But first, we decipher the real reasons Gilbert Arenas faked an injury.
Other Reasons Gilbert Arenas Faked an Injury
Gilbert Arenas pretended he was hurt Tuesday. He told reporters he did it to get young buck Nick Young a rare start and some extended shine in the preseason. But you should know better than to take Gil at face value at this point. Plus, he's a complicated dude, and surely considered a multitude of angles before taking the plunge.
After having studied Gil for years, we believe we have deciphered the other 10 reasons he faked an injury.
• To allow John Wall to rule. Tuesday was the Wizards' first preseason game in the Verizon Center, which means it was John Wall's first game in the Verizon Center as a Wizard. That's huge, and something fans should always be able to cherish. Agent Zero never knows when he will go Hibachi, and once it's happened, he can't turn it off. Better to be safe than sorry; better to remove all possibility Gil's long shadow would block everyone's view of the golden calf. (Of course, Arenas ended up overshadowing Wall by becoming an off-the-court story. Oh well.) When you consider the motive regarding Young and this suggested one regarding Wall, this becomes the most altruistic lie in NBA history. Flip Saunders should be giving Gil a bonus, not issuing him a fine.
• Ill-timed lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl. Gil hasn't played in D.C. in a while, and sometimes you forget why you don't eat at Ben's Chili Bowl on game day. I venture to say Arenas will never forget again. This story, of course, is too embarrassing; the Young thing is a convenient cover-up. Thank goodness that (unlike Javaris Crittenton) Young can actually play along.
• Enemy of Time. Players get old, they die, and they move on to die some more in someone else's jersey. Gil may be running ahead of schedule on this count -- he looked good last year, but there were still some kinks in his mind/body interface. But between his numerous injuries, and hulking contract, Arenas and D.C. are stuck with each other. Over in San Antonio, Tim Duncan's playing time has declined to keep him fresh; Shaquille O'Neal, back when he mattered, knew how to spare himself the grind. In short, if you matter, your team will sit you. This may be John Wall's team, but if Arenas wants to be recognized again as a key part of the franchise, or at least an eminence gris, this royal treatment -- the luxury of injury-at-will -- is the least he can expect.
• To mess with fans' heads. As if the Tom Gugliotta, Chris Webber and Michael Jordan eras weren't frightful enough, Gil sees fit to make Wizards fans as neurotic as possible. Luckily, D.C. is full of pragmatists, and the Wizards' fans are quick to put things into context. But eventually, they are going to have to really freak out at one of Arenas' pranks, if only because things can elevate and get out of hand quickly, as the Pick 1 Saga taught us.
• Action item in P.R. strategy to become a complete villain. That whole gun thing really hurt Gil's long campaign to be considered a superhero who happened to play basketball; even as a practical joke gone wrong, it was a bit outside the boundaries of what it known among hero circles as "good, clean fun." There's a reason Iceman gave up his sideshow hobby. Arenas takes the opposite tact, attempting to becoming the personification of a villain. And of course, just like always, that %$@#& LeBron did him one better.
• Change the tone in Washington. The locker room thing, not so funny. FINGER GUNZ, on the other hand, may have been distinctly stupid in the way it provoked the ire of David Stern. But boy, was it deeper than anyone gave it credit for. How does metaphor lose its innocence? Can a league judge a joke like a criminal act? Was this the last stand of Gilbert Arenas, individual? And, with Stern having pulled his punches after the initial incident, was he really going to act in a way that said whatever you do, it's how you repent that matters? Oh the injustice! We were instead launched into a Dark Ages of Gilbertology, with all interpretation tending toward run-of-the-mill "Arenas, the bad seed" or "Road to Redemption II: Stay on the Sidewalk." Well, your boy is back, with a vengeance. Go ahead and try and trace a straight line through this one, Stern. It'll go right back through your face. Ron Artest wishes had his this much critical theory on his side.
• Bought oversized check at party supply store, but it's taking up too much space in closet. The fake injury wasn't the real prank -- that was the set-up for the next move: presenting Flip Saunders with a giant check. Saunders bit right into the ploy by fining Arenas. Comedy gold is about to go down.
• Dared to by a crafty Nick Young. Never say Nick Young doesn't know what's crackin'. Sensing vulnerability in Gil, his basketball sensai, Young dared Arenas to fake an injury just to see if he could get away with it. Nick, of course, took advantage of the playing time opportunity that presented. Gil realized the some version of the truth would come out, and didn't want to look like a doofus, so he agreed to tell the lie revealed Wednesday. Well played, Nick Young.
• The T-Mac Factor. Guess what, everybody, Gilbert Arenas is acutely self-conscious. Not only in a twitchy, reactionary way, but also in shaping the way he's seen, and his career arc understood. He doesn't want to slink out of the league under a cloud of ignominy. Now, at this point, most sane people have lost track of all of Gil's injuries. Let's put it this way: If it turned out that he simply couldn't hack it anymore, within a few years, he would be remembered as a meteoric great who fell apart and then acted the fool when he couldn't cope. That's quite a story. Compare this with Tracy McGrady, who if he had hung up his sneakers a year or two ago would be remembered as the rightful heir to his hero, Penny Hardaway. Instead, he's only a step above Shaq's endless ring-chase and Allen Iverson's Middle Eastern road trip when it comes to 2010-11 basketball downers. Arenas's favorite player growing up? Penny.
Okay, so Penny did attempt multiple comebacks, even suggesting the Heat take him on this year, but his goose was so cooked that watching him try to play was like that movie Jack Frost, where the dad doesn't even look like himself for a while -- a snowman?!?!? -- and Henry Rollins is supposed to be friendly.
• Part of his long-distance mentorship of Rudy Fernandez. The disgruntled Blazer sought advice from Gil on how to really screw over his team. Arenas is a hands-on teacher, and provided a great example. Expect Rudy to wait for the regular season to fake an injury, though.
