I'm by no means comparing the Wizards front office to a totalitarian regime. Yet reading Michael Wilbon's latest Gilbert Arenas column in The Washington Post, I couldn't help but think of King's book:
[Is] Arenas so evil that all the merchandise bearing his name and number has to be pulled from Verizon Center? And from the NBA Store in New York? And from NBAStore.com, where you couldn't even customize a jersey and have Arenas's name on it? Is what he did so heinous his likeness has to be scrubbed off of every building in downtown Washington, like he's Al Capone?Sorry for the heavy blockquotes, but Wilbon's an ace, and this next passage was too good to resist:
[Don't] tell me we have to go as far as Sethi saying in "The Ten Commandments": "Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet. Stricken from every pylon and obelisk of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of man, for all time."The rest of the piece gets into the long-term effect this could have on the relationship between Arenas and the team if, shock of all shocks, no contract-voiding or mega-trade is in the cards. It's true, the team couldn't keep Gil as the centerpiece of its advertising efforts. But presumably, there are more gradual, subtle, or at least less splashy ways to make this common sense adjustment. We're talking about an organization that made sure news cameras were around in the middle of the day to capture the Verizon Center's being stripped of its monumental Arenas banner.
Say the Wizards are stuck with their demon-beast of a guard. I wonder exactly how the two sides end up on good terms again; it would seem to hinge on Arenas accepting the logic of this all-out eradication of his memory. The problem is, Gil's never been known for his cool-headedness, and for their part, the Wiz come out looking as flighty and harsh as Arenas at his worst.
Enough about Arenas, though. If the Wizards do manage to get rid of this most rank of evils -- purely hypothetical at this point -- and find a taker for Caron Butler or Antawn Jamison's contracts, they'll be in prime position to rebuild. Hooray! The problem is, their extreme reaction to the Arenas situation might not give them the most player-friendly reputation around the league. I know, it's all about the money, and maybe the chance to spend most of the year on South Beach. Let's be reasonable about it for a second, though. Washington reacted swiftly and in the least prudent way possible. In this, the organization was no less rash than Gil and his shenanigans.
What player is going to want to commit long-term to a team with that kind of blemish on its record? Who knows, maybe everyone assumes they'd never go the way of Gil. And yet somewhere, there must be a list of what teams are considered more player-friendly than others. For the moment, the Wiz must be fairly low on that list.
The only other option, then, is rebuilding through the draft, which leaves the new blood no choice but to sign in D.C. The best point of reference here is the Jailblazers, who were gradually disassembled as the front office stressed the importance of character. And then, a very smart GM made a point of drafting character guys who also happened to play a little ball -- don't forget, Chris Paul had a certain nut-punch going against him. That's the classic, and most stark, approach to rebuilding, but also the most time-consuming, risky, and without Kevin Pritchard or Geoff Petrie at the helm, a good way to end up with a decade of mediocrity.
Then again, it's even more rare that a team convinced of its own poisoned soul can gut a roster, reload with veterans of note, compete without missing much of a beat. When the Phoenix Suns were overrun with cocaine in the mid-eighties, they responded by dumping the ne'er do-wells, and coming back strong with Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, and Phoenix coaching retread Cotton Fitzsimmons. Okay, fine, they drafted Dan Majerle. And traded for K.J. Maybe the Wizards can pull that off. Still, anyone coming to a team with the slightest bit of NBA experience will have something to compare their new situation to, and may have heard the terrible tales of what happened when Arenas was excised from history.
So Ernie Grunfeld, this one's on you. You put all your money on Arenas, have rushed to try and repent, and now are stuck with trying to repair what might be an even more grievous error. Possibly even one that's turned D.C. into an anti-destination. History -- whatever that is -- isn't on your side. Not just because there exists a thing called karma, but because rebuilding, no matter what form it takes, is hard enough without a handicap. Especially if you aren't a Pritchard or Petrie. Then it's walking uphill, with fins instead of feet, under a sun that might take years to finally set.