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Gilbert Arenas runs.

Sep 15, 2010, 11:00 AM EDT

gilbert_arenas.jpgA scrapbook of last season will not be found on Gilbert Arenas’ coffee table. The games Arenas didn’t play were marked by endless criticism, judgment, and legal trouble. Those that he did were plagued by inefficient scoring, disinterested defense, and team-wide disappointment. There were few moments, if any, fit for the refrigerator, as Arenas’ (and the Wizards’) ’09-’10 season was a failure in almost every regard.

Things have changed. John Wall has a tendency to bring everyone’s attention to the front of the room, far away from the dark hallway they used to enter it. Wall’s arrival, combined with Ted Leonsis’ enthusiasm and a fair amount of roster turnover, has Wizards fans looking anywhere but behind them, regardless of how miserable last season was for the franchise and its followers.

Wall’s great hope doesn’t heal all wounds, though. Forget about the locker room nightmare, finger guns, and the aftermath of it all if you will, but even casting a blind eye to those events doesn’t make Arenas the player he used to be. The Gilbert we saw in 32 games for the Wiz last year was undeniably different than the one who tore up the league from 2004-2007, at least in part because of Arenas’ multiple knee surgeries.

Not that all blame can be placed on his bum knee. Gil’s ineffectiveness went far beyond his slower first step or his hindered lift. The difference in Gilberts new and old isn’t the easiest thing to fully explain, but to see Arenas on the court last season was to see a knock-off of the Agent Zero original; he may look basically the same and fulfill the same basic functions, but he’ll never have the same grandeur.

That is, unless the knee really is somehow the key to all of Arenas’ troubles. Maybe a healthier Gilbert is a happier Gilbert? And a happier Gilbert a transcendent one? It’s worth a moment’s thought, improbable though it may be.

If somehow that is the case, then Michael Lee of the Washington Post comes bearing good news:

Seemingly taking a cue from Mike Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth, Flip Saunders is requiring every player to pass a conditioning exam before participating in training camp in two weeks. Saunders wants the Wizards to be a running team next season, so he is making his players run four sets of 10 full-court sprints, with 2 ½ minute breaks between each set. Guards have to complete each set in an average aggregate time of 57 seconds.

Arenas may have been less than enthusiastic about playing for the Wizards several months ago, but guess who was the first player to complete the conditioning exam? Yep, Arenas. According to a league source, he finished the first set in 42 seconds.

In all likelihood, Lee’s report doesn’t mean all that much. The problem was never that Arenas was too slow to be effective in the NBA at all, just that the speed taken by multiple knee surgeries prevented him from ever matching his own high-scoring standards. Still, it’s good to know that Gil is in something resembling basketball shape, and that his knee doesn’t limit him from acing Saunders’ test.

It seems unlikely that we’ll see Gilbert perform at an elite level ever again. That’s the threshold through which Arenas can’t return. He can still bounce back from his poor decision-making, even if his locker-room-gag-gone-wrong will forever haunt his Wikipedia page. That much can be pushed aside, provided he can be valuable on the court once again.

Perhaps Arenas’ knee is better than ever, and his new role alongside John Wall is ideal for his talents. That would be wonderful. A re-imagined Arenas could (and likely will) do a lot of good for the Wizards this coming season, and for the franchise as a whole. Yet there’s still a tombstone marked ‘Hibachi,’ or ‘Agent Zero,’ or whichever of his many monikers you prefer, standing to signify the end of the player we once knew.

  1. Shock Exchange - Sep 15, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    In the 1970’s the NBA was considered drug infested and “too black” to ever go from a niche sport and crossover into the mainstream. Somewhere former NBA commissioner, Simon Gourdine, must be shaking his head that today’s players (i) don’t know the leagues history and (ii) seem too willing to jeopardize the gains made by Bird, Magic, Jordan, etc. —-> http://clicky.me/7lz

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