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

Zero Sum Game

Can Gilbert Arenas get his groove back?

Now Gilbert sits back and watches from afar. He laughs at accusations of $10,000 trips to water parks and $100,000 wardrobes, and asks if Toys R Us even makes $60,000 toy train sets.

“What made it final this time was where I said, Who cares? Because I didn’t have an image to protect anymore. I was already a felon. Already got in trouble all last year. It’s not like I had this good guy image anymore. Throw black on black, basically. It’s already a black spot. Throw more black on it, it’s still black.” Gilbert Arenas

It’s a transformation for the usually very outspoken Arenas. But felony gun charges, an indefinite suspension and 30 days in a halfway house can do that to a player. As is well known by now, in late 2009, Arenas brought guns to the Verizon Center locker room. He eventually pleaded guilty to a felony of carrying an unlicensed pistol and was suspended for the rest of the season. Gilbert maintains the whole thing was a practical joke gone awry.

“You ever had someone say, ‘If you keep talking shit, I’ma slap you?’ And you’re like, Pshhh, do it? It’s one of those. I was the one saying, Do it. He said something and I’m like, ‘We’ll see.’ That’s where it was. You said you’re going to shoot me, so I want to see this happen. I was calling his bluff. That’s who I am.”

The same competitive edge that goaded Gilbert into a horrible situation off the court is what has transformed Gilbert into Agent Zero on the court. It made him invincible. It allowed him to see and complete passes other players wouldn’t even attempt, gave him the confidence to shoot 30-foot pull-up jumpers. But the gun incident did more than taint his reputation; it officially ended his mischievous Gazo the Pranksta persona and chipped away at his confidence.

“Yes, I regret it,” he says. “It made me docile. Instead of being this aggressive Great White Shark that’s always on attack, I’m the lazy one sitting at the bottom. I’m a bottom feeder. Over the summer, I had this mentality that I couldn’t be stopped. Then I walked into the arena for media day and I had my ‘work hard’ beard and it was like, Bam! I just lost it right there.

“I wasn’t competitive again. I left that building like, I don’t feel so tough anymore. When I broke, I broke, and everything was over when I broke. I broke at media day.”

After losing five of six games early in the season, Magic President Otis Smith felt as though they needed “a little bit more punch.” So he dealt away Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus to the Suns for Jason Richardson and Earl Clark, and in a separate deal, sent Rashard Lewis to Washington for Arenas.

The assumption is that Smith was doing Arenas—whom he’s known since Gil was drafted by the Golden State Warriors nine years ago—a favor. But with the way Gilbert was playing in the first half of the season for the Wizards and his known take-over ability and point/shooting guard duality, it seemed like a no-brainer. But besides a nine-game winning streak the moment he donned a pinstriped Magic jersey, at press time Gil had made only 34.4 percent of his overall shot attempts and just 26.4 of his three-point attempts. He was averaging 5.3 points and 2.7 assists.

Think back to the Gil of the past. A three-time All-Star. His deliberate work ethic and impressive skill set made him one of the most dynamic players on the court, while his pranks, humor and likeability made him one of the most charismatic players off the court. He scored at will, marking that with a career average of 21.5 ppg and 5.5 apg. He’s had three 50-point games, 26 40-plus-point games and topped all that with a 60-point game in ’06. Despite his diminishing stat line in Orlando, he was on his way to a pretty impressive year in Washington: 17.3 points, 5.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

Besides a dizzying array of footwear the blogs love, the Hibachi hasn’t really been fired up in Orlando. He dons a No. 1 now and the Zero went from being on the back of his jersey to a number in the box score. He may be helping the guys off the bench, but it’s obvious he’s struggling on a personal level.

“He hasn’t had a great opportunity to do all the things that he wants to do, but it’ll come with time,” center Dwight Howard says. “I think once his knee gets better, he’ll get better. He’s playing on one leg right now, so once he gets his other leg straight I think we’ll see a new Gilbert.”

But is it really his knee that’s holding him back? “If you gave me—hypothetically because I’m not going to get it anytime soon—if you gave me 38 minutes, I’d give you 25, 9 and 6 assists,” he says. “I had the same knee last year and I was averaging 22 and 7. I had this knee the beginning of the season and I was averaging 17, 7 and 6. It’s the same knee.”

He’s no longer playing 36-plus minutes a game. He isn’t the go-to guy anymore. And he’s definitely not putting up Agent Zero numbers.

“You know, I averaged 29 and that’s all people see, but I also had two other players that averaged 20 with me, so I did do a lot of passing. Part of my game is trying to get everybody involved and then I get aggressive,” he says. “I’m not playing the 38-to-42 minutes that I used to play where I could take my time, get everybody involved and still dominate. Right now I’m comfortable coming off the bench. Basketball is basketball. I may not have confidence in my shot, but Ryan, JJ, they have theirs and they know I’m looking for them when I get in.”

“I can play the game. It’s just right now I’m in a limited role. And if you see my production in that limited role, if we’re down, we’re going to be up. If we’re up, we’re going to be up further. If you look at any big game that we win, I’m in that stretch,” he says. “I guess people look at the numbers and not the production. As soon as I get here, we go on a nine-game winning streak. Ryan Anderson is all of a sudden playing basketball out of this world. Who’s finding him? Or JJ? Who’s finding these guys?

“But nobody really looks at that. It’s just the stat line.”

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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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