Gilbert Arenas suspension, Wizards' future, Ted Leonsis ownership and more
Thursday, January 28, 2010; 10:00 AM
Washington Post basketball writer Michael Lee was online Wednesday, Jan. 28 to take all the questions about the season-ending suspensions of guard Gilbert Arenas and Jarvaris Crittenton, the team's future and potential ownership by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.
A transcript follows.
Michael Lee: Good morning everyone. This has been one truly incredible season in Washington. The Wizards' 2009-10 season motto should be dubbed, "Murphy's Law," because anything that could go wrong has gone wrong, on and off the court. I don't think anyone could've predicted that nearly every worst-case scenario would play out, but it has, with Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton's remainder of the season suspensions serving as the latest in a list of terrible happenings. I know you have questions. I hope I have some answers. Let's go. . .
K Street: Mike,
Is it possible for a franchise to be in any more disarray than this one? From ownership down to the ball boys, can anyone predict who will still be in place 1 year from today? I can't come up w/a favorable end game strategy w/Arenas. He doesn't want to be here. They don't want him here. No other team is stupid enough to take that contract. The Wiz may have to pick up some of his contract to get some other team to take him...
Michael Lee: This team is really a mess right now. You just have a feeling that this time next year, there won't be many remnants left. The team has foundered on the court, the ownership transfer could take months - or longer, if things really crumble with Ted Leonsis - and this current battle between Arenas and the team makes this even uglier.
I've talked before on the blog about the options available to the Wizards in order to split with Arenas, but none of them seem likely. I have a hard time seeing Arenas getting traded, no matter how close he is to Orlando GM Otis Smith and Golden State's previous interest to sign him in 2008. Voiding his contract seems like a difficult legal battle that could take forever. A buyout sounds best, but the Wizards would still be on the hook, salary cap wise, for whatever they would pay Arenas to go away. Kissing and making up seems even more improbable given the anger and hurt feelings that currently exist. It's really not a good look for anything right now.
Washington, D.C.: Michael: Who is making decisions for the Wizards right now? Is Grunfeld making all the decisions in terms of the direction (rebuild vs. build for a playoff run for this season), or does he have to consult with someone above him? If so, who? Thanks.
Michael Lee: Ernie is still calling the shots for the team. He answers to the Pollin family, which owns the team now that Abe has passed. It's business as usual. I think now that Arenas has been suspended, the Wizards can start deciding which path to take with regards to trades. The Wizards dangled Arenas before this gun incident, but now they know he cannot be moved this season. So, they have to make changes elsewhere.
Gil Finished as a Wiz?: Looking at the Pollin family statement, it looks like Gil won't get on the court as a Wizard, since his actions are viewed as a personal affront to the late Abe. Do you agree? Of course, if the team is sold to an owner who is more lenient about guns and violence than Mr. Pollin was, then that could re- open things here for Gil. But it looks like a fresh start elsewhere would help all concerned.
washingtonpost.com: Wizards statement on Arenas, Crittenton
Michael Lee: I think a lot has to do with what happens to Arenas and this franchise moving forward. The Pollins are looking to sell the team, so if Leonsis does eventually take over, you can probably expect some changes to follow. I don't think any owner is "lenient about guns and violence," which would make it difficult for Arenas to play in Washington again.
Arenas has let it be known that he doesn't want to play for an Ernie Grunfeld team again, but Grunfeld has to be concerned about back-to-back losing seasons and this embarrassing incident which has put the franchise in a negative light and made it a nightly punchline. True, Grunfeld didn't bring the guns, but it happened under his watch. So, that may not be a concern for Arenas.
But what does Arenas do? Will he write a letter of apology to the fans asking for forgiveness? Will he sit down for a tearful interview on 60 minutes about the mistakes that he's made? He has to do a lot to repair his reputation, not only to fans in Washington but also to potential fans elsewhere.
Washington, D.C : Do you sincerely believe Stern when he claims that Gilbert is being punished only for bringing guns in a NBA locker room? How dangerous can a unloaded gun be?
