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After Arenas and Crittenton, Wizards face an uncertain future

The Wizards, once headed in the right direction, leave Antawn Jamison wondering what went wrong.
The Wizards, once headed in the right direction, leave Antawn Jamison wondering what went wrong. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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There are no simple answers when it comes to Arenas, who has made his disdain of the organization -- and President Ernie Grunfeld, in particular -- clear to those close to him, especially after the team removed most visible signs of him from Verizon Center and the team Web site. Grunfeld referred to Arenas as "our franchise player" in his news conference on Thursday, but according to multiple league sources, Arenas has infuriated some in the front office with his behavior in recent weeks, setting the stage for a possible divorce. Once close, Grunfeld and Arenas barely speak.

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Grunfeld said during his news conference that the team isn't ruling out the possibility of voiding the remainder of the six-year, $111 million contract Arenas signed in the summer of 2008. But the organization has yet to contact the NBA legal department about taking that step. Players' union executive director Billy Hunter said the union "will respond aggressively to any attempt by the team to impose additional penalties."

A league source said the Wizards explored trading Arenas before he brought four guns to the locker room, but moving him has become more difficult now with his contract and sullied reputation. "Realistically, it would be impossible to trade for him right now," one rival league executive said on condition of anonymity because he could not speak on behalf of the Wizards. "No team is going to trade for him not knowing what his future is."

Grunfeld said during his news conference that the Wizards had not talked about or considered a contract buyout. The team insider said it is possible but "highly unlikely" that Arenas will play again for the Wizards. "You can never say never," the source said.

Crittenton's lawyer, Mark Bartelstein, said on Thursday that his client has not decided whether to appeal Stern's punishment, with him slated to lose more than $510,000 of his $1.47 million contract. Crittenton has yet to play this season because of a left ankle injury. "I want Javaris to take a day or two, take a deep breath, and just go through everything, let me take him through the pros and cons and we'll probably make a decision in a day or two," Bartelstein said.

Only 50 percent of Arenas and Crittenton's lost salary counts against the team salary. With Arenas expected to lose $7.4 million of his $16.2 million, it could provide some luxury tax relief for the Wizards. The money from those suspensions goes to the league office and is used for charities by the NBA and players' union. Crittenton could provide a desirable trade piece, with a team receiving a discounted salary for the remainder of the season.

Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Mike Miller are among the players who have attracted attention from other teams. Multiple league sources said the Wizards do not expect to receive equal value in deals and are considering salary cap relief, young players and/or draft picks. "I'd use my assets to get off salary and try to restructure the whole thing," one Western Conference general manager said. "It didn't work. Push the reset button and try to create as much room as possible."

Although Grunfeld said that it is "business as usual" with regards to making moves, there is a sentiment among others around the league that the ownership uncertainty is clouding any possible deals. "I don't know there is anything they can do in the immediate future," the rival executive said, "because of the lack of a new owner."

Jamison said that it all has become unbearable. "I thought last year was tough" when the team went 19-63, he said, "but it's very disappointing. A couple years ago you're in the second round, on the doorstep, trying to break through, and now you're at the bottom of the pack, and you just sit there and ask questions like, 'Where did it go wrong?' For me, I'm struggling a bit mentally."


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