For Wizards, It's Back to Ground Zero
Don't bill it as a triumphant return. Not yet. If Gilbert Arenas wants you to know anything, it's that the image of No. 0 rising and firing for the Wizards again tomorrow night should not include heraldic trumpets or catchphrases like, "He's ba-a-a-a-ck."
"I know everybody is harping on 'What do you feel like?' and all that, but I'm still looking at it as rehab," Arenas said yesterday afternoon via his cellphone. "I'm not looking at it as a comeback. This is the final stage of rehabilitation, me learning what I can do, what I can't do and what I need to work on."
In other words, after three knee surgeries in 18 months, don't expect the guy who dropped 60 points on the Lakers or 54 on the Suns in a sublime performance two seasons ago to show up at Verizon Center against the Pistons, Arenas's first game action since Game 4 of the Cleveland playoff series last April.
But don't expect a $111 million gimp, either.
Let's be clear: Arenas never had reconstructive surgery to have his anterior cruciate ligament replaced. He's not Anfernee Hardaway in training, that surreal young player whose body and game deteriorated until his early retirement, about whom people now say, "Man, when I first saw Penny, I thought he was going to be in the Hall of Fame."
But after playing just 13 regular season games last season, can the son of Gilbert Arenas Sr. still co-opt his father's nickname from the asphalt courts of Tampa?
If not tomorrow, will Gil the Thrill show up to play again?
"As far as being the player I was, I'm not worried about that," Arenas said. "I am still that player. It's not like I was a big jumper. It's not like I'm worried I can't do a 360, half-spin; I never could. I was a shooter who knew how to score. I knew how to get to the rim and get fouled. None of that is going to change."
Remember fans and basketball savants last spring, who with moral certainty in their voices, said the Wizards were better off without Arenas? When I think of that poor lot hiding from public view today, as the worst record in franchise history is threatened, I want to ask them one question:
How is 17-56 working out for you?
Beneath the all-access existence of a player who quickly morphed into a national media darling, who had no filter before he said something outlandish or typed another mind-blowing blog entry, there was, first and foremost, a 'baller -- a player whose entire life and career were dedicated to becoming a star. He used the court as a sanctuary to heal early childhood wounds and adolescent slights.
The good news is, that guy still remains. Physical setbacks, emotional drama and all, he's still the best chance this franchise has of contending the next five years.