Wizards Insider: Divorce from Gilbert Arenas was inevitable

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By Michael Lee
Monday, December 20, 2010; 4:59 PM

Don't get too caught up with what the Wizards received or didn't receive for Gilbert Arenas on Saturday because acquiring Rashard Lewis from the Orlando Magic was not the primary goal in this endeavor. This was all about creating a clean slate for the rebuilding process, and realizing an exodus that was months overdue.

Arenas no longer wanted to be in Washington and, after the Wizards lucked up and got John Wall with the No. 1 pick, they no longer needed Arenas around -- despite owner Ted Leonsis's pledges to the contrary. The relationship between the two sides unofficially ended back in January, when Arenas received his 50-game suspension for bringing guns into the locker room and the team yanked down his banner from the Sixth Street side of Verizon Center.

The franchise was moving on. Arenas felt betrayed by an organization he that had provided with so much -- in the form of entertainment and, at times, exhilarating basketball -- and Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld felt the same about a player on whom he risked his reputation, and possibly career, by handing him a six-year, $111-million contract in the summer of 2008.

A divorce was inevitable; Arenas had expressed his desire to leave to those close to him for several months. So when he arrived at media day looking like Tom Hanks from Cast Away, it should have served as the first sign of discord. He was upset and those sullen, bearded photos didn't do much to help the team promote him and his fourth return to a somewhat-jaded fan base.

In the weeks that followed, Arenas tried to make it work (he looked decent in the first three preseason games), then didn't (he "faked" an injury for fear of fans' reaction to him, or to help Nick Young, or something), tried again (he averaged more than 20 points over a nine-game stretch in November), then didn't (check the December stats). He struggled with his role coming off the bench, had difficulty playing off the ball, and never seemed comfortable, leaving the Wizards in a difficult predicament.

Leonsis tried to bring back Arenas into the fold. He met with him, joked with him, publicly supported and praised Arenas, understanding the fragile psyche of his highest-paid and most recognizable player. Leonsis was genuinely fond of Arenas, but in the end, even that wasn't enough to engage the three-time all-star.

Arenas and the Wizards were like an emotionally-detached married couple that was unable to legally separate because of the economic downturn. They lived in the same house and slept in different beds, but only because they couldn't afford to do anything else. The disconnect created some awkward, uncomfortable moments.

Arenas's demeanor, shot selection and aggressiveness changed after he scored a season-high 31 points against Orlando on Nov. 27. That game can now be viewed as an informal audition for Magic general manager and his good friend Otis Smith, possibly the only front office executive who was willing to take a chance on him. Over his last nine games, the Wizards never saw anything close to that player as they continued to lose and Arenas became more distant.

Smith contacted the Wizards last week to see if they were still interested in making a deal. The Wizards had never stopped shopping Arenas, and were hoping that Smith would take him off of their hands around the NBA draft. Smith's call came as a relief, because it gave the Wizards a chance to get out from under an albatross of a contract that most deemed immobile.

According to a league source, the Wizards immediately began scouting Lewis to make sure that there was enough there with the 31-year-old jump-shooting forward to make a deal. Lewis makes more money than Arenas this season and next season, but only $10 million of his contract in 2012-13 is guaranteed.

Of course, the Wizards would have rather had Vince Carter's more attractive, expiring deal, but they were ready to move, especially after this past week, when Arenas had a poor shooting night against the Lakers and a lethargic effort in the first half against New Jersey, where the Wizards trailed the Nets by 23 points.

Trade talks heated up the next day, with the Wizards taking the best offer they could get at this time. "The opportunity presented itself this week, and opportunities don't come along that often in the NBA," Grunfeld said before the Wizards played the Heat on Saturday night. "We looked at it, we studied it and we felt like it was the right time to make this move in the best interest of the team, short term and long term."


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