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The decline and fall of Gilbert Arenas
But after Jamison sprained his knee on Jan. 31 in Auburn Hills, Mich., things began to unravel. Arenas made it a personal goal to score 50 points against Portland in an attempt to make a statement to Trail Blazers Coach Nate McMillan, an assistant on the Team USA squad Arenas felt had snubbed him. Instead, he finished with just nine points and afterward blamed Jordan for placing too great an emphasis on defense.
Jamison believed Arenas had crossed the line.
"He's like a little brother you've got to spank every once in a while," Jamison said at the time.
Later that season, Arenas missed a mandatory pregame shoot-around, and Jordan benched him for the start of a game against Charlotte. Arenas entered the game and within minutes, Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace crashed into his left knee and Arenas crumpled to the floor, tearing the medial collateral ligament in the leg. As he walked back to the locker room, Arenas glared at Jordan.
Arenas quietly held a grudge against Jordan for most of the summer that followed, telling those close to him that his injury occurred because he was on the floor during a first-quarter stretch when, as a starter, he normally would have been resting on the bench.
"People criticize you for disciplining him or for not disciplining him. He didn't run roughshod over the rules that we had as coaches," Jordan said in an interview last October. "And when he did, we disciplined him. That's the way it was then and it was only a few times that he really broke the rules. And one of those times was when he got hurt."
Without Arenas and Butler (whose season also was ended by injury three days before Arenas's), the Wizards won just two of their final 10 regular season games and barely made the postseason as a seventh seed. The Cavaliers then swept them in the first round on their way to the NBA Finals.
Having never dealt with a serious injury before, Arenas admitted that he didn't initially approach his rehabilitation properly. He failed to understand what it took to regain strength in his leg and he was at times spotted walking and carrying his crutches. Before the start of the season, Arenas staged a training session for reporters, which included him riding a bicycle and running with a parachute attached to his back.
Arenas had his knee drained twice -- during training camp in the fall of 2007 and early in the regular season. Then, just eight games into his comeback, Arenas's knee faltered again and he was forced to have a second surgery, this time including a more serious microfracture procedure. Without Arenas, the Wizards still managed to win 43 games in 2007-08, as Butler and Jamison became all-stars.
But the Wizards were again unable to upend the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, losing in six games. Arenas had rushed back to assist with the playoff run, but he tweaked his knee, landing on Jamison's foot in Game 3 in Cleveland and was limited to just four games.
"It's pretty hard to advance in the playoffs if you don't have your leading scorer," Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said.
After the season, the Wizards faced some tough decisions regarding Arenas, who had become a free agent. There wasn't a consensus among the team's management about whether to bring him back. Arenas's questionable approach to his training and knee rehabilitation, plus his antics and goofy behavior, had already worn on some members of the front office. But Grunfeld came up with $111 million -- $16 million less than the maximum amount Arenas could have been offered under the NBA collective bargaining agreement -- and Arenas turned down a five-year, $100 million offer from his former team, Golden State, to stay in Washington.