Michael Lee: Are we certain that they were unloaded? I have heard so many different stories about what happened and who did what. I'm sure Stern heard more than me from the actual witnesses. I wouldn't get too wrapped up in the details. There are too many to flush out, so I think Stern just wanted to make an example that guns in an NBA workplace was not acceptable. He'll probably look for a zero tolerance policy pretty soon.
I think Adrian Wojnarowski wrote an excellent column today about how Stern wasn't reacting totally to the crime, but the public outcry. This has produced some seriously negative publicity for the league and he wanted to let fans, the media and everyone else understand that he's in control. Arenas and Crittenton got caught up in the wrong storm at the wrong time. That's why they have been punished so harshly, when previous gun charges resulted in no more than a 7-game ban.
Washington, D.C.: Most of the NBA commentators are skeptical that the Wizards will be able to void Gilbert's contract. Their rationale is uniform: double jeopardy. However, based on what the sources in your story from yesterday, Gilbert has no intention of playing for Grunfeld's Wizards anymore - could he voluntarily void his contract with the Wizards with the hope of starting fresh somewhere else? It would be borderline crazy to think he may do this, but I wouldn't put it past Gil.
Quick second question, if the Wizards are able to free up some cash before the deadline, think they can make a play for Michael Ruffin?!
Michael Lee: I don't see anybody voluntarily walking from $80 million, not even Gilbert. That is a staggering number that he would never see again when you consider that he would've missed essentially THREE consecutive seasons with knee problems and a self-inflicted gun suspension - a grand total of 47 out of 246 games. Yikes.
As for Michael Ruffin, his price tag might be too steep since the Wizards have gone 76-142 since he left town.
Gambrills, Md.: Even without the distraction of Gilbert Arenas' escapades, the Wizards as now configured seem to have no future accept as a doormat. Isn't it time to divest the team of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Mike Miller for draft picks or younger players? And isn't it time to give Randy Foye, JaVale McGee and Andrae Blatche full-time minutes?
Michael Lee: Yes. And Yes.
Chinatown, Washington, D.C.: Hello, Thanks for all the in-depth coverage of this situation. The part that still really confuses me is that everyone's saying the Wizards would probably be unsuccessful if they attempted to void Arenas' contract. What exactly does a player have to do for their contract to be voided?
In this situation, a player broke his contract by disobeying part of the collective bargaining agreement, brought a gun to the work place (I can't imagine any other job that you wouldn't be fired from immediately for this), and pleaded guilty to a felony. He personally has cost the Wizards 12 million in salary and PR this season, been a major distraction to the rest of the team, and essentially has driven an entire season right into the ground - and the team has to hold up it's end of the deal anyways?
I'm confused, why is this ok?
Michael Lee: No one is saying that it is okay. It would just be a tremendous legal battle, given concerns over double-jeopardy and the union's desire not to have a precedent set with regards to "moral turpitude." Players have committed more heinous crimes and been allowed to keep their money. So far, the Golden State Warriors couldn't terminate Latrell Sprewell's contract after he choked his coach.
That doesn't mean that the Wizards shouldn't make an inquiry. Just because something never happened doesn't mean that it never will.
Cleveland: What percentage chance do you put on Jamison being traded to the Cavs?
Michael Lee: I can't put a number on it, but it's not high. I think the Wizards would love to trade him anywhere but Cleveland. The last thing Ernie Grunfeld wants to do is hand deliver a championship trophy to the Cavaliers after Danny Ferry - in Grunfeld's eyes at least - stole Larry Hughes in 2005.
You have to understand that Jamison was Pollin's Wes Unseld and is Grunfeld's Patrick Ewing. They love(d) his professionalism and character, but the best way to reward him for his commitment to this sad-sack team the past two seasons is to set him free. Give him a chance for a championship. It's not happening here.
I think at this point, Grunfeld has to put that bad blood with Cleveland behind him and take the best deal wherever it comes from because the Wizards won't be able to compete with Cavaliers any time soon (barring LeBron's departure to the Knicks or something), and would be really, really lucky to become a contender by the time Jamison's deal ends in 2011-12.
Georgetown: Can we make the playoffs?
