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For Wizards' Arenas, felony gun charge is no laughing matter

By Tracee Hamilton
Friday, January 15, 2010; D01

This is why the banners and the jerseys and the indefinite suspension, in the end, shouldn't matter. The filing of a felony gun charge Thursday against Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas should have put all the sound and fury surrounding his basketball career into context: They signify nothing. Not when weighed against his entire future.

The U.S. Attorney's office charged Arenas with felony gun possession, a crime that is punishable by up to five years in prison. However, sources told The Post that Arenas will plead guilty to that charge Friday in D.C. Superior Court and in return, prosecutors will agree not to seek jail time.

What remains to be seen is whether a felony gun charge was finally enough to get Arenas's undivided attention.

It's a familiar -- though still incredible -- story by now: Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton argued during a December plane trip over a gambling debt, and Crittenton allegedly threatened to shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee.

Arenas brought four guns, which he says were unloaded, from his home in Virginia to the Verizon Center locker room -- even though he is not licensed to carry a firearm in the District. On Dec. 21, he displayed the guns next to Crittenton's locker with a note reading "pick one." He said it was a practical joke, like the time he did a terrible thing to Andray Blatche's shoe, giving new meaning to the phrase "dropping a deuce."

Witnesses who were in the locker room claim that Crittenton then pulled out a gun of his own and chambered a round. One assumes that no one in the room found that even remotely humorous.

Details of the incident began dribbling out on Christmas Eve, and a grand jury has been hearing testimony since Jan. 5. A potential plea agreement had to be a tough call for prosecutors, who knew that they'd be criticized no matter what they did. Let Arenas off lightly, and the public would accuse them of favoring a local celebrity. On the other hand, it must have been clear to them that Arenas is slightly less sensible than your average 5-year-old.

And then there is the Crittenton factor. Unlike Arenas, Crittenton never admitted to having a gun in the locker room. Unlike Arenas, he has remained mum on the incident. And a search of his Arlington home Thursday by police turned up no gun. If the witnesses' tales were credible, it's doubtful prosecutors wanted to punish the idiot with the unloaded guns much more severely than the idiot with the loaded gun, who so far faces no charges.

Regardless, a little jail time might have been the best thing for Arenas at this point. His first 28 years on Earth apparently failed to imbue him with even a modicum of common sense. He almost aggressively refused to acknowledge the seriousness of his actions until NBA Commissioner David Stern belatedly got his attention, suspending him indefinitely without pay on Jan. 6.

And this is Arenas's Achilles' heel: He can't seem to understand that the things he finds funny are often . . . not. The media are partly to blame for that. He has been a favorite go-to guy of local reporters and columnists almost since his arrival in Washington in 2003 -- despite bringing a misdemeanor gun charge with him, by the way.

Apparently I was away from my desk the day that Kool-Aid was served. I've always felt sort of sorry for Arenas, who seemed to crave attention and acceptance so desperately that it was off-putting. Everyone knows a guy like that, a guy who tries too hard and thinks he's funnier than he is. It's easy to pity that guy, but it's hard to dislike him.

Let me be clear about one thing: I don't think, as many have said, that Arenas is part of the NBA's so-called thug culture. (I also think that's rather a broad and unfair brush with which to paint an entire league.)

I do think, however, that right now he is a liability to the Wizards, to the league and last but not least, to Gilbert Arenas.

The Wizards lost longtime owner Abe Pollin in late November. They were playing poorly before the incident and although Arenas was averaging 22.6 points and 7.2 assists a game, he was also struggling to find his rhythm with teammates after missing two seasons with knee problems. The team was playing so poorly, Coach Flip Saunders had called out his own players over their lack of defense.

Then came the charges. Saunders and team president Ernie Grunfeld have appeared before the grand jury; eight players also spoke to the grand jury and/or law enforcement officials. Crittenton has been "excused" from practices and games for the duration of the investigation. Blatche has been suspended a game for insubordination. All of that has led to a 12-25 record and a team in turmoil. This season is lost, with or without Arenas.

The Wizards have been busily erasing all traces of Arenas at Verizon Center, taking down his banner, pulling his jersey from the sales racks and removing mention of him from the pregame video. They've also fined players who laughed at his "bang bang" antics last week in Philadelphia. Now they'll have to decide whether they'll try in earnest to use a morals clause to void the six-year, $111 million contract they gave him in 2008.

Once the plea agreement is reached, the league will conclude its own investigation and issue its own punishment. My guess: His suspension will continue through this season, at least. It's his second gun charge and Stern is desperate to counteract the "thug culture" whispers.

And when the Wizards and the NBA have dealt with Arenas, that leaves only . . . Arenas. I'd like to believe that Arenas has learned a lesson from this experience, that he's grown up a little in the past few weeks. But I think it's more likely that he'll blame the Wizards for giving up on him and the league for being too hard on him. And I think he'll accuse the rest of us for failing to understand his humor. To which I plead, guilty as charged.

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