Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said he is still "learning to coach" Gilbert Arenas, his eccentric, sometimes erratic but often exciting young point guard. Jordan knows how a tight relationship between coach and floor leader can benefit a team -- his well-documented closeness with point guard Jason Kidd when Jordan was an assistant in New Jersey helped contribute to the Nets reaching the NBA Finals two consecutive years.
Jordan isn't nearly as close with Arenas as he was Kidd. "It's no comparison," Jordan said of the relationship. "Seems like they're two generations apart."
But theirs is a burgeoning bond, which began to improve last summer, when Jordan invited Arenas to New Jersey to watch a first-round playoff game between the Nets and the Knicks.
Sitting in front-row seats, the two talked basketball and life; they compared the point guard play of Kidd and Stephon Marbury; and they broke down some of the intricacies of the Princeton-style offense Arenas struggled to grasp last season.
"He was teaching me as I was watching," Arenas said. "It was good."
The routes they took to get to New Jersey are about as different as their approaches to the game. "He's an NBA player," Jordan said, before flashing a smile. "I drove 3 1/2 hours and he flew first-class."
But they got there. And the Wizards will need Jordan and Arenas to "get there" in a basketball sense to have more success than last season, when the team struggled to a 25-57 record.
Jordan often anguished with Arenas's penchant for making streetball moves when a fundamental pass would suffice. Arenas, 22, led the NBA in turnovers per 48 minutes with 5.25, and his inclination to take errant shots if he had gone long stretches without touching the ball had occasional divisive effects in the locker room (Kwame Brown had a public clash with Arenas last season, suggesting that Arenas was selfish).
"It's a hard thing for Gilbert," Jordan said. "He is one of those new prototypical scoring point guards [like] Baron Davis, Stephon Marbury. And yet, he's still young, he's younger than those guys. They had growing pains and Gilbert is going to experience growing pains."
Although he averaged a career-high 19.6 points, Arenas struggled at times to run the offense as Jordan would have liked. At Golden State, where he spent his first two seasons, Arenas was given freedom to create his own shot. In Washington, he was asked to share the ball and trust his teammates more. He admitted that he was a bit apprehensive about signing with the Wizards two summers ago for that reason.
"I ain't going to lie. It was kind of a concern," Arenas said. "You know me. I'm like, 'What if it's five seconds on the shot clock and somebody else has the ball?' I'm like, 'What do I do?' That's the only thing I'm fighting. Okay, I got to trust everybody else, too. And okay, this guy didn't hit this shot here or make this shot here. I've still got to get it to him. It's a progression.
"When everybody asks, 'What do you need to do?' I just need to grow up a little bit," Arenas said.
Arenas said he expects to contain some of his emotional locker room tirades, which led to disruptions and the occasional fine. At Golden State, it was nothing for Arenas to tear up the locker room in anger if his teammates weren't giving what he considered an acceptable effort on the floor. In Washington, those antics didn't fly.
"I was just trying to put some fire in people's eyes and see that I'm fighting, too," Arenas said. "I don't think I have to do it this year."
Jordan is hoping that he won't.
"He's got a terrific personality," Jordan said. "We want him to be a little more composed and keep his poise when things don't go well and he's learning to do that. He needs to score for us and he needs to run the offense for us. I've got to get on his page and he's learning to get on my page."
Training camp is less than a week old, but Arenas said the coach and player are already there. "Last year, we were feeling each other out and you're going to have friction. But now we're on the same page."