Michael Lee: In 2012-13. It's possible.
Georgetown: A lot of us had hopes that the team would change the name back-- obviously out the window now-- what are the chances of at least changing the colors back? New uniforms at least? Are we ever going to get rid of that joke of a logo? We are tied for last with Oklahoma City Thunder in the all-time Worst Logo standings
Michael Lee: A name change and color change would be great. I've always disliked the name Wizards. It sounds so corny to me. I remember when Michael Jordan put on a Wizards uniform and I just thought it was so ridiculous to see him in those duds, when the Bulls unis were so cool every year he played there.
Since the franchise is going in a new direction, just start all the way over. Don't look back on the old, just get a totally new product. There's my radical idea of the day.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: I can't see any way this can end well for the franchise other than Ted Leonsis buying the team, firing Grunfeld, and welcoming back a contrite and apologetic Arenas. It sure doesn't sound like they'll be able to void the contract.
Is Grunfeld untouchable, or has he screwed things up enough that he could get the axe over this?
Michael Lee: I don't think there is an untouchable anywhere. Not after this season. Heck, not after the past two seasons. But this year really, really bottomed out. It's been horrendous.
Providence, R.I.: Leaving aside the gun incident, who has helped themselves this year. It seems that Jamison, Miller, Foye have shown something. Haywood has played well, and Blatche has shown something, but he has not gotten regular minutes. On the other side, how much has Butler and Young's disappointing seasons hurt them going forward?
Thanks for what must not be the easiest job.
Michael Lee: I think the lone bright spots this season have been Jamison and Haywood. They have provided consistent production most nights and excellent production on other nights. Foye and Miller have had moments.
Butler has had a terrible time trying to acclimate himself to Flip's system. He and Arenas had horrific chemistry at the start of the season, and he had a hard time finding his comfort zone once Jamison returned, sending him into a sulking funk from which he has never recovered. I spoke with an NBA player agent recently who told me that Butler's body language screams of someone who wants to be elsewhere, but he isn't doing himself any favors or raising his trade value with his play of late.
The thing that makes this season more disappointing is that Andray Blatche has returned to form after a promising start, Nick Young has not improved, Dominic McGuire is barely in the rotation and JaVale McGee cannot see the floor. The young players should be the foundation for the future, but who can possibly be encouraged by how they've come along this season?
Burke, Va.: I wonder how many of these people casually talking about voiding Gilbert's contract really believe that what he did merits an $80 million dollar fine. Get a sense of proportion, people.
Michael Lee: I just think people really want to move on after not having the best player around for three years in a row. This is an emotional topic for a lot of fans.
Anonymous: Why are people talking about the team's management turning its back on Arenas, when in fact it was Gil who not only broke the law and NBA rules when he brought guns into the locker room but then he thumbed his nose at management when he tweeted, told reporters he wanted an apology, and then mocked management by pretending to shoot his teammates before a game? Call it like it is: Arenas is the one who has severely harmed the team with his reckless behavior.
Michael Lee: There are often two sides to every story. Not every side is the right side. I agree with you that what Arenas did was wrong and reckless. It's easy to say that he should just take responsibility for his actions, but when has he ever had to?
If you recall, Arenas was once about to get served paternity papers in Sacramento but the Wizards arranged for him to catch a flight to Houston to avoid the public embarrassment. There is a lot of this stuff over the years that was just allowed.
Granted, he had never brought four guns to the locker room before in a dispute with a teammate. But when he was allowed to get away with previous offenses - such as soiling Andray Blatche's shoe - you can see why he doesn't understand how the team didn't protect him in every instance, even an illegal one.
Washington, D.C.: Michael,
Did the Washington Post know any of the details of the Arenas gun incident before the New York Post broke the story?
If so, why didn't the Washington Post pursue this major story right on your doorstep?
Michael Lee: Let me answer this as delicately as possible, because this really is a sensitive subject for me. I will just say that I was aware of the situation well before the New York Post published that story on Jan. 1. Our concern was to be right before it was to be first. The Post story was first, but that's about it. There is a lot more I would like to say, but I'll leave it at that.
