By Michael Wilbon
Saturday, March 27, 2010; D01
Okay, it's not the happiest of days for Gilbert Arenas, to appear before a judge and be sentenced. But the outcome is the best-case scenario for him, isn't it? Two years of probation and no jail time allows Arenas to be ready to play in somebody's summer league. Depending on Commissioner David Stern's mood, no jail time could allow Arenas to be eligible to be in an NBA lineup by opening night in late October or early November.
No jail time, not a single day, is something of an upset since the prosecution recommended a teeny bit of jail time. People who have tried cases before this judge have said they expected him to give Arenas 30 to 90 days. A month or two (or three) in the slammer wasn't going to prevent Arenas from playing basketball forever more. But no time spent in jail certainly looks better on the résumé than even 10 days. It allows Arenas to say to a prospective employer or endorser, "Hey, the judge in this case didn't think enough of this offense to give me as much as one night in jail."
Don't look here for outrage or for the argument that Arenas ought to have spent time in jail, because I don't see him as a threat or a menace to the community (and clearly, the judge didn't either). Had he gone for 30 days it wasn't like he was going to spend hard time in solitary confinement in Sing-Sing.
With jail time off the menu, whether Arenas will return to the Washington Wizards or not is now the big question . . . or one of the big questions confronting the franchise, which by the way has never been lower, yet also has the promise of a new owner with a track record of putting together both a good product and a championship contender.
Don't look for any hints as to what will happen with Arenas in the Wizards' brief statement, one that ended by saying, "We now look forward to moving on and focusing on building this team into the contender that our outstanding fans deserve."
Thing is, the people who issued the statement -- Irene Pollin, Robert Pollin, James Pollin and Ernie Grunfeld -- are unlikely to have anything to do with Arenas's future as a Wizard. Ted Leonsis kept the general manager of the other team he bought, George McPhee, and it's worked out wonderfully for all involved. But surely even Grunfeld understands a new owner has every right to bring aboard his own people to run the team, especially when that team is starting from scratch with little in the way of assets.
Arenas is not just one of those assets; he's the team's greatest asset. So what to do with and about him is a true dilemma. In talking to several personnel executives over the last few days, I've heard pretty much the same thing over and over.
Spending $40 million or more to buy him out isn't a good situation. And teams don't just have bags of cash sitting around marked "buyout money."
Teams, no matter what they're worth according to Forbes, aren't that liquid.
The Wizards are going to have to put on a happy face while taking him back.
Reclamation projects can be successful, which means, no, I haven't ruled out the notion of Arenas playing for the Wizards again, even with all the water under the bridge. Suppose the team finishes first or second in the NBA draft lottery and is in position to select Ohio State's Evan Turner, the best player in college basketball for my money? Would you want to think about putting Arenas and the 6-foot-7 freaky versatile Turner on the floor at the same time?
Along those same lines, would greater Washington, D.C., forgive Gilbert Arenas and give him a second chance? Yes, absolutely. This isn't Philly or Boston or New York. We're soft-core sports, with no screaming tabloid headlines, very little built up anger that doesn't involve parking or seats at Redskins games. As far as forgiveness goes around here, I have one thing to say: Marion Barry.
While trying to figure some of this out, the Wizards are going to have to put on a smiley face because it's the best way to prop up the market value of a player most GMs think can be an asset again in the NBA, just elsewhere.
If you're looking for a new NBA home and you're still a pretty good player -- Arenas has to qualify as that -- this is probably the best summer to be looking because so many teams (Knicks, Nets, Heat, Bulls, Clippers, among others) have led their fans to believe "this is the summer" they're going to attract the Big Fish and turn around the whole franchise.
There are far too few free agent all-stars to go around, which is why when the music stops there will be empty chairs in front of team executives with big checks in their hands. In other words, a team that fails to lure LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson is going to feel compelled to introduce a new "star" to its fan base. On the topic of Gilbert's tradability, one club executive said, "You can definitely play on somebody's sense of desperation . . . There's usually one team in the league that will do something really out there."
What's Golden State's big move this summer? What's the Knicks' Plan B? What's the Nets' Plan B?
"You're going to have to take back a headache," one team executive said, "but sometimes somebody's headache isn't as bad as your own."
Would the Wizards be better off simply cleaning house and not making Arenas a reclamation project? There's surely something to be said for that approach, given that Leonsis has already seen it work for the Capitals.
In the meantime, rejoining the Wizards might open up so many old scars.
Can Arenas work well with others or would he just wander back into trouble? Can he be the same player he was with his showy personality repressed? And if so, how long would it take? How quickly we've moved from 'gun play in the locker room' to 'would we still want him if he's still got it?' Rarely has any owner inherited the mess Ted Leonsis will when the sale of the Wizards becomes official.
Sadly for him, the mess is exceeded only by the uncertainty that Gil's day in court has produced.