Gilbert Arenas slowly returning to health, still far from 'Agent Zero'
Gilbert Arenas had to rehabilitate both his knee and his image coming into this year, and through the first month or so of the season, he has been relatively successful at both.
Despite constant rumors that the Washington Wizards were (and are) actively shopping him around the league for players such as Orlando’s Vince Carter or Detroit’s Rip Hamilton, Arenas has remained focused on the task at hand.
He has stepped in admirably in place of John Wall, who has dealt with injuries early in his rookie year, and shown glimpses of the player he once was, posting 19 points and 16 assists against Detroit on Nov. 21 and a season-high 31 points against Orlando on Nov. 27.
Games such as those are promising signs, but they are scattered in with poor games, proving that this is not the ‘Agent Zero’ of old. He is averaging just 17.3 points per game — a number that seems light years from the 29.3 points he averaged during the 2005-06 season — and 1-of-10 nights from the field like the one Dec. 1 against the Toronto Raptors won’t stop the whispers about his future. He is also shooting just 38.1 percent this season from the field, the second-lowest percentage of his career behind the 26.1 percent he posted during the 2006-07 season — a season in which he appeared in just two games.
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Despite his struggles however, Arenas is being a good soldier for the 5-12 Wizards, working hard and accepting his diminished role, as his situation in Washington slowly works itself to some sort of resolution.
As far as maturity goes, he is still a work in progress. After serving 30 days in a halfway house for bringing guns into the locker room last season, he had been quietly rehabbing his image, staying out of the media’s bright glare in hopes of letting his play do his talking this season. Then during the preseason, Arenas faked an injury to allow teammate Nick Young the chance to start and play big minutes.
Arenas’ motives may have been noble, as he simply wanted to help a teammate whom he felt was not getting an opportunity to prove himself, but in doing so, he broke the trust in the locker room and once again dealt his public perception a blow.
But beyond that incident, Arenas has been more quiet and reserved this season. His interactions with people and the media have been more measured as he tries not to make waves, and he appears more like a veteran ballplayer than a scrappy youngster working to carve out a niche in the league.
For most players, that can be taken as a positive. For Arenas, it is anything but.
Arenas made a name for himself as an underdog and free spirit. He wore the number “0” on his jersey because that is how many minutes people said he would play at the University of Arizona. He vowed to score 50 points against Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns and Nate McMillan’s Portland Trail Blazers as retribution after he was cut from the 2006 U.S. FIBA World Championship roster — and did score 54 against Phoenix. Between that, throwing his jersey into the stands after every game, and shouting “Hibachi” as he went on a hot streak, Arenas was someone fans could relate to. He was a person who had lived a hardscrabble life and had persevered, smiling the whole way through.
That was the Gilbert Arenas everyone knew and rooted for. This Gilbert Arenas doesn’t even compare.
Now he must find a way to rekindle that dynamic personality he once had and incorporate his infectious enthusiasm for both the game of basketball and life itself with the wiser person who emerged from the halfway house earlier this year. He must find a way to bridge that gap between goofball and grown-up — similar to what Shaquille O’Neal has done — in order to regain the magic that he had just a few seasons back.
His knee may never allow him to be ‘Agent Zero’ again, dominating opposing teams with an array of moves and unlimited range that made him one of the top players in the league, but he can still be an 18-to-20 point player capable of exploding on any given night.
At the very least, Arenas can lead this young Wizards team as its veteran presence and provide Wall with a good example of how an NBA player should comport himself both on and off the court.
But he will struggle with all of that until he completes the rehab of the trait that is most vital to his success — his smile.
By: Eric Lorenz
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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