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Arenas Practicing, Says Knee Is Fine

Guard Remains Cautious About Return

Gilbert Arenas returned to practice on Feb. 16, but asked Wizards personnel to keep it quiet so he could avoid being pressured into returning from his knee injury too soon. He claims he's
Gilbert Arenas returned to practice on Feb. 16, but asked Wizards personnel to keep it quiet so he could avoid being pressured into returning from his knee injury too soon. He claims he's "not even ready to think about" a return date. (By Ned Dishman -- Nbae Via Getty Images)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 25, 2009; Page E01

Though he says he does not know whether he will return to game action this season, three-time all-star guard Gilbert Arenas acknowledged yesterday that he has been practicing at full speed with his Wizards teammates since Feb. 16 and that his left knee, which has undergone three surgical procedures since April 2007, is nearly at full strength.

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"I'm out there feeling like the old Gilbert Arenas again," Arenas said, shortly after Washington practiced at Verizon Center. "I'm running, jumping, dunking, feeling good. No pain, no swelling. My balance is back, my speed is back. The only thing I have to get used to again is being around other bodies out there on the court. I'm working on getting my timing back. The only thing I'm not doing is playing in games."

While that is good news to Wizards fans wondering whether his knee would ever be the same, Arenas wouldn't answer the question that is on everyone's mind: Will he play before the Wizards (13-43) finish the regular season?

"I don't want to promise that and I'm not even ready to think about that right now," said Arenas, who has been limited to 13 regular season games since originally injuring the knee in a game against Charlotte on April 4, 2007. "The way I look at it, I rushed back twice and got hurt again twice, so this time I'm going to take my time and make sure. I came back quick twice and it didn't work for me or the team. I'm just going to keep practicing on it, make sure it's all the way right and then go from there."

Arenas said he experienced stiffness in the area behind the knee until late January, when he met with a knee specialist in Miami. The specialist, according to Arenas, was able to identify the problem and improve the range of motion in the knee. "I went from 50 percent to 90 percent overnight," Arenas said. "Then I've just been able to steadily increase the amount of stress without experiencing any problems. Now, I'm just pushing it, pushing it, pushing it, just testing to see how much I can do and it feels good."

When asked recently if he expects Arenas to play before this season ends, Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said: "Yes. He's doing more and more. His activity level has been increased. He's making good progress."

But Grunfeld said the team is not encouraging Arenas to come back before he is ready. "If he's healthy -- not if, when he's 100 percent healthy, he'll be back. It's going to be a decision from our medical staff and depending on how Gilbert feels. When the medical staff gives the clearance, he'll be back. He's not going to be rushed. We're hopeful that it's only a matter of time."

Arenas, who signed a six-year, $111 million contract in July, said he asked teammates and coaches not to tell anyone that he's been practicing because he didn't want to feel pressured into coming back too quickly. "I was thinking that as soon as people hear that I'm out there practicing, they're going to pressure me to get back in games and after what I went through last year, I don't want to risk that again," Arenas said. "I don't want another setback. That's why I just shut down and stayed quiet while working on getting the knee right."

Arenas said he also felt responsible for the team's poor performance this year, which cost Eddie Jordan his job as Wizards coach. "If I wouldn't have rushed back last year, Eddie Jordan wouldn't have been fired," he said. "No way we start 1-10 if I'm right. Eddie would still be here."

Arenas believes that he can beat the odds and return to his level of play prior to the original injury. "There's a myth out there that someone can't come back after missing two years and be an all-star again," Arenas said. "I plan on proving that wrong. I'm going to come back. Watch."

That myth has been debunked twice in the past 25 years. Bernard King and Grant Hill, two players who were forced to miss full seasons and large portions of others because of debilitating injuries, each returned to the all-star game.

King, a former teammate of Grunfeld's at Tennessee and on the New York Knicks, tore his anterior cruciate ligament at the peak of his career in March 1985 and was released by the Knicks two seasons later. Hill suffered a severe ankle injury at age 27, months before signing a seven-year, $93 million deal with Orlando in 2000.


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