Gilbert Arenas will get a fresh start in Orlando and the
team’s future may depend on it.
It was not hard to find the Magic’s newest acquisitions smiling even after Monday’s 91-81 loss to the Hawks. It is safe to say they all know the incredible opportunity to play with Dwight Howard and (hopefully) compete for a championship in Orlando. Hedo Turkoglu is happy to be back in Orlando where he had the best years of his career. Jason Richardson gets a chance to shine next to one of the league’s best centers (after playing with one of the league’s top point guards).
But no one perhaps more of a chance to remake himself than Gilbert Arenas. And this is an opportunity the rest of his career may hinge on.
Arenas vowed to make this season different after he was suspended for 50 games for bringing guns into the Washington locker room a year ago today. He stopped posting his antics on his blog that ran on NBA.com. He stopped posting on Twitter — partially a response to the charges levied against him and the aftermath afterwards. His demeanor, usually a joking, happy guy, was much more measured. He changed his number from 0, eschewing his nickname of “Agent Zero”, to 9.
The veteran was creating a whole new identity for himself.
“What Arenas will bring is a little bit of toughness, somebody who can score the ball,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith said. “His off the court issues, we have a tendency not to forgive people in this country. We have a tendency to hold on to things a little bit longer, particularly if they play professional sports. I always say that sometimes good people do stupid things, and that was right at the top of my list.”
This more measured Arenas, did decently for Washington. He had to share the point guard duties with dynamic young point guard John Wall. And he gracefully stepped aside. Arenas spent more time off the ball and let the young Wizards move on in a direction without him. This after spending seven years in the nation’s capital and creating tons of memorable scoring games (remember his performance during Tracy McGrady’s 62-point game?) and playoff outings.
Arenas appreciated the second chance new Wizards owner Ted Leonsis gave him in bringing him back after the suspension. And Arenas was very remorseful about the whole situation to the late Abe Pollin. You can see how it was a hard year for Arenas that took some of the joy in playing away from him. But undoubtedly Arenas has and still feels a deep connection with Washington and the Washington community.
But it was also clear things were not going to work out this year for Arenas and the Wizards. His contract was too big, and he had yet to regain his explosiveness from a knee injury that cost him the 2008-09 season. The Wizards had already parted ways with Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, key cogs to the Wizards’ 2005, 2006 and 2008 Playoff appearances.
Arenas was the last piece connecting the Wizards to its eventual future with Wall to its past.
And so, it seemed inevitable a move would be made. Arenas had a usage rate of 26.3 percent, his lowest since he arrived in Washington. Last night, in scoring 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting, he had a 27.1 usage rate. A sign, albeit an inefficient one, that he was re-energized by the new scenery.
Arenas could not ask for a better opportunity to restart. He and Otis Smith have a very close relationship and Smith — Smith said he talks with Arenas probably second only to his son — should be able to help guide Arenas into his new role as a sixth man. And from all accounts, Arenas is excited for that role. There are a lot of options offensively and Arenas’ potential to produce off the bench — remember he scored 31 points against Orlando in November.
“I feel comfortable with who he is,” Smith said. “I have been knowing him since he was 19 years old. So I am more comfortable with him than I am with a lot of people on what he brings and what type of person he is.
“We don’t take character for granted, so this was a big jump for us to be quite honest. If you look at our rosters over the years, the conversation with the (DeVos) family wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve had to do with them in years, even when I asked them to spend money for Rashard Lewis.”
So this is Arenas’ fresh start. His chance to turn his career back around and (finally) contribute to a winning team. And the Magic appear completely behind him. Because, not to put tons of pressure, but Smith’s future and perhaps even Dwight Howard’s depends on this experiment.