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Wax On, Wax Off: Wizards Need a Healthy Arenas to Show Some Life

Injured Gilbert Arenas, right, and Antonio Daniels can only watch the action. With their depleted lineup, the Wizards are off to their worst start in more than 40 years.
Injured Gilbert Arenas, right, and Antonio Daniels can only watch the action. With their depleted lineup, the Wizards are off to their worst start in more than 40 years. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, November 23, 2008; Page D02

The last thing the Washington Wizards needed this week was a tribute to Gilbert Arenas, My Favorite NBA Player. But that's what occurred on Thursday at Madame Tussauds wax museum downtown, where a paraffin figure of Arenas was unveiled -- a ceremony repeated the next evening at Verizon Center during the Wizards' game against Houston.

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At this point in the season, as bad as the Wizards (1-9) have played in this, their second year of "Waiting for Gilbert," such a tribute would be comparable to the unveiling of a statue of Henry Paulson this week in front of the Treasury building.

I'll break bread with Gilbert any time, any place. Quote him whenever I can. And I've bookmarked his blog. But a "Tribute to Gilbert" this week?

Since injuring his left knee on April 4, 2007, against the Charlotte Bobcats in the only game he did not start that season (he had been benched that day by Coach Eddie Jordan for showing up late to Verizon Center), Arenas has missed 82 of the Wizards' 97 games.

Of course, Arenas was not looking to get injured. Still, had he shown up on time for that fateful game against Charlotte a year and a half ago and started, instead of subbing, who knows what would have happened? But three knee surgeries later, a dubious rehabilitation routine and a lack of communication between Arenas and Jordan during last season's playoffs have frustrated many fans and a few Wizards coaches.

"This team is built for Gilbert to lead us, with two all-star forwards [Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler] and [injured] Brendan Haywood coming off a career year," Jordan said Tuesday night after the Wizards lost to Miami. It is their worst start since the 1966-67 season -- the result of no Arenas, Haywood and lately Antonio Daniels, as well as poor shooting, poor defense and poor rebounding.

Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld is quick to point out that Gilbert is only 26, with three all-NBA selections to his credit and a future -- if healthy -- as bright as anyone in the game. Grunfeld thinks long term and that's good. But the Wizards have a six-year, $111 million investment in Arenas and we wonder -- considering the condition of his left knee -- if that commitment is looking so smart right now.

Nor do we need Gilbert to suggest, as he did to reporters this week, that a terrible Wizards season could result in a high draft choice. ("That's what happened to San Antonio and that's how they got Tim Duncan. If that happens with us, it's for the better.")

Do we need to remind My Favorite NBA Player that we've been down that road before (Kwame Brown, Tom Hammonds, Kenny Green, LaBradford Smith, Greg Foster, to name a few) even before Gilbert became Gilbert?

So, madame, let's hold the tributes for now.

Just Hold Your Breath

My friend Miami Eric had not seen the 1974 movie "California Split" starring Elliott Gould and George Segal as two gambling degenerates trying for the big score. The highlight of the movie for me was Gould in a bathtub listening to Chick Hearn call a Los Angeles Lakers game in which Gould bet his last hundred dollars on L.A., giving 10 points to a lesser team playing in what Gould called "Jack Kent Cooke's Fabulous Forum."

Trailing by 11 with a second left, some guy from the opposing team let fly a 35-footer that swished through the nets as time expired -- the defeated, deflated, wet and broke Gould sliding his head under the bath water.


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