The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Stick Of Ban’d

Stern puts the boots in, Gilbert done for year

A few last musings on this situation….

So let’s review: he’s a convicted felon with a history of major knee injuries, who hasn’t played a full season in three years (47 games total in that span) is coming off of one of the longer suspensions in league history for a gun crime, and is anchored in place by a ginormocolossal contract with years to run and tens of millions of dollars still to be paid on it. I once again rest my case that he is the least desirable NBA property out there. Someone will take him eventually, I’m sure, as the NBA is nothing if not a museum of perpetually optimistic suckers; but who? And WHY? is there even a destination which makes sense? Arenas never had the talent to be a #1 guy in the league in the sense of someone who could be the best player on a championship team, and what talent he did have has been partially sapped by his long struggles with injuries. His biggest selling point was as a charismatic star for a team with no ambition, good enough to keep the team OK and marketable enough to keep seats full of asses. But how marketable is he now after this situation? You can say Allen Iverson for a positive comparison, but Iverson A) got his team to the finals once and B) was healthy all the time and C) never got suspended for most of a season and D) was a unique and exciting player to watch in a way Arenas isn’t and E) never handled himself in this embarrassing a fashion and F) managed to make himself an institution in the city where he spent most of his career and now plays once again. And despite all that, he still barely found a place to play this season after one bad year. Arenas has already changed teams once, by all accounts wants out of Washington, and has spent most of the last three years in that city as an injury report rumor. It’s doubtful they’ll exactly bend over backwards to keep him or do him any favors, and with so many issues clouding his future it’s hard to see where, if anywhere, he really fits.

So what’s the endgame? Buried in ESPN’s reporting but not yet highlighted is the idea that the leading proponent of buying out or voiding Arenas’s contract might be… Arenas. It would be a massive gamble, but when you think about it it’s not actually that crazy in some respects. The bridges are burnt in DC, and drawing this thing out for months and months and months while the Wizards try to get some kind of value is of minimal benefit to both sides. By backing a contract void (or more likely accepting a low-percentage buyout), Arenas rehabs his image and rebuilds his marketability in part; and then he’s loosed into a free agent market with more money stored up by desperate teams than any other in recent memory. It’s a virtual guarantee of someone wildly overpaying him (early guess: the Nets, because what else is left to screw up?) and would lock him into a contract again before the CBA expires and the league is swallowed by the dread wolf Fenrir. He likely would lose some money on this path, but at this point he’s just choosing between bad options- if this one costs a few more dollars, it may help save his sense by reducing the amount of BS he’ll have to firewalk through on his way to his next team, wherever that is.

There is one major drawback: For Arenas to make back a reasonable portion of his old contract in the short term, he’ll have to play the same role for his next club: seat-filling crypto-star on a bad team. The trouble is that at this point in his career his best role is pretty clearly as a secondary star, something like a Vince Carter in Orlando. If Arenas was willing to take a lesser contract to fill that role for, say, Cleveland, he could have an excellent run over the next few years which would go a hell of a long way towards reestablishing his name and reputation within the game. In fact, it might even be possible for him to do so for 3 years, prove that his knee still functions, and cash in at a decent level one more time with a last major contract at age 31. Grabbing at what’s available in the short term might net him more money up front, but if he ends up as the bargain-basement “dear God, we need a name…sign anyone!” Plan-Z free agent option for the (Knicks, Nets, Bulls, etc.) and spends the following 3-5 years failing miserably and acting like, well, like he acted in Washington, chances are that it’s for him in the NBA- guaranteed it is if his knee goes sideways one more time. NBA GMs are dreamers as a rule; they love to talk about upside, potential, the ceiling of a player- they love to imagine what can be, and they love to sell that to their customers. It’s a bit of a necessity in a league which is less forgiving than any other in terms of determining who the best really is. Arenas has profited handsomely from that tendency in the past, as few players possess his sort of “can drop 50 on anyone” scoring explosiveness. GMs need something to hang those dreams on though, and right now pretty much all the things of which NBA dreams can be made are negatives for Arenas- health, character, age, history of being on winning teams, etc. It’s easier to imagine how much of a problem Gilbert can be than how much he can add to a team.

That’s the thing about the league: as with many things in life, reputation matters. Not in a nebulous way, but in a hard and concrete dollars-on-the-table sort of way. Research has been done which has shown that for equal production players drafted higher have consistently longer and better-paid careers than players drafted lower; it’s well known that most GMs and coaches would rather fill out the back ends of their rosters with players they like and can trust than slightly more talented n’er-do-wells; and there are few better things a player can do to enhance their market value, rightly or wrongly, than be part of a winning team. Arenas for much of his career has bucked that trend, riding pure talent to the 17th highest salary in the league this year despite being a crazy-go-nuts former 2nd round pick who’s only made it into the playoffs 3 times in 9 seasons and out of the first round once. But with circumstances and choices letting the air out of his balloon, Arenas is starting to find out in more ways than one that the rules which apply to others- even other professional athletes- now apply to him as well. Personally I’m hoping to see him suited up opening day of next year as a wingman for one of the NBA’s biggest stars, kicking off phase two of his career on the right foot; but I kind of expect I’ll be reading about how he scored 27 on 10-26 shooting in a loss for one of the league’s sad sacks. Here’s to being surprised.

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January 28, 2010 - Posted by | Other NBA

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