February 16, 2011
Rashard Lewis(notes) was traded to the Washington Wizards this season, away from an Orlando Magic team that had won the Eastern Conference in 2009 and reached the Eastern Conference finals the year after. He was sent from a hopeful championship contender in Orlando to one of the league's worst teams, and had a front-row seat for a nearly record-long road losing streak as the young Wizards tried to find their way.
Gilbert Arenas(notes) was rescued from the boo birds and long memories of Wizards followers and sent to a championship setting in Orlando, leaving a Washington team that was going to miss the playoffs for the third straight season. He was given a warm climate to work in home games with the Magic -- something that he assures us helps his creaky knee -- and a chance to play deep into the postseason for the first time since his Wizards made it to the second round of the playoffs in 2005.
So why is Lewis smiling and Arenas kvetching?
The Washington Post's Michael Lee has a very good feature on the return of Lewis to Orlando, rife with nothing but good things coming out of Rashard's mouth about his time with the Magic and the trade that sent him to an NBA doghouse. Not only that, but Lewis' former teammates and coaches are falling all over themselves to fawn over him -- despite the stretch forward's inability to rebound, score in the post or shoot well enough from long range over the last two seasons to make up for his obvious shortcomings in other areas. All while working under a ridiculous six-year, $112 million deal. It's not Lewis' fault he was terribly overpaid, but his humility and good cheer are coming through in spades.
Arenas, however, is all grumbly. But it's not his knee's fault, or possibly his shot selection's fault. No, it's Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy's fault.
Still grappling with a diminished reserve role in Orlando, Arenas said that he isn't as pumped for this contest as he was when the Wizards used to play his first team, the Golden State Warriors. "It's not like the old days," Arenas said, cracking a smile. "If I was calling my own plays, it'd be exciting."
That's Lee giving Arenas not so much an out, but a way to reflect fondly on his days in Golden State, coming off the bench to wreak havoc at either guard spot. Then, to compare it to his new role in Orlando favorably. And apparently, in a bit of revisionist history, Arenas is pining for the days of Dave Cowens and Eric Musselman (the sort of coach, and I like Eric, who would call four plays per play).
Apparently, it's Stan Van Gundy's fault that Gilbert Arenas is shooting below 35 percent, takes over three 3-pointers a game despite playing limited minutes (and shooting a miserable 25 percent from long range) and that he's working a 69 percent clip from the free-throw stripe. It looks to me as if Gilbert is freelancing quite a bit off the Magic bench, going one-on-one a lot and looking to rely on referee calls to bail out his bad shots. But maybe it's SVG that is calling out those terrible moves. We're not in the huddle.
And because life always provides a Gallant just a few inches of newsprint away from a Goofus, here's Rashard Lewis:
"Good luck the rest of the season," Lewis continued. "Life goes on, you can't mope and pout. The Washington Wizards would be like, 'Why you sitting here crying? You better go get your butt out there and play basketball.' I've just got to go out there and play. It most definitely was a blow. I was most definitely upset. I loved playing here. At the same time, I got to keep on playing basketball and watch it with a positive attitude. If we can't win the NBA championship, the next team I want to win is Orlando. If the Washington Wizards can't win it this year, we'll let them have the trophy."
It really is a great read because the sharp contrasts between the players are so unsettling. Lewis wasn't living up to his contract, was banished to Washington as a result, and he's full of cheer. Arenas was similarly failing, he was banished to a team that he could put over the top, and yet he's pining for the days of Dave Cowens. Days that only exist in his own mind.
Should this be the last clue we have that tells us that it's finally time to stop hoping that Gilbert Arenas puts it all together? Most fans were hoping for a return to form in Orlando, playing in Penny Hardaway's shoes, fitting in on a team where he wouldn't be counted on to lead. And yet, somehow, he's gotten worse.
And, sadly, one gets the feeling that this could still get even worse.