By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; D01
Gilbert Arenas already has lost his position as the face of the Washington Wizards, accepted a reduced role and switched jersey numbers, and he soon could be changing addresses altogether. The Wizards are engaged in serious talks to deal Arenas, the former three-time all-star guard, to the Orlando Magic.
A person familiar with the Magic's plans said late Friday night: "It's very close. A really strong possibility."
Yahoo Sports first reported that the discussions between the two teams had intensified but the parameters of the deal are unclear. Arenas has long been rumored to be headed to Orlando, where he would be reunited with Magic General Manager Otis Smith, Arenas's friend and mentor dating from when both were with the Golden State Warriors. The Wizards spoke with the Magic last summer about making a deal for Vince Carter but while those conversations stalled, they never ended.
After the Wizards lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, Arenas privately told people that a deal could possibly be in the works with either Orlando or Charlotte. Word started to spread throughout Verizon Center that evening, but the talk initially was shut down by multiple league sources.
"The Magic realizes they have to make a move. They have to do something," said the source, who has knowledge of the discussions. "It seems like it's about the right time."
Orlando has lost five of its past six games and slipped to second place in the Southeast Division behind the red-hot Miami Heat, which has won 11 in a row and will face the Wizards at Verizon Center on Saturday.
Arenas left Golden State to sign a free agent deal with the Wizards in the summer of 2003. He quickly emerged as a superstar, making three all-star appearances - including one start - and leading the Wizards to one playoff series win. His career has been derailed ever since Charlotte's Gerald Wallace crashed into his left knee in April 2007.
Arenas has been limited to just 69 games since then by injuries and a 50-game suspension for bringing guns into the locker room at Verizon Center around this time last year.
He has been placed in an unfamiliar role this season, as one of the older players on one of the youngest and most unproven teams in the NBA. Injuries have further complicated the situation, leaving veterans such as Arenas and Kirk Hinrich to roll their eyes or look flustered during games.
Arenas has tried to remain calm, but there has been the occasional blowup, such as when he snapped at rookie Trevor Booker in Sacramento for failing to cut to the basket when an open layup was available. He was noticeably frustrated on Thursday in New Jersey, where a couple of his passes bounced off the heads of unsuspecting teammates.
"This is something new for me. It's hard, because you're in a rebuilding situation. I feel like I'm the odd man out here," Arenas said Thursday night. "Just 'cause I'm older. When you look and see a team, 19 [years old], 20, 20, 20, 20. And you look at yourself, about to hit 29. You look at the long picture and you're not part of this. So, you just want to teach these young players, how to play the right way."
Arenas and Kirk Hinrich are the only players with at least six years of experience to play for the Wizards this season; but that could soon change, with Josh Howard expected to make his long-anticipated season debut possibly on Saturday against the Miami Heat. Howard, a 30-year-old former all-star forward, has been out of action since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last February, cutting short a four-game stint after arriving from Dallas in a trade deadline deal.
"I feel that some of these players do need to sit and watch the game and they'll learn, because they are not learning by playing," Arenas said without naming names. "We're 20-something games, and we're not learning. Some players need to learn, sit, watch what veterans do, then go in. [But] when everyone's young, there's no sitting."
Arenas said the greatest challenge for him is not to revert to his natural inclination to simply take over a game and go on a one-on-five rampage. "I don't want to go out there and be selfish or be unselfish. I just try to find a medium, where I can distribute the ball and make passes I think are right passes and shoot the ball when I'm open. If my instinct kicked in like 2006, 2007, players like [Booker] would've lost their confidence. They look at everything I do. If I go out there and get frustrated and take 13 shots in a row, they are going to think they can do that too. No matter how much you're down, you have to play the right way."
Arenas is averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 assists this season. He has three years and $62.4 million remaining on his contract after this season.
The salaries of Arenas and Carter, who has an expiring deal worth $17.3 million, match up, but the source said the Magic would look to move one or two of their bigger contracts in a trade. The Yahoo report mentioned that Magic center Marcin Gortat could be involved. Rashard Lewis is the highest-paid player on Orlando and has two years and $43 million left on his deal after this season. He has also been struggling this season, but any deal for the Wizards would mostly be about parting ways with Arenas, who has been forced to adjust his game and status within the organization with the arrival of No. 1 overall pick John Wall.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis denied an Internet report two weeks ago that the team was engaged in trade talks with Orlando. Leonsis also said last month that "Gilbert is not going anywhere."