Gilbert Arenas, Wizards Still Connected
WASHINGTON -- Jason Richardson was the unlucky one in the Magic locker room. He was placed next to Gilbert Arenas, where a mass of media stood circled around an empty chair, waiting for the former face of the Wizards franchise to sit down, get dressed.
"Ah, man. No, no it's cool," Richardson insisted after struggling for room to get dressed. He understood the crowd.
"He's been here for a while," Richardson told FanHouse. "When his career is all said and done, this is where people will remember him at. This is where he had his glory days, his All-Star years. Some of the things he did on the court, I mean not many people could do."
Even if he wins a championship in Orlando?
"Of course, pretty much people will remember him for that," Richardson continued. "He'll definitely go out there and do his thing and play hard -- but he's going to be remembered for Washington. This is where he made his bread and butter, where he got paid the most at. He got two big contracts here."
That's one way to explain the fuss. As much as Arenas meant to the Wizards, the Wizards were a part of Arenas. At least before he was suspended last December, and became a pariah within the organization.
When Gilbert emerged, the chants started: "Agent Zero! Agent Zero!" ... and that was just new teammates Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson.
But his teammates also said Arenas did not talk about the return leading up to the game and Arenas didn't make a big deal about in his postgame comments.
"That went away a couple months ago," said Arenas, when asked if he was anxious about how he would be received. The crowd had mostly applause when he checked in late in the first quarter. "For that preseason game, that was the only thing I was anxious about."
Arenas had an OK night, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds and six assists in the reserve role he inhabits for Orlando. He didn't shoot the ball well (4-of-12 from the field), but Magic coach Stan Van Gundy lauded his defense in helping contain Wizards leading scorer Nick Young.
"I thought Gilbert, defensively, was fabulous," Van Gundy said. "I don't know how many times a coach has stood here and said that with him. But no, really, he was a guy, you know we stuck him on Nick Young and I thought he did a hell of a job of making it tough on Nick Young."
As Young's self-appointed mentor during his time in Washington, Arenas was neither surprised by nor impressed with that outcome. "I mean, I'm playing defense against somebody I taught every move to so it was pretty easy," he said.
"I got in Nick's head last week," Arenas added. "He never scores on me. He already knew what was going to happen. I didn't really do nothing different than I did in practice. He never scored in practice, I knew he wasn't going to score in the game."
Van Gundy mentioned that Arenas' energy level has improved recently. Look at his rebounding and defense Friday night as proof.
Arenas seems rejuvenated, happy for a fresh start away from the Wizards. He's excited to be in a playoff race again.
It was a far cry from the bearded, sullen Arenas from the Wizards' media day.
The Magic are hopeful this Arenas will, in time, return to form as a dynamic scoring threat as they make a push for the NBA Finals. Arenas is transitioning back onto the ball after starting the season alongside John Wall in Washington. Couple that with his move to the bench and it's a very strange situation for the three-time NBA All-Star.
But even if he turns it around, and even if the the Magic get past the Celtics, the Heat and the Lakers, Jason Richardson is right. When people think Arenas, they'll think of the Wizards.
"I know he was received very positively before the incident a year ago," Van Gundy said before Friday's game. "And your hope would always be that people would remember the good times, and the things he did to excite this city for a long time and not have that overshadowed by one incident. That's what I would hope."