By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 12:14 AM
CLEVELAND - Nine months to the day after he put his professional basketball career in jeopardy (by mocking his gun investigation by playfully shooting his teammates in Philadelphia with his fingers shaped like pistols) Gilbert Arenas was back on the court, in an NBA uniform, bearing little resemblance to the player most remember.
He has ditched the No. 0 - and the Agent Zero persona that came with it - and is growing a thick, scraggly beard that serves as a figurative shield from the outside world.
The ball has been taken from his hands and given to fresh-faced rookie John Wall, who based on the stubble on his chin has a while to go before he competes with Arenas's facial hair. But during the Washington Wizards' 97-94 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, Arenas appeared to have no problem deferring to Wall and assuming the role as complementary shooter.
"Right now I'm out there to hit open shots, teach John the ins and the outs of the game, and then eventually go on and move on. I'm on my way," Arenas said in the visitor's locker room at American Airlines Center after scoring 12 points.
When asked to explain what he meant by "move on," Arenas replied, "This is the NBA. There's few players that stay in the same city, so right now the city is John's. I'm not here to fight anybody. I'm here to play alongside of him. He's Batman, I'm Robin. When I came in, Larry [Hughes] moved aside for me to become a star and I'm moving aside for him to become a star."
Arenas sought to clarify those comments after the Wizards concluded practice a day later at Quicken Loans Arena, where they will face the Cleveland Cavaliers and former teammate Antawn Jamison on Thursday. He said he isn't looking to go anywhere, not requesting or suggesting a trade; he is content serving as a mentor to Wall and the other young Wizards as one of the few veterans on the roster.
He said he simply meant that he would move on when his $111 million deal ends after the 2013-14 season, not before it. "I've got four years left," Arenas said, "and that's it. That's all I was saying."
The Wizards are in the midst of rebuilding around Wall, the No. 1 overall pick, and Arenas remains the last member of the team that advanced to the second round in 2005, with Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young the only Wizards remaining from his last regular season game on Jan. 5.
At the end of his current contract, Arenas will be 32 and the rest of the Wizards' young players - such as Wall, McGee, Blatche and possibly Yi Jianlian, if he re-signs next summer - will be entering their respective primes. He said it's only natural for organizations to move forward and bring in younger players, but he enjoys being around this group.
"You've got to keep building until you get something special and right now they have special players," he said.
Arenas feels he was merely stating the obvious. It is Wall's team now. He's a role player to help the rookie become a star. "I had my time," Arenas said.
When asked if he needed to go elsewhere to play a more desirable role, Arenas said, "I'm content on what I'm doing right now. Everything happens for a reason. It's easy to play with [Wall] because we're basically family. We both came from the same agent [Dan Fegan], so me and him get along great. We're like brothers, so if I want my brother to grow, I've got to step down."
He noted how he and Wall complement each other, comparing this back court to when he teamed with another ball-handler in Hughes for two seasons from 2003 to '05.
Wall said on Tuesday that he and Arenas have developed a good rapport. The two have been spotted regularly cracking jokes with each other. And, Wall sought out Arenas for advice before his preseason debut in Dallas. Wall then used Arenas's counsel to not "worry about the hype" and finished with 21 points, 9 assists and 4 steals in 38 minutes. Wall assisted Arenas on one of his shots, a long, 23-foot jumper that gave the Wizards a 68-60 lead in the third quarter.
"I love his game," Arenas said about Wall. "I loved it when he was in high school. He can get to the basket at will. He's fast. . . . He's going to be great. He has a knack for finding people and getting to the basket. I told him he's too young to be hitting the ground so hard, so often. When it's all said and done, they're going to have to compare him to what Derrick Rose and them are doing now because he's going to have the ball in his hands and an opportunity to score."
Arenas doesn't have any interest in being a showman as he makes his fourth attempt at a comeback, having played just 47 games the past three seasons because of injuries to his left knee and a 50-game suspension for bringing guns to the Verizon Center locker room last season.
After he hit his first shot - a zone-busting three-pointer that tied the game at 5 - Arenas simply turned around, lowered his head and ran back on defense. He said it is unlikely that there will be a return of the gregarious Arenas who reached superstardom with his game, quirky antics and entertaining quips.
"It's a double-headed sword," Arenas said. "I guess at this point I'm at that point where people are going to nitpick everything I do just because I got in trouble, so no. I've just got to be serious and worry about what I'm doing."