Washington, D.C.: As a sports writer, what's more difficult: Trying to find writing material on a losing team, or having to deal and write about off-the-court situations like what's going on with Gil and Javaris?
Michael Lee: Hmm. What's more difficult? Trying to do both at the same time. That's more difficult.
I've covered bad teams before (hey, I came here from Atlanta), but I've never ever dealt with a season that has had more off-court drama than this one. I've been looking back at other miserable seasons for NBA writers in other places like New York (Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury), Indiana (Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson) and Portland (the Jail Blazer era) and I just have more respect for guys like Howard Beck, Frank Isola, Sekou Smith, Mike Wells and Jason Quick. This stuff really wears on you.
It wears on the players, too, because they know you don't have any fun questions to ask. It's just not ideal.
Bad Days are Ahead: Michael,
I know people want to trade Caron, Haywood, Jamison, and Miller for draft picks and young players, but I don't think they realize how bad we will be without those players. Young, Blatche, Foye, and McGee have no idea how to win in this league. I don't think a fire sale is the answer. Move Caron or Jamison, but not both players. What are the chances of at least one of those two players being back for next season?
Michael Lee: This team is bad WITH those players. You can be concerned about rebuilding, but from what are you building? A 19-win team last season? A team that might win 26 games this season?
If you look at what's happening right now in Memphis, Oklahoma City and Portland - where they have built through the draft with quality young talents - you have an idea of what the Wizards should try to do. The results will be gruesome, but so have the past 30 or so years.
It really makes no sense to have a $78 million roster that's producing 78 cent results.
Woodbridge, Va.: Mr. Lee, I've seen suggestions that Arenas could be a nice "consolation prize" for a team that misses out on one of the big FAs this summer...how does that work cap wise? I mean, if the team finds a willing partner with cap space do they have to take back a percentage of his salary as they would in a trade with a team who is up against the cap, or could we just call, say, Jersey and tell them "You have loads of room to work with, give us a 2nd and a Popeyes coupon and he's yours"?
Michael Lee: Mmm. That Popeye's coupon sounds good. Extra spicy, please.
Washington, D.C.: Michael, I read Thomas Heath's front-page article this morning and do not understand it. Why is the deal with Ted "unraveling?" Is the process previously described accurate (two sides pick appraisers, if they cannot agree, they select a third appraiser, if Ted refuses that appraiser's price, it goes on the market and Ted gets right of first refusal)? If not, what has changed? This franchise needs some certainty now more than ever!
washingtonpost.com: Leonsis's purchase of Wizards unravels
Michael Lee: This might just be posturing. I'm not certain, but I think Ted still winds up with the team. The fact that he has the right of first refusal makes me think that he it's still going to happen. It's just a matter of when.
Haymarket, Va.: What is the most immediate thing that can happen to get this team going in at least the right direction? Thanks for your work in this dreadful season Mike.
Michael Lee: I was about to make a comment involving explosives, but given Arenas's threats to set Crittenton's car ablaze, I'll back off that analogy. I just think the Wizards have to start over. They traded away the fifth pick to add Foye and Miller to a team that has proven to be unfit to contend. You have to dust yourself off and quit holding on. Holding on led to this mess.
Washington, D.C.: I know everyone is setting their hair on fire about Gilbert right now, but I think it's silly to assume that things won't settle down and fences will be mended over time. After all, just this week the President of the United States had a private meeting with Kobe Bryant.
Michael Lee: Yeah, but you are talking about Kobe Bryant, a four-time NBA champion and a former MVP. His tantrums can probably be tolerated a little more. And, you'd be surprised how many folks sided with Bryant through all of his troubles. That's a different situation than this one.
I'm not saying this cannot get worked out, because, hey, Jay-Z did a few (terrible) songs with Nas. But sometimes, separation is for the best.
Washington, D.C.: If the Wizards somehow made it to the playoffs, would Arenas and Crittenton be allowed to play?
