidence, questioning his on-court decisions and confusing his off-court behavior.
That enemy is not Javaris Crittenton. That enemy is Gilbert Arenas.
To a degree, this has been the case since Arenas joined the Wizards in 2003, but it's never been more apparent than this season. Since his return from nearly two years out of the league due to injuries, Arenas has struggled on and off the court.
Arenas's problems seemed to reach their nadir on Christmas eve, when it was learned that Arenas had brought firearms -- plural -- into the Wizards' locker room at Verizon Center. The action is being investigated by the NBA and local authorities, the Wizards said. Could things get worse?
Yes. Now come reports from the New York Post and Yahoo Sports that Arenas and his 22-year-old teammate, Crittenton, both had guns in the locker room because of a dispute, like two idiots in an Old West saloon.
As far as we know, this situation is unprecedented in sports -- and that in itself is saying something -- but if anyone was going to set a new standard, it was Arenas. His reliance on alter egos -- Agent Zero, Hibachi, what have you -- has always been seen as an amusing affectation. But the addition of Gilbert the Kid is not the slightest bit funny.
When he was healthy and in NBA shape, Arenas made the cast of characters in his head work for him. But two years away from the game is a long, long time. While Arenas's scoring numbers are fine -- 22.7 points a game, exactly matching his career average -- his running of the floor is not. The Wizards are out of sync, in part due to Arenas's self-confessed obsession with assists this season. His stated reason: He wants to be labeled a point guard. Sadly, that's not the label that's going to stick this season.
Arenas's attitude profoundly affects the Wizards' game, not the least because Arenas is clearly keeping a scoresheet in his head the entire game. It also affects ball distribution: If Arenas doesn't think a teammate can score, that teammate is less likely to get a pass, because Arenas is less likely to get the assist. That's not the hallmark of a floor leader, and it's certainly not going to win him any friends among his teammates.
Neither, of course, is coming strapped into the locker room.
It's been clear since the beginning of the season that Arenas is confused, even troubled. He declared that he would no longer talk to the media. That didn't last. He declared that Agent Zero and Hibachi were dead. That didn't last. He declared he wouldn't Twitter. That didn't last. He calls out his teammates with vague insults such as "The players who care are frustrated. The players who don't, don't care." He made remarks about fellow captain Caron Butler after one practice that led Butler to call him and demand an explanation. Once, his veiled references to "hidden agendas" among his teammates during a postgame interview led Brendan Haywood to sing Beyonce's "Ego" in the background.
He has long seemed to crave attention, and he's about to get his wish, from the D.C. police, the feds, the media, his teammates, opponents and fans. Road games are about to become very interesting for Arenas, and of course for his teammates.
Despite a $78.2 million payroll, the Wizards are 10-20. Their 54-year-old coach told the media earlier this week that he could score on his own players, so dreadful was their defense. And their gun-toting guard, still owed $96 million, just became untradable. On the first day of the New Year, their season may actually be over.
Meanwhile, they are content to let the investigations play out, issuing their standard statement: "The Washington Wizards take this situation and the ongoing investigation very seriously. We are continuing to cooperate fully with the proper authorities and the NBA and will have no further comment at this time."
Of course, Arenas and Crittenton are innocent until proven guilty. But let me get this straight: Late owner Abe Pollin dumped the Bullets name because of his concern over gun violence. Yet the franchise can't at least declare, "The Washington Wizards believe the presence of firearms in the workplace is a bad, bad idea"?
The new owner will have his work cut out for him. Ted Leonsis engineered the rebuilding of the Capitals, but of course the NBA is a different kettle of fish: fewer players, bigger contracts, less flexibility. I do think, however, he will have no patience for this kind of shenanigans. The players' union would likely have kittens if Leonsis tried to void Arenas's contract -- but that's a legal fight I'd like to see. After all, a dozen other union members also use that locker room, probably with the expectation of no gunfire.
Until the investigations have played out, however, there are 96 million reasons that Arenas, in all his incarnations, will remain a Wizard. Fans, however, will likely find fewer reasons to continue to support this troubled team.