Gilbert Arenas has been all smiles since coming to Orlando. The weight of walking around Washington, D.C. on pins and needles after “The Incident” has lifted off of him.
Now, his job is to loosen up the rest of the team.
There is no doubt the team is having more fun since Arenas arrived. A nine-game winning streak will do that. But give Arenas some credit for freshening up the locker room a bit. He has not been afraid to throw jokes out there — he has already dubbed the reserves the “Bench Mobb” and has claimed he and JJ Redick are the best white shooters in the NBA — both for fun and to inspire the team.
It has not just been refreshing to see Arenas add some spice to the locker room, but it has been refreshing to see his teammates take to some of these gimmicks.
For the first time all season, it feels like Orlando is having fun again.
It starts with Arenas’ new routine where he and several other bench players run through their own extravagant introductions while the other team goes through its pre-game introductions. It continues with Arenas jokingly telling Jameer Nelson that he and the starters got “locked down” by the Bench Mobb. The little competitive jab should make the team better.
But the overall lighter feeling should also be good for the team.
As Jameer Nelson told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “We need to be loose. We’re not a team where our makeup is to come out tight and intense. We stay loose and just be who we are.”
And so Arenas is going to help lighten the mood. The one thing about this Magic team that I observed before the trades was the joy was just gone. Gone was the infamous Magic Show. Gone was Dwight Howard’s constant game-playing (partly a conscious effort by himself). This was a serious team after that Eastern Conference Finals loss and it showed.
That may have been what was wrong with the old team. It was just too serious. When the joy is gone, this team tends to struggle. It is not in Dwight Howard’s persona.
It was a criticism of Orlando that carried throughout the 2009 and 2010 playoffs. We all remember the Sports Illustrated cover that asked if Dwight Howard could get serious for a moment.
Howard said at the beginning of the season he was going to take a much more serious approach to the season. He still does some of his postgame impersonations and gimmicks (it is who he is) but his on-court demeanor is very different. He does not do fun things in the huddle (like his dances) or crazy dunks before the game.
And some of that is a good thing. Howard is maturing as a leader and he has to continue to lead both by example and by words. He sets the tone for the whole team both on and off the court.
But he is also still only 25. Bringing in a veteran like Arenas helps loosen things up — and possibly provides a breath of fresh air to a locker room that appeared to have some problems with “stars” Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis not performing.
It is good the comedy is coming from somebody else so Howard can find that balance.
But the fun is definitely back. Watch Howard as the team gathers one final time before introductions end. He is not dancing like he used to, but the jokes in that huddle are back.
Don’t get it wrong, this team is focused on its goals. They are just going to have a little more fun while doing it.