It's just about everyone's worst nightmare squared. John Wall, who combines the derring-do of LeBron James with the pure point vogue of Chris Paul or Deron Williams, ends up in the hands of the Washington Wizards -- and alongside gun-totin', gaff-spoutin', ball-hoggin', possibly washed-up Gilbert Arenas. A league exile who, as far as I could tell, wasn't even once mentioned by name during Tuesday's telecast, even though his presence was the main twist on Washington's top draw.
Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and yes, Wall, go for theirs, but do so responsibly, with an eye toward shifting around teammates and orchestrating a possession. Arenas, or whatever remains of him when he emerges from a long suspension, numerous knee issues and a frenetic workout regimen that might do more harm than good, is the last combo guard standing.
He was never as unrepentant as Allen Iverson or Steve Francis. But he likes having the ball in his hands, no matter how aimlessly, and can't help but shoot. He gives up the ball as a matter of course -- even if he frequently puts it in the right place. Then again, so did Stephon Marbury.
It's Wall's team now, yet Gil's leaden contract artificially foregrounds him in all Wizards discussions. Things would be easier if Gil would simply vanish or retire. The team would still love to move him over the summer, though it's unlikely. Going into 2010-11, John Wall will be DC's organizing principle. The problem is, Arenas is still there, and a healthy Arenas is too talented to ignore, too fractious to try and suppress.
If you'll allow me to slip into something more casual, this isn't fair to either player. Some people have suggested that Wall's post-lottery statements sounded like a kid not at all enthused about his new home. Nope, that's just how the dude communicates with the press. Him and Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose. The pattern is obvious, the microchip's discovery all but inevitable one of these days.
Wall's not about to get done like Jay Williams in Chicago; we'll know very soon what the team plans to do, and rest assured, they'll be focused on moving ahead, not getting mired in controversy. Still, it's not quite the wide-open canvas that would have been the best fit for the emerging, and perhaps premature, superstar. But whatever, Kevin Durant's rookie year happened under the sign of an ugly relocation. Lottery teams didn't get there by being five-star resorts.
The real drag here will be Arenas fighting, or fighting to hang on to, his pride -- if not just his credibility. I've been a John Wall fanatic since his high school days; I think he was both served well and kept under wraps in Kentucky. He will quite simply destroy the planet in an NBA offense, a thoroughly original combination of Rondo and Dwyane Wade.
Arenas, on the other hand, is a holdover from a previous era. He's also, oddly, the franchise player of a version of the Wizards that have been torn to the ground. Yet somehow, he's left standing. It would be like if everyone but the President were killed in a nuclear attack. Patience with him and public goodwill are low. Yes, fans will warm to Gil again, but not if he stands in the way of the John Wall Era.
Put it bleakly as "Gil and Wall battling for the PG position," and nothing but disaster beckons. Wall can't provide the long-range heroics that made Gil such a beloved, colorful figure. Other than that, though, his style is far more suited to playing with a team, especially one heavy with vague, if still promising, prospects. Andray Blatche's arrival on the scene had more to do with the Antawn Jamison trade than any "ball moves better without star guard" truism. Still, Wall is without a doubt the player to keep Blatche relevant rather than demote him back to the shadows. Anyone who watched the 2007-08 New Orleans Hornets can tell you that sometimes, a preternatural point guard with an athletic cast can take you to far-off, magical places.
Here's one scenario: Arenas can't play traditional off-guard due to size and defensive constraints, and that sends him to the bench, presumably sulking. It's a particularly ignominious, even wretched, end for a player who never seemed to deserve it.
Marbury, he was a bad seed. Gil just wanted to have fun, and we all loved him for it. Now, he's damaged goods, without a position, giving way to bigger and better as he clogs up future plans with his cap figure. He'll turn scapegoat really fast, and Gil being Gil, who knows what happens when the whole world really does turn against him? That's a hard thing to forecast for one of your favorite NBA players ever.
Wait, though, there is yet some hope. When I hit up Jack Kogod, better known as Unsilent Majority, to congratulate him on the big win, he had no time for my pessimism. Here's what he told me, repeated to Ball Don't Lie:
Point taken, even if it sounds like the ravings of long-suffering DC fan whose team just won the lottery (funny how that phrase actually works in this case). But Kogod then went on to invoke the Arenas/Larry Hughes backcourt of 2004-05, an organic partnership where both handled the ball, penetrated, and focused on getting themselves in position for their jumper of choice (Hughes, mid-range; Gil, 58-footer), usually on the break. Perhaps that's way too rosy an outlook.I don't want to hear people's doubts about the viability of an Arenas/Wall backcourt. Just throw them out there with three teammates and a ball and let me enjoy it.
That was a lifetime ago for Arenas, and Wall is far more a pure point than Hughes. In other words, there's no necessity to yield invention here. Cue the slippery slope about how both guys need the ball in their hands. Except we are also living in the era of dual-PG arrangements, which arguably moves things in the other direction. Everyone and their moms is waiting to see if Paul/Darren Collison can work; the Bucks made the playoffs with Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour in tandem.
Yes, I tell myself, Arenas can change, this could work. He'll play off the ball, ceding some responsibility as he did with Hughes; Wall gets to control things as promised.
Yet there are so many contingencies in there, it's almost worse than assuming the worst. After all, Arenas is the mortal enemy of certainty and stability -- you simply never know what you're getting from him. To his credit, Gil works his tail off and woodsheds like crazy. You can easily imagine him heading into the season with plans to make good on this partnership. That is, until the questions start, his performances fall under scrutiny during a transitional period, and the hyper self-conscious Arenas ends up short-circuited, acting out.
Whatever happens in the end, one thing's true. The contrast between all the good that John Wall portends, and the minefield of sadness that stands between Arenas (and his fans) and a real future with the Wizards, makes this pick more than a little bittersweet.