Michael Lee: No. They are suspended for the remainder of the season. Period. And, I'm pretty sure that will be April 14 against Indiana.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Because the team is in the process of being sold, can Grunfeld really trade players and make the wholesale changes (ie, Arenas, Jamison, Butler)? Technically he can, but wouldn't that have an impact on how much the team is worth?
It seems to me like the Wiz should just be in a holding pattern, sell the team and let the new owner (whether it is Leonsis or someone else) decide what to do. Otherwise, they really aren't going to get a lot for the franchise. The only benefit they can do is determine what to do with Arenas after March 26 to see if it helps with the sale or not.
Michael Lee: You think having the players that are currently on this roster makes the team more valuable? I think giving a new owner a clean slate would make the situation more attractive. If you can make a few salary dumps and have cap space for the summer, I don't see how that would make the team worth less. Regardless of how bad things are now, I can assure you that NBA players would love to live in D.C.
Washington, D.C.: Do we know for sure that the Pollin family wants to sell? If they wanted to keep the team, would they even have that option?
Michael Lee: Of course they can keep the team; they own it. But I believe that they would like to sell it and move on. This was Abe's baby and they want to make sure that they can get all that they can for it. The man invested more than 40 years of his life into this franchise; they don't want to give it away for less than what they believe it is worth.
Washington, D.C.: Michael: Do you have any sense yet whether and to what extent Gilbert has grown from this situation? Although he is a goofball, I have always gotten the sense that Gilbert is pretty intelligent. I expect that he will come back from this as a more mature and different person, but to what extent I don't know. I'm not expecting him to be the next Gandhi, but I am expecting significant growth. Any thoughts, yet, or too soon?
Michael Lee: It really is too soon to say. It would be great if he supported your optimism and came back a more mature and humble person. I sure hope he does. But this is a frustrating time for him and I don't even want to think about predicting the future, especially when it comes to an unpredictable character like Arenas.
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Why would double jeopardy be an issue? It prevents the government from trying a person twice for the same crime, but should have no application to a private contractual matter.
Michael Lee: The collective bargaining agreement has similar language about a player being punished for the same offense twice. The league has already acted, but can the team follow suit and give him the boot by voiding his contract? Stern was asked the same question yesterday and said something like, "You should ask a lawyer." And Stern is a lawyer. I'm a lowly Washington Wizards beat reporter.
Gothenburg, Sweden: Can you explain (in terms of personnel) why this year's squad is so much worse than the team from 2 years ago, which won 43 games without Gilbert? Antonio Daniels, Roger Mason and Darius Songaila are gone from that squad and have been replaced by Earl Boykins, Randy Foye, and Mike Miller. It's hard to see how they can be so much worse.
Michael Lee: It has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with chemistry. The Wizards have a lot of talent, but it's mostly offensive-minded players who prefer jumpers over layups. They don't have too many glue guys, hustle guys, scrappy guys, and if Flip defined their roles in training camp, they definitely don't seem to like those roles.
The best example I can give is the Knicks, who had a lot of talent and a high-paid roster, but the players couldn't put it together on the court, mostly because the chemistry was horrific and they dealt with so many off-court distractions.
State of Depression: If Grunfeld got fired, do you think Arenas would be more enthusiastic about playing for the Wizards again?
Michael Lee: Possibly. But would the Wizards - and whoever owns the team at that time - want him back. That $80 million looks like a salary cap clogging disaster right now.
Washington, D.C.: Michael: Adrian Wojnarowski states the following: ""It just got so ugly," one official familiar with the NBA's investigation said. "You had guys all throwing each other under the bus. I don't see how Arenas can play there again, after what's gone on behind the scenes. I don't know how he walks back into the locker room.""
Do you have info on this throwing under the bus stuff? Thanks.
Michael Lee: You've been reading it almost every day in the Post. We've pointed out the team is distancing itself from Arenas and how Arenas is upset with the franchise. Go back and read what's been written over the past few weeks. There isn't a lot of support coming from either side right now.
Michael Lee: Wow, this has been a truly spirited discussion. I tried to get to as many questions as I could, but there were just too many. We have to do this again, because you guys clearly have a lot of concerns. I tried the best I could, but I really have to get back to work. Peace.
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