Arenas news met with relief among Wizards teammates

By Michael Lee
Saturday, March 27, 2010; D03

CHARLOTTE -- Nick Young spoke on the telephone with Gilbert Arenas early this week, knowing that his suspended teammate was under extreme stress facing sentencing for felony gun possession. Young, one of the funniest people on the Washington Wizards, attempted to lighten the mood.

"I was trying to keep his spirits up. It worked a little bit, but you could tell that it's in his head and he's worried about it," Young said on Friday, adding that he was praying for Arenas. "It's a tough situation."

A few hours later, Arenas avoided jail time as D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin sentenced the three-time all-star to two years of probation and ordered Arenas to serve 30 days in a halfway house.

Young and several of Arenas's current and former teammates were comforted that the punishment wasn't severe.

"Good for him," Mike Miller said of Arenas. "It's good for him to move on. Good for the Wizards to move on. And I think he'll make the most of his opportunities."

Charlotte Bobcats reserve Larry Hughes, a close friend and former teammate of Arenas's in Golden State and Washington, said he was happy with the judge's decision. "I think this is best case for him, to get back on the right track," Hughes said. "I think people will forgive him. They don't look at him as a bad guy. He just made a mistake, really."

Arenas was clearly in the thoughts of Coach Flip Saunders and others who played alongside him this season as they prepared to face the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night. Saunders said that he wished the game had been in Washington, so that he and other members of the team could have been at court to support him. Saunders said that he was happy to see that Arenas didn't have to serve any jail time.

"From my conversations with him, I think that he's aware that he did something that was very stupid," Saunders said. "He was aware that there would be consequences and now he can move forward. He knows what he has to do."

The Wizards can move on as well. Despite speculation that the Wizards would look into the voiding the remainder of his contract, the Pollin family was not interested in pursuing that option, according to a league source. Prospective new owner Ted Leonsis would have to determine the direction of the franchise, but Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld has stated publicly that the team plans to welcome back Arenas, who is slated to earn $80 million over the next four years.

After the sentencing was announced, the team released a statement that read: "We believe today's sentencing of Gilbert Arenas can help bring closure to the unfortunate situation that has played out over the last three months. Gilbert has admitted his mistakes and will now pay his debt to our community. We are confident that he has learned something significant from the experience and we now look forward to moving on."

The Wizards suffered a franchise-record 14th consecutive loss on Friday and have gone 10-29 since Arenas received an indefinite suspension on Jan. 6. The team bears hardly any resemblance to the one Arenas left behind, with the Wizards dealing away Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson before the trade deadline. While the Wizards have gotten used to not having Arenas around, Saunders said the transition has been difficult.

"I don't think we've ever moved on," he said. "When you have someone who was with you like that, you know he's still a part of you. You don't really move on. You still think about him a lot. There are many times I thought, from a basketball standpoint, 'What if we had him?' "

Jamison told reporters in San Antonio that he had been in contact with Arenas in recent days and was hoping that he could avoid going to prison.

"He's too good of a guy to get any kind of jail time," Jamison said. "He just made a dumb decision and wasn't thinking clearly. Any time you think of jail, you think of really bad people and that's not Gilbert. He already had the season taken away from him. Hopefully he'll be able to come out of it and be well."

Arenas brought guns into the locker room at Verizon Center on Dec. 21 as part of a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton. Crittenton already was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge.

The incident has impacted many lives and expedited the rebuilding process for the Wizards, who have nearly $18.7 million in available cap space to make a run at free agents this summer. They also will have a lottery pick to aid that rebuilding effort.

"We probably have as much flexibility as any team in the league and we have a great city like D.C. that can attract players," Saunders said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company