By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010; 12:31 AM
There are still people willing to make excuses for Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, to forgive his disrespect of his coach, his teammates, his fans, even his own talent.
Anyone who thought the beard and the morose face and the Batman-and-Robin comparisons signaled a new, more introspective Arenas, well, you were wrong. This is the same old Arenas, and people are already mouthing the same old excuses. Aren't you tired of "That's just Gil being Gil"?
Gil was being Gil on Tuesday night when he faked an injury because, as he tells it, he wanted teammate Nick Young to get a chance to start. He was doing something nice, something unselfish, for a teammate. And like most people who perform unselfish acts for others, he couldn't wait to tell his new mortal enemy, the media, all about it when the game was over.
Surprisingly, that didn't go over well with his coach or general manager. I can't imagine it went over real well with some of his supporters. The crowd at Verizon Center that night was sparse, but surely it included some of Arenas's many boosters. On Thursday, the fans welcomed Arenas back with a nice ovation, three minutes before he left the game with a mild strain in his right groin.
Some will probably shrug off Tuesday's episode, as well. It was only a preseason game. He was trying to do something nice. The media blew it out of proportion. And so on.
It's no big deal because it's a preseason game? Really? This is a guy who hasn't played a regular season game since Jan. 5. This is a guy coming off a guilty plea on felony gun charges and a month in a halfway house. This is a guy who played 32 games last season, two the season before, 13 games the season before that.
This is a guy who shouldn't be giving up court time to anyone right now.
And this is a team that doesn't know itself yet. Nearly every player who was with the team a year ago is gone. Overall, this is a young, inexperienced team whose leader is 20 years old. And who, so far, has conducted himself with far more maturity than Arenas has shown.
Coach Flip Saunders could use a focused, healthy Arenas this year. Clearly, he's not going to get that Arenas. He's going to get the same old Arenas.
"I said to him that I'm most disappointed personally because I believe in him," Saunders said. "There's been a trust factor. I told him, 'You're going to have to be honest with me.' It's just like dealing with your kids. Your kids make mistakes, and you deal with them. It doesn't mean you love them any less."
Saunders is half right. Trust is a big issue between a coach and a player. But it's not just like dealing with your kids, because Arenas isn't a kid.
Saunders is falling into the same mistake many people make: When Arenas behaves like a child, they treat him like one - with little expectation that he'll learn anything from the experience. But Arenas isn't a naughty boy; he's a 28-year-old father of three and a three-time NBA all-star. He is not, by any definition except his own behavior, a child.
Saunders is supposed to determine the starting lineup, not Arenas, whose actions may have made Nick Young happy for one night. But by then blabbing about it, he also threw an unpleasant spotlight on Young. Who wants this kind of help?
And while Young scored 24 points, Saunders was quick to point out that the guard also registered no rebounds and no assists. Perhaps, in fact, that's the reason Saunders hadn't started Young. Perhaps Saunders was trying to send a message to Young that he needs to do more than score. Perhaps Young needs to earn his own starts. And perhaps Arenas isn't quite ready to coach an NBA team just yet.
But I'm forgetting, of course, that that's the fault of the media. One thing I'll say for Arenas: He never tried to blame the gun incident on anyone but himself. Apparently he had time in the halfway house to plot his new strategy, which is to blame the media for everything. He referred to the reaction to his statement that he faked the injury as a "media outburst." Really? When a player tells reporters after the game that he faked an injury, are they supposed to ignore it? Thumbscrews weren't involved here.
And for Arenas to blame his myriad problems on the media, well, that takes the cake. I've never seen an athlete so desperately crave attention. In some ways he's a flower that blooms in the spotlight; when his career is over he may end up renting a room from Norma Desmond.
I have no idea how the Wizards can easily solve this problem, and it is a problem. Arenas had already made himself virtually untradeable with his actions last season. Faking an injury and lying to his coach means President Ernie Grunfeld's phone isn't going to ring any time soon.
Fining Arenas is a joke. He's still owed $80 million, so unless they fine him $79.5 million, I doubt they'll get his attention. And because of that, cutting him is not an attractive option. Neither is putting him on the inactive list - or even the fake inactive list - because then you're paying him to do absolutely nothing.
The sad truth, for Arenas, is that he needs the Wizards far more than they need him. Arenas himself admitted the Wizards are "guard-loaded." He may think he's being asked to bring John Wall along - playing Robin to Wall's Batman, in the Arenas lexicon - but the team surely hopes Kirk Hinrich will be the one filling the Batman role. Leaving Arenas, as always, to play the Joker.