By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010; D01
NEW YORK -- An incident that embarrassed the Washington Wizards franchise and disgraced two of its players moved closer to resolution on Wednesday, when NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended guards Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton without pay for the remainder of the season after they displayed handguns during a locker room dispute last month.
Stern reached his decision after an hour-long meeting with Arenas at the NBA offices in New York. He later released a statement that said guns in an NBA workplace "would not be tolerated."
Arenas learned of his fate during the meeting and asked the National Basketball Players Association not to challenge Stern's decision.
Arenas's criminal attorney, Ken Wainstein, accompanied him with Stern on Wednesday and released a statement that read: "Mr. Arenas recognizes that his actions were a serious violation of the law and league rules and were detrimental to the NBA and its reputation. He accepts full responsibility for what he did, and takes no issue with the length of the suspension or the process that led to the Commissioner's decision. It is Mr. Arenas' hope that this punishment will serve an important purpose, as a strong reminder of the responsibility that he and all NBA players have to set the right example with their conduct on and off the court."
According to a statement released by the players' union, Crittenton, who met with Stern on Tuesday, has not reached a decision on whether he would file an appeal regarding the severity of the suspension. Stern said both players expressed remorse and were contrite during their meetings; "nevertheless, there is no justification for their conduct."
Two league sources said that Stern was contemplating suspending Arenas for 82 games but elected for remainder of the season after talking with Billy Hunter, the union's executive director. In a conference call with reporters, Stern said that he hopes the length of the suspensions sends a clear message to players and "if there is any doubt with our players in the future, we will be dealing with this in an even more severe way."
The Wizards released a statement supporting Stern's punishment and mentioning how late owner Abe Pollin changed the name of the franchise from Bullets to Wizards in 1997 "precisely to express his abhorrence of gun violence in our community. We hope that this negative situation can produce something positive by serving as a reminder that gun violence is a serious issue."
Arenas and Crittenton argued while on a team flight from Phoenix on Dec. 19 and brought guns during a confrontation at practice two days later. Arenas is awaiting sentencing on a felony gun charge on March 26. Crittenton, 22, received one year of unsupervised probation and a $1,250 fine after pleading to a misdemeanor gun charge on Monday.
Arenas was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 6 for his behavior after the incident was first reported. He pretended to shoot his teammates with his fingers before a game in Philadelphia and in a meeting with reporters said he had done "nothing wrong" and said, "Stern is mean." Stern said he usually waits for the legal process to play out before suspending players but "I felt that I should do something to keep Gilbert from doing even further damage to himself. And I told him that."
Arenas has missed the past 12 games while serving the suspension. The Wizards (14-30) have 38 games remaining, which would put his season total at 50 games.
Arenas's suspension would be the NBA's third-most severe non-drug-related suspension. Ron Artest was suspended 86 games (73 regular season and 13 playoff postseason) for his role in the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan in November 2004, and Latrell Sprewell was originally suspended for a full year for attempting to choke then-Golden State Warriors Coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997, but an arbitrator later reduced the suspension to 68 games. Crittenton's 38-game suspension is the fourth highest.
Before this, the longest suspension for a gun-related offense was seven games, which Stephen Jackson received after pleading guilty to a felony count of criminal recklessness after firing five shots near an Indianapolis strip club in 2006.
Arenas, a former three-time all-star who averaged 22.6 points and 7.2 assists in 32 games this season, is slated to earn $16.2 million and will lose close to $7.4 million. Crittenton, who didn't play for the team this season because of a left ankle injury, earns $1.48 million and stands to lose about $510,530.
According to a source, during the meeting between Arenas and Stern, Arenas expressed concern about the possibility of having the remaining four years of his six-year, $111 million contract voided, to which Stern replied, "That would be left up to the team." He also informed Arenas that no member of the Wizards organization had yet made an inquiry about voiding his contract to the NBA's legal department.
There has been speculation that the Wizards would try to terminate Arenas's deal under the "moral turpitude" clause in the Uniform Player Contract, but multiple sources claim that the team has not discussed that option -- although it hadn't been ruled out. In a news conference on Wednesday evening, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said, "We haven't made any kind of decisions, but we are exploring all our options."
Arenas could face jail time, depending on the sentence D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin gives him in six weeks. Prosecutors recommended that Arenas receive no more than six months in prison, although a felony gun charge could result in a maximum five-year sentence.
Arenas also has intimated to friends, the NBA and legal representatives that he has no desire to play for Grunfeld again, according to a person familiar with Arenas's situation. "Well, he doesn't play for me. He plays for the coach, so I'm not reacting to those situations at all," Grunfeld said. "He is under contract, and if he wants to get paid, he has to play. I don't have much reaction about that situation."