Give Me the Dang Ball, Says Roy
First, let it be known that we distinctly heart Brandon Roy. He's a smart, crafty player who has proven more athletic than expected, wise beyond his years, and other stuff like that. He may not be Kobe Bryant, but he's easily up there with Joe Johnson. However, Roy sometimes takes advantage of his immaculate reputation to say things that other players just couldn't get away with. Things that have implications for the whole Blazers team.
Take, for instance, these comments, via The Oregonian: "I want the ball a lot more ... I want to be maximized every game. That's a position that I'm strong with, with the basketball, and I'm extremely confident with it."
Okay, Roy's just being honest. He likes the ball in his hands. This was also an answer to a question about the team's preseason formlessness on offense, and Roy followed later with, "We're not really the type of team that plays loose. I don't play loose. I kind of need some plays, some organization there." So it's not a purely selfish statement.
However, it is a little goofy how Roy can put the squeeze on a harmless, and productive, point guard like Andre Miller (and now, again?), and verge closer and closer to being that kind of multi-skilled superstar scorer who likes to initiate everything. Am I reading too much into one simple sentence? Only if you haven't watched Roy play before, or paid attention to anything that's happened in Portland ever. Brandon Roy may be one of the top guards in this league, but he also happens to have some of the same attitudes about the game that make other SGs seem like egotistical jerks, or iso-crazy fools who don't know the game.
Neither of these things is true of Roy. But something has got to give. Either we start to acknowledge that he does have a nasty, impatient streak, one that can affect opponents and teams alike, or there's no such thing as a ball hog anymore. As positions start to dissolve, maybe Roy's remarks should simply be seen in that light. Regardless, try and imagine any other All-Star, and number one option who likes to cross his man over, saying this? Wouldn't they be crucified on sight? (BS)
The Works Season Previews: Chicago Bulls
Nobody has the entire National Basketball Association at his fingertips, and believe it or not, the brains of Msr. Ziller and Msr. Shoals are not connected by tape and electrical wire. To get prepped -- and pumped -- for the upcoming season, we will interrogate each about the darkest corners of this league. For each team, some questions. And for each question, some answers. Today, the Bulls.
BS: Luol Deng has been trade bait almost ever since he signed his contract. Has he been devalued past the point of no return? How did he have trade value if he's never really lived up to the expectations that came with his deal?
TZ: This is another case of "Kobe Bryant ruins everything." Deng's trade value precedes the monster contract, going back to the Great Ric Bucher Crisis of 2007. Luol played the bizarre role of being the player the Lakers wanted most in a Kobe trade but also being the Bull Bryant most wanted to play with, to the point where No. 8 (never forget) said he'd veto any trade in which Lu went to L.A.
That whole episode ruined those Bulls, and by extension Deng. But he was still good enough to command big dollars, mostly based off potential and a beautiful personality. If Chicago didn't give it, someone would have. Chicago did, and now he's seen as a burden, even though he's a damned fine small forward. Injuries haven't helped, and in terms of value, the prospect of LeBron James going to the Bulls certainly hurt the leaguewide perception of Deng as someone worth having.
This season can reverse it, though. New coach Tom Thibodeau should value Deng's defense as much as Scott Skiles used to, and a bolstered frontcourt (once Carlos Boozer comes back) should mean Luol can physically dominant opposing small forwards (LeBron and a few others excepted) instead of going over his head with the East's power forwards. By the deadline, other contenders might envy the Bulls for having Deng. Admittedly, I'm in the tank for Luol, and perhaps he's the holdover albatross keeping Chicago from becoming a well-oiled machine. But I doubt it.
BS: Getting Carlos Boozer was big, but the East is tougher than ever. Do the Bulls have a shot at being a top-tier team because of their own Big Three? Does the rest of their roster figure into your answer one way or the other?
TZ: Boozer was a huge upgrade; I don't mean that as a rip on Taj Gibson or, of course, Tyrus Thomas, more as a tribute to Boozer, a fantastic scorer. The Bulls ranked 27th in offensive efficiency last season. Between Boozer, Deng and Derrick Rose, there's little chance of that happening again. That alone boosts the Bulls from their 2009-10 status as borderline playoff team.
How strongly (and quickly) Boozer comes back and whether the other stars -- primarily Rose and Joakim Noah -- can stay healthy will decide if that boost means true contendership or becoming a Hawks North. The rest of the roster certainly matters, too; Ronnie Brewer plays a huge role, even if he'll be the fourth-leading scorer at best. Kyle Korver is a big deal, too, as the top designated shooter, and any backcourt injury could thrust C.J. Watson into a spotlight he never met with Golden State.
BS: Is Tom Thibodeau coming in with too much hype (DEFENSIVE GENIUS!), too little (only defense, smart assistants always flop), or just the right amount of fanfare? Whose role changes most under him?
TZ: If anything, Thibodeau will put too much pressure on himself versus wilting under outside hype. The guy is cranked up to 11 almost constantly (at least around game time); he's Stan Van Gundy with three extra undershirts. As a long-time Thibodeau admirer, I think the upgrade from Vinny Del Negro to Thibs has been undersold as an impact. That said, there's only so much a defensive genius can do for someone like Boozer or even Korver. The best thing Thibodeau can do is make the sort of violent, manic defense he brought to Boston an identity in Chicago. Noah's nearly there already, and Brewer, Rose and Deng can certainly buy in.
A concern could be that Doc Rivers was the buffer the Celtics needed from Thibodeau's pure-cane energy. I'd argue that's less a concern with the more low-key Bulls; Rose will be Thibodeau's biggest and most impactful challenge -- translating insane athleticism into great defense is a challenge. Just ask Josh Smith.
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.