Now Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards have plenty of time -- to do the right thing

By Mike Wise
Friday, January 29, 2010; D01

In this season of chaos and disappointment, David Stern gave the Wizards the best remedies of all Wednesday: time and distance.

By suspending Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for the remainder of the NBA calendar, the commissioner essentially levied dual restraining orders.

The players are ordered to stay away from the franchise, whose season they detonated by bringing guns into the team's locker room at Verizon Center on Dec. 21. And the franchise can't put the players on the floor, where they can't pretend the incident didn't destroy team chemistry.

Arenas and Crittenton have time to rehabilitate their reputations, eight months before the opening of the 2010-11 training camps.

The Wizards have time, too, eight months to find a way to deal with the remaining $80 million left on Arenas's contract. Whether that results in attempting to void the deal, buying out a portion or finagling a trade for someone else's unwanted star, they don't have to take a lemon of a deal just because they want the divorce today.

And the real disenchanted in this depressing docudrama, the people who believed the Wizards were at the doorstep three years ago and had a bona fide superstar under contract until 2014, have time to ponder the most important questions a franchise can ask itself.

-- Will the team try to void Arenas's contract?

When team president Ernie Grunfeld said, "We will explore all options," he answered this question with a resounding yes. The team will look into the possibility of voiding the deal, possibly waiting for Arenas to be sentenced to jail to help build the argument.

Given that a team has never successfully voided a contract, it's an unlikely possibility.

More likely is a trade or buyout of a portion of the deal. He's already out $10 million for the worst decision of his life -- not counting Adidas pulling his endorsement deal -- so Arenas would probably try to make up whatever portion is lost in the buyout in his next deal with another team.

-- Can he come back to Washington?

Uh, no.

After he and Crittenton brought guns to the locker room, it was over. Practical joke or not, too many careers and lives have been irrevocably hurt by the incident for Arenas to realistically play for the Wizards again.

It's beyond the incident now. It's about the collateral damage -- the lost year for Antawn Jamison and Coach Flip Saunders, who now must start over. Crittenton, an expendable role player to begin with, may never play in the league again. Teammates who were brought to a team built around Arenas now may have to be moved.

If Grunfeld does not survive an ownership change, that means all the support staff under him -- from executives to strength coaches -- may lose their gigs as well. Don't forget season ticket holders who fail to renew, the vendor no longer needed because of dwindling crowds watching a rebuilding team instead of a hoped-for contender. As the dominoes continue to fall, Arenas will forever be blamed for pushing the first over and starting the chain reaction.

-- Beyond Arenas, do they back up the truck and dump every player on the roster?


Eight contracts are expiring, including rotation players Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller, Earl Boykins, Randy Foye and Fabricio Oberto.

When that many players want to have career years and show their worth, a team can coalesce beautifully. Everyone wins games and makes lots of money together. Other times, individual goals supersede team goals and it's all downhill.

Arenas said earlier this year he actually had a conversation with Saunders about never being on a team with that many players uncertain of their future.

"We're either going to win 60 games," he said he told the coach, "or things are going to go way south. There won't be any in between."

If that isn't the most prescient quote of the year, what is?

-- If Ted Leonsis gets the team, is Grunfeld even around to participate in the next chapter?

For all the great deals he has pulled off, all people will remember him for now is gambling on Arenas, who was coming off of knee surgery and had played only 13 games the season before when the franchise committed $111 million over six years in July 2008.

The moment Arenas missed almost all of the following season, after another surgery on the same knee, Grunfeld's legacy in Washington began to be viewed differently. He needed Arenas to return to form, thrive and lead the Wizards deep into the playoffs for all that money invested in the star.

For all of Arenas's eccentricities, Grunfeld, almost more than anyone, believed in Arenas the stone-cold competitor. He believed few players in the league could hold a candle to Arenas once he got healthy again and the team had taken to Saunders's new offense. It could be seen in the satisfied look he wore in the waning minutes of opening night in Dallas, where the Wizards dissected the Mavericks in a clinic punctuated by Arenas, a night his play was as scintillating as it was unselfish and smart.

Because of what happened in that locker room, the team president will almost certainly never see his dream come to fruition.

Whether Grunfeld remains comes down to this: Will Leonsis view him as a victim of a bad situation or the guy who mortgaged the franchise's future on one, enigmatic star? Either way, like Arenas, his talent and résumé will get him a job somewhere else if he doesn't last.

-- Lastly, who on the roster worth keeping wants to be here?

Could anyone at this minute blame Jamison or Caron Butler, two secondary all-stars who have a sincere desire to play for a title one day, if they went to Grunfeld and asked to be moved to another team with postseason aspirations?

Butler has to believe there is probably a 50-50 possibility he will be traded in the next three weeks. Abe Pollin would have never acquiesced to moving Jamison because of how he felt about Jamison as a player and, especially, as a person. Jamison became his Wes Unseld of this era -- the one guy the owner called and spoke to often. Not just about the team but about his personal life and his family.

But if the late owner knew what would become of his franchise less than two months after his death, it would not have been surprising to see him do right by Jamison.

In this case, that means giving a 33-year-old veteran a chance to win a championship elsewhere.

It means giving Jamison and Butler -- the most valued players on the active roster left at the moment -- the distance they need to get away from the stench and sorrow of a season gone horribly awry, where they too can start over and leave this unwanted mess behind.

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