by Lang Whitaker

When NBA Commissioner David Stern announced this week that Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton would both be suspended for the remainder of the NBA season, he noted that yes indeed, he was setting a precedent and sending a message.

“The issue here is not about the legal ownership and possession of guns, either in one’s home or elsewhere,” Stern said in a statement. “It is about possession of guns in the NBA workplace, which will not be tolerated.”

If this is where Stern wants to make a stand, nobody is going to challenge him on this, at least not publicly. Stern knew it would be nearly impossible to screw this up, to over-punish these players. And the players, at least thus far, seem to understand that at this point, it’s in their best interest to shut up and publicly take their medicine. For now.

What I’m curious to see is, what happens next?

The Wizards held a press conference after the suspension was announced, and as Michael Lee noted in the Washington Post…

There has been speculation that the Wizards would try to terminate Arenas’s deal under the “moral turpitude” clause in the Uniform Player Contract, but multiple sources claim that the team has not discussed that option — although it hadn’t been ruled out. In a news conference on Wednesday evening, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said, “We haven’t made any kind of decisions, but we are exploring all our options.”

Talking about keeping your options open!

“According to multiple sources, Lang Whitaker has not even discussed cheating on his wife — but it hasn’t been ruled out.”

The Wizards obviously are only certain about one thing: They’re not certain about anything. Two years ago they made a sizable, long-term commitment to Gilbert Arenas. The Washington Wizards organization, led by the very same team president Ernie Grunfeld quoted above, told Gilbert Arenas that they didn’t want him to play for any NBA team other than them. And that if Gilbert would commit to playing for them for the next six years, they’d pay him $125 million.

And you know what Gilbert did? He told the Wizards that was too much money: “I looked at like this: There is nothing I can do for my family with $127 million that I can’t do with $111 million. I mean, college is expensive but it ain’t that dang expensive. Now, we have room to add a piece. There is a window of opportunity for us. Adding key pieces leads to championships and that’s what we all want.”

But is that really what the Wizards want? In the years since then, the economy has gone to hell. Teams and corporations are looking to save dough left and right imposing layoffs, cutbacks, unpaid vacations.

Looking at it as purely a basketball decision, would a team want to get rid of a guy who’s still two years shy of 30 years old, who leads their team in points per game and assists per game? Of course not.

But as a financial decision, would a team in the midst of a recession want to get out of a contract where they owe about $80 million to a guy who hasn’t played like a franchise player? Of course they would.

The Wizards willingly entered into a deal with Gilbert Arenas, a deal that it’s now obvious wasn’t a very good one, at least as far as the Wizards are concerned. And now, at least it seems to me, the Wizards see a glimmer of light, a way to escape. If they can figure out some way to terminate his contract, they save $80 million. They’re not going to be any worse without him. If the Wizards can dump his deal, they basically get to hit the reset button on whatever that mess was they were trying to build there.

But that’s not how it’s supposed to work. If you’re an NBA team and your GM makes some bad moves, too bad! Nobody forced the Wizards to offer that contract to Gilbert Arenas. Certainly the Wizards had to be aware that at the very least, the Gilbert Arenas business wasn’t the most stable business to be in. But this was their choice, their decision. Nobody held a…wait, never mind.

Nobody is denying that Gilbert Arenas screwed up. Regardless of the particulars, regardless of the inconsistency of the punishment from the League, he brought a gun into the Wizards locker room. This is something you are not allowed to do. Yesterday David Stern told him what his punishment from the League will be. He’s already lost sponsors, lost fans, lost money. In a few weeks he’ll face a judge and face his punishment from the government.

Just like there are for Gilbert and Javaris right now, there are consequences for NBA teams that make dumb choices. Nobody seems totally sure of what might happen if the Wizards pursue having Gilbert’s contract terminated. The Warriors, you might recall, tried to have Latrell Sprewell’s contract tossed out on the same basis, that his behavior violated the morality clause in the contract. And a judge decided that whatever the vague “moral turpitude clause” means, you have to do something worse than choking your coach and throwing a punch at him.

If it comes down to it and I was sitting in judgment of Arenas v. Wizards, my ruling would be based more on common sense than the law, two things that aren’t always mutually exclusive. The Wizards seem to looking for a way out of a $111 million mistake they made by capitalizing on a mistake Gilbert made. But to me, your own dumb choices shouldn’t be erased by someone else’s dumb choices.

It’s what they taught us as kids: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Not even in the NBA.

• Also, don’t mess with David Stern.

• I was the guest this week on Blogs With Balls radio. Lots of talk about lots of stuff.

• And here’s this week’s internet segment from The Beat.

Also, just found out we’ll be doing a couple of broadcasts of The Beat live(!) from Dallas over All-Star Weekend. That should be fun. I’m going to rent one of these to wear.

• I’ve never really weighed in on this Paul Shirley guy. He was a below-average NBA player who couldn’t find a full-time gig with a team as a 12th man. He caught on briefly with the Phoenix Suns a few years ago and started blogging for their website during the Suns’ run through the Playoffs, and it was good stuff, compelling content about what was happening behind the scenes with the players and coaches. It also probably ended his run with the Suns, because nobody likes a narc.

And then he wrote this.

Shirley followed that up with what he titled A Reaction. In his “reaction,” he writes “it was not my intent to suggest that I don’t care about the fate of Haiti, or that I am not sympathetic to the people who make up the huge numbers and heartbreaking images we see flashed across our television and computer screens.”

Well, then maybe you shouldn’t have written all the things you just said you weren’t trying to say.

I don’t think Paul Shirley is a heartless person; I think Paul Shirley is just a maladroit writer. I saw so many people over the last two days, on Twitter and on various websites, saying Shirley should be beaten up, or harmed, or aborted, etcetera. And I just felt like people were going too far.

His column was reprehensible. I couldn’t have disagreed with it any more than I did. In fact, when I first read it, I read it twice because I was sure there was some irony or sarcasm or something in there that I was missing. But no, it was just bad.

And worse, according to Shirley, at least if we are to believe his “reaction,” he managed to offend a majority of people and still never effectively get his point across.

In his “reaction,” Shirley writes, “…my goal was to question the psychology of donating, the way we react to natural disasters and the nature of responsibility leading up to and immediately after those disasters. Regardless of the outcry that followed, I think I did those things.”

He did none of those things. After reading his columns, I still don’t know what Shirley thinks, and I’m still not sure why I should care about what Paul Shirley thinks about a tragic situation just a few miles from here.

But if what he mentioned really were his goals, then after reading the results of him trying — twice, no less — to get his points across and failing wildly, then he’s as clumsy a social commentator as he was a basketball player.

• Speaking of bad writing, will everyone out there who writes, or fancies themselves a writer, please read this. As the person who takes the initial stab at copy-editing every story that goes into SLAM, please, everyone, especially if you write for SLAM, please read it.

• Oh Greg Oden, how could you pose for a picture like this?!

(What, you were expecting some other kind of photo?)

Just saying.

• Sorry Vikings fans, but this was pretty funny.

• BTW, did you know LeBron is a Free Mason? Yeah, don’t think so.

• Gary Coleman’s mug shot is terrifying. Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, police officer!?

• Finally, want to know why I think NBA players are best athletes in sports? Because this guy is one of the best NFL prospects on the planet.

(Then again…)

• That’s it. Have a great weekend everybody.