Disappointment, distractions leave Wizards' season in disarray

Gilbert Arenas, above, will speak with the U.S. attorney's office on Monday.
Gilbert Arenas, above, will speak with the U.S. attorney's office on Monday. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010

The primary concern when Gilbert Arenas came back to the NBA after a nearly two-year hiatus was whether his surgically repaired left knee had recovered well enough for him to regain his all-star form.

That now ranks among the least of the concerns for Arenas and the Washington Wizards as he and teammate Javaris Crittenton prepare to speak with the U.S. attorney's office on Monday to answer questions about a clash involving firearms.

It also serves as the latest distraction for a disastrous season that has been filled with disappointment. Arenas has been unable to propel the Wizards (10-21) back to relevance in the Eastern Conference and he admitted Sunday that his return has been challenging.

"It has its bumps and bruises, it has its good times. If I had an angry team, it would be even harder. But since our team is lighthearted, it's easy to come to work every day," said Arenas, who is averaging a team-best 22.7 points and has played all 31 games this season. "I'm playing better than I expected to play. If we was winning games, everybody would be saying I'm having a great year, I'm most improved player.

"But we're not clicking as a team. And because I make the most money on the team, the outside world looks at me, like, 'Oh, I must be the problem,' " Arenas said.

The failures of the team have the front office considering dramatic roster changes. A league source said on Sunday that the Wizards have been in communication with every team in the league about possibly making a trade. While the same source added that the Wizards are not looking to have a "fire sale," the organization is considering any deal that could improve the fortunes of a hobbled franchise.

Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison have been targeted, according to multiple league sources, but the Wizards are also considering moving Arenas, whose off-court antics -- including recently storing guns in the locker room -- have begun to wear on some within the organization.

Arenas has no desire to go elsewhere but said he understands that every struggling team looks to make changes. "I'm just happy to play basketball again. You put me in a city, basketball, hoop, it's the same old thing," Arenas said in a telephone interview. "Whatever city I land in, it's the same thing. It's basketball and you can hang out where you want in the summer. That's up to the fans and the organization. If after all is said and done and they accept me, then it's up to them. If they don't, they don't and I have to move on."

Dealing Arenas is unlikely with four years and $80 million remaining on his contract after this season -- plus the NBA and federal and local authorities investigating the circumstances of him bringing guns to Verizon Center. The family of late owner Abe Pollin released a statement on Saturday that was highly critical of the presence of guns in the locker room. Arenas acknowledged Saturday having "bad judgment" in storing the guns in his locker room stall.

Arenas's current situation hasn't prohibited team President Ernie Grunfeld from making any trades, but it has created considerable confusion. Firearms possession on team property is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement and calls for a fine of up to $50,000 and a suspension that is at the discretion of NBA Commissioner David Stern. Stern has taken a hard stance against guns and could hand out a stiff penalty.

The Wizards are weighing their options with Arenas, but one scenario that has not been ruled out is voiding the rest of his deal, according to multiple league sources.

The Uniform Player Contract includes a provision for terminating a player's contract if he commits an act of "moral turpitude," which is a serious transgression, such as violent crime. But the NBA players' union would fight any attempt to have a guaranteed contract voided, under any circumstances, a league source said recently. And there is also the risk of alienating Arenas, who could end up remaining with the Wizards. His contract appears difficult to move in tough economic times and teams are reluctant to take back long-term deals.

On Sunday, Arenas found himself involved in another controversy after a report in Yahoo Sports claimed that he had a rift with Coach Flip Saunders, adding that he "barely spoke to Saunders" during training camp, has become "increasingly belligerent and defiant" with Saunders in the past few months and became a disruptive force in practice. Saunders vehemently denied the validity of the report. "That's not true," Saunders said. "He's never backed away from any challenge when I've jumped him for taking a bad shot. He's never shied away from criticism. I think our communication has been good. . . . The situation that's happening, people try to lump a lot of things together. That's not fair to him."

Arenas also disputed the story, saying he and Saunders have a great relationship. He said that he has never complained about sitting in the fourth quarter of games or being substituted. "I've never said not one thing about anything. Me and him have a great understanding," Arenas said, adding that the two often share Mountain Dews after practice.

When asked how this gun investigation has affected his play, Arenas said: "It's not a distraction for the team. It should be a distraction to me and Javaris. I'm not distracted. Now we got to strap on our boots. We got 51 games left and we have to make up some ground and show what we can do, so everyone can talk about the comeback instead of how we started. No matter how you start, it's how you finish."


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