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The decline and fall of Gilbert Arenas
"Believe me, there are other people who would've gladly taken Gilbert," Grunfeld said before this season. "All along we wanted to keep Gilbert, and it wouldn't have been a question if it wasn't for the injury. But our medical people told us, he was going to come back and be healthy."
Arenas said he seriously considered returning to the Warriors because they didn't appear to fear his knee troubles. "I was just happy that somebody else wanted me," Arenas said last December. But Wizards owner Abe Pollin convinced Arenas to stay with the team as Arenas prepared to take a flight for a promotional tour in China. He returned to sign the contract that clearly designated him as the franchise's bedrock.
He had a third surgery on his knee two months later.
With Arenas's return uncertain, the Wizards' prospects for 2008-09 quickly went from shaky to dismal when Haywood tore a ligament in his wrist during training camp. Tensions between Jordan and Grunfeld bubbled over -- Grunfeld felt Jordan too often abused his pipeline to Pollin through Susan O'Malley, the former president of Pollin's Washington Sports and Entertainment; Jordan felt Grunfeld undermined him at times when he tried to discipline Arenas.
So when the team started the season at 1-10, both parties felt it was time to move on. Grunfeld fired Jordan, who had guided the team to its most successful four-year run since 1979. Grunfeld tapped former director of player development Ed Tapscott to finish the season and the Wizards went on to tie the franchise record for the worst 82-game season at 19-63.
Arenas played in just two games.
Nonetheless, optimism was running high entering this season. Arenas and Haywood were expected to return healthy, Grunfeld recruited a successful coach in Flip Saunders, the team acquired Randy Foye and Mike Miller in a pre-draft swap.
But things derailed almost from the start. Butler simmered after failing to receive a contract extension of his own in the summer, Jamison started the season injured after dislocating his right shoulder in the preseason, and Arenas struggled to run Saunders's new point-guard-centric offense.
Arenas jockeyed for Alpha-dog status with Butler, who had become an all-star while carrying the team's scoring load for the previous two seasons but didn't have the nine-figure contract to show for it. Expecting to return to the same status he had left, Arenas eventually went directly at Butler, claiming that Butler wasn't on the same page as the other 14 players. Butler called Arenas to discuss their differences. While the feud settled down, it never disappeared. As one team insider said, "Those guys just flat-out didn't like each other."
The team continued to underachieve and when Pollin died in late November, the Wizards lost the primary force behind keeping Arenas, Jamison and Butler together.
When the Wizards' record dropped to 8-17 after losing three out of four games on a Western Conference trip in December, Arenas made a comment about team chemistry in the visiting locker room in Phoenix that proved to be ironic, considering what followed.
"When you hear teams around the league starting off this bad, there's fights in the locker room, but guys are getting along still," Arenas said.