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Monday, April 25th, 2011 at 3:04 pm  |  13 responses

Zero Sum Game

Can Gilbert Arenas get his groove back?

Originally published in SLAM 148

by Nada Taha

At first glance, you won’t notice anything peculiar about Gilbert Arenas. The artist formerly known as Agent Zero, once best known for his hilarious blog and endearing off-court hobbies, today is known mostly for being, well…just being. Formerly a Wizard, now a member of the Orlando Magic, when you see Arenas in the locker room, nothing jumps out. But then he lifts up his pants cuff and you get a glimpse of what’s beneath the surface: Funky socks have become a staple of his outfits. He’s a closet Craig Sager—polka dots, stripes, weird colors. It’s a direct correlation to his personality. He tells you what you want to hear on the surface, but he’s hiding a little bit of himself underneath.

Gilbert Arenas practices twice a day, every day. When he’s not at home playing video games or watching Modern Family or Jack Bauer in 24, he’s playing basketball. His arthritic knee is a hindrance, but what he’s really struggling with is beating the assumption that he’s never going to return to his career form.

“Sometimes you just have to put your best players on the court,” he says.

“Do you think you’re the best?” he’s asked.

Without hesitation, he answers, “Yes.”

With the coach’s confidence and the right opportunity, Gil says he can be an All-Star again. He also thinks he can be the X-factor for the Magic this postseason. “If I’m played right, I could be,” he says. “I’m still dominant. You’ll have one of the most dominant players coming off the bench, but you have to use him.”

According to Gilbert, for him to play like Agent Zero, he needs more minutes.

“I’m never getting the touch or feel of the game of basketball. Most guys that come in as a backup, you’re coming in and just managing the game. Don’t do anything stupid,” he says. “He’s (Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy) told me to be aggressive, but still…this is how I felt. At one point it’s like, once I get out there, I know I have this short window. I can’t be mediocre; I have to be great in this seven-minute span. So I’m going out there and if I don’t make my shot, I’m like, Ahhh, I can’t shoot anymore. If I miss another one then it’s two missed shots.’

“I’m sitting there thinking, OK, don’t make any mistakes because any mistake could get you subbed quicker. So now I’m not being aggressive, I’m being passive, so I’m basically just out there, so he subs me even faster. It’s like a little circle.”

Van Gundy notes that in trying to spark Jameer Nelson, Arenas has been left searching for his groove. “The other decision we made after the All-Star break was that the guy we really needed to get going was Jameer,” says SVG. “That became my number one priority, so I want to pick up his minutes even more from where they are, so that makes it tougher on Gilbert. I understand the challenges he has, that’s why I’m not disappointed in him, I’m not upset at him. There’s nothing against him, he’s just in a situation right now where more minutes would make it better for him. But he’s got to pick up his efficiency in the minutes he’s getting and that’s not an easy thing.”

What may not be obvious is the turmoil going on in Gilbert’s head. He thinks he’s the best. He wants to be out on the court in the last five minutes of the game. He knows what he’s capable of. But he also knows he can’t “fuck this up.” Gilbert’s mentality works differently than most players, he says. It’s not easy for a competitive mind like his to sit on the sidelines, take a step back and watch from afar.

“I think two, three steps ahead of everyone else. I basically play chess on the basketball court in the last five minutes,” he says. “I’m a nervous wreck on the bench (during the last five minutes of the game). I just try to visualize what I would do. That’s just how I do it.”

The problem is, he won’t be getting those minutes he wants anytime soon. And, in turn, the Magic won’t be getting the production they need from Gil anytime soon. He may say he leaves his problems off the court, but they followed him to media day and were sitting first class with him on his flight to Orlando.

“Most players can come in, bring their personality and try to be dominant, and I feel I can’t,” he says. “I feel I have a short leash because of my past.”

It’s not uncommon for NBA players to have some of their most intimate issues—from marital problems to custody battles—splashed across the internet and newspapers. Of course, in the ever-eccentric world of Gilbert Arenas, there are halftime subpoenas and allegations of $60,000 train sets and dead sharks. His nine-year, on-and-off, unconventional romance with his ex-wife was shaky to say the least.

“[She] tried to make everyone believe that I’m a bad father. The stuff you said is always in the paper and one day when my kids grow up, they’re going to ask me about this,” he says. “It’s weird because if you read everything she’s said, I’m this bad father that leaves them for dead, but on this end I’m a father who spends all this money on his kids. Well, pick one.”

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  • All Day

    Arenas will never be the player he used to be, because no team will play him enough minutes to prove he can be that player again. Arenas also has an arthritic knee and usually the condition of an arthritic knees never gets better, it only gets worse. I wish you the best Gil, but your days as Agent Zero and Hibachi are over, bro!

  • All Day

    I see what Gilbert is going through with Orlando and it reminds me of what B-Roy is going through with Portland.

  • http://pickandroll.tumblr.com airs

    come back, hibachi!

  • D12FSU

    he showed flashes last night. 20 points, a couple of somewhat acrobatic layups, and an off balanced 3. This offseason will be huge for Gil, hope he comes back next season 100%

  • Mike

    Orlando aint doing anything until they realize that Jameer Nelson is not a starting point guard. They ruined Vinces career and now they are doing the same with Gilbert. If you acquire a guy who you want to score and do multiple things, should you not allow them to at least get the minutes and touches to do what you want them to do? Hope they are happy letting jameer and dwight shoot them out of the playoffs.

  • ugly_fish

    Co-sign Mike… SVG and the Magic system did ruin VC and now Gilbert’s career. Vince and Gilbert need the ball in their hands to be effective.
    Jameer needs to play that Derek Fisher role of being the secondary ball-handler/ spot up shooter in the half-court set and let Dwight and Gilbert (and VC when he was there) play that Shaq and Kobe style.

  • bball

    Gilbert was never married. Ex-fiance not wife. Huge difference.

  • D12FSU

    @mike and ugly_fish…thatd be great and all, if gilbert isnt missing every other game with bum knees, and if he could jump or get by anyone. And with Vince, they tried playing through him when he first arrived, he differed to other players too much cause he wanted to fit in, and when it came to crunch time, he couldnt deliver. Why? Theyre both old, Its easy to say they should be doing all these things, but theyre physically unable. Jameer and Dwight are in their primes. And you both clearly dont watch any magic games unless its playoffs, otherwise you would know that Nelson is our second most…and really second best player.

  • al

    where the fukc is nick anderson when you need him?!?@?

  • IAMORANGE4EVER

    So between the Grizzlies and Hawks, which one is likely to choke a 3-1 series lead away in the first round, as the Lakers did in the 2006 Playoffs versus the Suns? Grizzlies, Hawks, or both? I say it’ll be the Grizzlies.

  • JL

    i’m not sure what is up with jameer. he had that one year where he shot 50% which was an aberration, but other than that he sucks. somehow he is stuck as the starter. VC and Arena’s aren’t that good anymore, but jameer definitely isn’t a championship starter (at least consistently. that team is a good fantasy team. whole bunch of guys who can score but all need the ball. not many who play defense tho. who they got. howard and….???

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    Gilbert Arenas DOES NOT GET IT.

  • TMACxGILBERT

    @D12FSU you idiot how is Gilbert old? hes 29. He’s still in his prime basketball stages

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