Fare Thee Well, Gilbert -- Now, Beat It
Hopefully that goes for the rest of the Wizards' beaten-down fan base and the rest of the D.C. metropolitan area.
Oh, it was time for him to go, no doubt. And who knows how to answer a Magic fan or an Orlando resident asking, "So, what should we expect from this guy?'' Expect? No one could expect with certainty that the trade that seemed so inevitable 11 months ago would happen this week, much less anticipate anything produced by the over-fertile imagination of Gilbert, the self-proclaimed "goofball.''
Over a span of seven years, nobody expected this one-time second-round draft pick, entering the NBA seemingly too early after two seasons at Arizona, to tag himself "Agent Zero'' or "Hibachi,'' or make jersey-tossing a sacred ritual, or be the centerpiece of a downtrodden franchise ... or, for that matter, relieve himself in a teammate's sneaker, bring guns into the locker room as a "joke,'' then push the humor meter further with the most infamous pregame huddle routine in league history.
Arenas is an original, in the NBA, in sports and in life. And as he approaches his 29th birthday in three weeks (and joins his third, and by far best, organization), it's still not crystal clear whether that originality is for better or worse, for him, his team and the league.
Honestly, though, most of the locals who have ridden the Gilbert rollercoaster are likely in agreement on this: they are grateful for what he was and what he did as a Wizard and hope he figures it all out in Orlando. Not many will be mad if he and his game are the perfect fit there, he settles into his role, and wins the way he came perilously close to winning in Washington.
It's already been forgotten by many that his best four seasons as a Wizard -- when he was a three-time All-Star, a four-time participant in the playoffs, endless creator of signature moments and marketing gold for the team and the league -- constitute the only four truly relevant seasons the franchise has had since it won the 1978 NBA title while still called the Bullets and still housed in the suburbs.
In light of what has happened only since this time last season, when the fateful card-game dispute with Javaris Crittenton took place on the Wizards charter, it seems like that last playoff season was a lot longer than three seasons ago. But they actually won a playoff series, sparked by an unforgettable Arenas game-winner in Chicago, and in subsequent postseasons did a respectable job as a sharp pebble in the shoes of LeBron James and his Cavaliers.
Arenas' antics since last December overrode everything that happened when he was at his peak. They continued right up into this past preseason, when he showed up in a new guise, Serious Gilbert, complete with monkish beard -- only to shed both the whiskers and the persona when he faked an injured knee (that body part being the one that underwent three surgeries in two years and had caused everybody in and near the franchise constant angst) just so teammate Nick Young could get a cherished home-court exhibition start. This, not long after telling reporters that it was his fate to show the new franchise cornerstone, No. 1 overall pick John Wall, the ropes, "and then ... move on.''
That reverberating "smack'' heard was million of capital-area palms connecting with foreheads, and the official expiration to its patience with Arenas. New owner Ted Leonsis might have embraced him throughout his post-NBA suspension image rehabilitation, but in the end, Arenas made it too hard to everybody else to re-embrace him. It was an uphill battle anyway, with the bridges he so charmingly had built going up in flames with every act and utterance last winter. (Imagine, just weeks after the death of the previous owner who had changed the team's name as a statement against gun violence, and Arenas takes pistols into the locker room as a supposed prank.) But at that point it quickly became unworthy of the effort, no matter how well he played.
The core of the playoff team of which he was the engine -- Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, mostly -- had been disassembled long ago. Injuries aside, Wall has not disappointed. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that as much as everyone talked of playing nice, no one truly saw the Wizards achieving closure to one era of their history and striding into the next until the Arenas divorce became final.
That Grunfeld lasted nearly 10 minutes into his press conference Saturday before uttering the phrase "fresh start'' might have been the biggest surprise of the night. The most subversively amusing part, though, was when he elaborated on that by pointing out that only three players from the "incident'' last season remain: Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. They can be identified in that order from left to right in the circle around Arenas as he pointed the "finger guns'' in Philadelphia last January.
They might be part of the rebuilding, as might Rashard Lewis, the return from Orlando for Arenas. Or they might not. The odds are better that Arenas is in a better place than the one he left in shambles, if for no other reason that what he does well will help a lot, and what is so maddening will not damage as much.
Just as Arenas was by far the biggest reason the Wizards rose from the ashes in the mid-2000s, he is the main reason they are in ashes today. It's impossible to track the path of this franchise without acknowledging both.
The guy who sold scores of No. 0 jerseys in Washington and beyond, but who also had those jerseys yanked unceremoniously out of the team store and off the website the day he was suspended ... he is gone from these parts.
Don't feel guilty about having as strong an urge to tell him "farewell'' as "good riddance.''