Arenas hoping Agent Zero can save Wizards
As the losses pile up and the critics grow louder, Gilbert Arenas(notes) knows what must be done to make the Washington Wizards a winner. He needs his swagger back. He needs his ruthlessness.
He needs to become … Agent Zero.
The 40-point games, the big shots, the cockiness – Arenas needs it all. After Arenas spent the previous two seasons recovering from three operations on his left knee, there was some thought that if he tamed his game, the Wizards would enjoy more success. That hasn't happened.
Nearly two months into the season, Washington is one of the NBA's most disappointing teams and certainly its least cost-efficient. Given a payroll that exceeds $79 million – and a new coach (Flip Saunders) with a four-year, $18 million contract – the Wizards entered the weekend with only seven wins.
What's missing? Arenas says Agent Zero, that's who. The question everyone is asking is whether Arenas can transform into his alter ego, whether he still has the ability to become one of the league's most dominant stars.
"My mind is not in killer mode," Arenas told Yahoo! Sports. "I haven't thought killer in two years. It's like I've been laid off. It's like getting an assassin, putting him in a box and making him watch TV. He can't go back to straight killing. Now he has a conscience. Before, I didn't.
"I just got to play. Play, play, play and get frustrated on the court."
Arenas thinks he's working his way back to that level. Before his knee problems, he averaged more than 25 points and six assists through three straight seasons with the Wizards. He scored a franchise-record 60 points against the Los Angeles Lakers. He hung 44 on the Cleveland Cavaliers during a playoff game. Even then, however, the Wizards advanced no farther than the postseason's second round.
After Washington won 43 games with Arenas sidelined for most of the 2007-08 season, some people wondered whether the team would be better if he scaled back his scoring to allow co-stars Antawn Jamison(notes) and Caron Butler(notes) to enhance their roles. Others thought the Wizards might be wise to trade Arenas or let him walk in free agency.
Arenas heard the criticism.
"The team is better without me?" Arenas said. "I averaged 29, Antawn averaged 20 and Caron averaged 19. When I left, Caron was averaging  and Antawn was averaging . They didn't change. No one changed. They just took away my 29 points and slowed the ball down. No one actually boosted anything up.
"That was the frustrating part. People were not paying attention to actual basketball."
Arenas spent part of this summer in Chicago, shaking off the rust while playing in a pro-am league that also featured Dwyane Wade(notes), Devin Harris(notes) and O.J. Mayo(notes). By the time Arenas stepped on the floor, he says his self-described "killer" mentality was back.
"I would go up to coach down there and he would say, 'Hey, I need you to shoot that bitch every time. I'm trying to win this game,' " Arenas said. "My first pickup game, 55 [points]. My first real game this summer, 55, off the plane. And that's when I was like, 'Dang, I'm feeling good.' [Jerk] mode was on.
"The other couple of years I had a chip on my shoulder. [Jerk] mode was on."
Arenas had long built a reputation as one of the game's most entertaining interviews. But when he showed up for training camp this season, he announced he was canceling his popular blog and was no longer an "entertainer." He didn't plan to speak to the media for the rest of the season to keep his focus.
Arenas now says he also isn't the type of player who can be a vocal leader and hold his teammates accountable. In short, it's just not in his personality.
"The person that you see on the basketball court is not the same person outside the lines," Arenas said. "Outside the lines, I'm [low-key]. I don't do nothing. I don't go high and low. My emotions don't fluctuate. When something happens, I don't do anything. So if somebody is arguing, I just sit there. Somebody's fighting? I just sit there. You don't get no reaction from me. I've never been that type of player.
"I leave all my emotions on the court. If on the court there are technicals, I snap there. Once we leave that floor, it just [disappears].
"So when players are yelling all around the floor, I never say anything. And that frustrated me more because people had this [image] about me being crazy. 'How is Flip and Gilbert going to get along because he is so eccentric and so crazy?' I'm just sitting there like, 'Where do you get this from?'
"I'm controlled chaos. There is a puppet master behind me."
Arenas' vow of silence didn't last long. Once the NBA fined him and the Wizards $25,000 apiece, he resumed talking to the media. It was then, he claims, he lost his swagger.
"The more I started opening up, the more I started letting people back in," Arenas said. "Before when I was a killer, I wasn't talking to the media. I was just writing on my blog. I said whatever the hell I wanted in my blog and that made me a [jerk]. When the league fined me, it made me think about it.
"I was going to go the whole season without saying nothing. I wasn't going to say nothing just to keep that edge."
The old Arenas seemed to have returned after he had 29 points and nine assists in a road win at Dallas in the season opener. After that, the Wizards went 4-10 through November as Arenas' scoring numbers went up and down dramatically. He even had 12 turnovers in a game against Miami.
For the season, Arenas is averaging 21 points, 6.9 assists, four rebounds and 3.7 turnovers on a Wizards team that has lost six straight by four points or less. While most point guards would love those statistics, Arenas admits more is expected from him.
"Any guard in this league would love that to have 20 and seven," he said. "But since I averaged 29, people are like, 'Hell no, he's having a real bad year.'
"The top point guards in this league, I'm right behind them and I haven't played in two years."
Arenas said he entered the season believing that if he averaged 20 points and seven assists everyone would be happy. He has done that, but it hasn't translated into winning. Saunders believes Arenas' mentality was a recipe for disappointment.
"He heard so much about how he played in the past and I've had talks with him every other day, like, 'I'm going to get assists,' " Saunders said. "And I said, 'You can't go into a game saying what you're going to do, it just happens.' That's like a quarterback saying, I'm going to throw touchdowns. You know what happens when you're trying to hit home runs, you strike out and when you're trying to get touchdowns, you throw interceptions.
"And so that's probably one of the reasons why he's [third] in the league in turnovers because he's trying to jam a square peg into a round hole at times."
Arenas won't use his knee as an excuse. During a recent practice in Los Angeles, he easily threw down a windmill dunk after being challenged by assistant coach Sam Cassell(notes).
"The knee is fine," Arenas said. "It's just the rust. It's just kicking off the rust. Each game I'm feeling a little bit better doing different things like coming off the pick-and-roll, going into the lane, making tight squeezes, tight passes, just game by game picking up something different. It's a whole new learning process."
After signing a $111 million contract in the summer of 2008, Arenas admits to putting a lot of pressure on himself. Despite a 33-point performance in Wednesday's 112-109 loss to Sacramento, it was Arenas' late turnover and foul that were highlighted – not Jamison's ill-advised 3-point attempt. Arenas also has missed some clutch free throws of late.
"When you make $111 million everything is on you," Arenas said. "You got to score. You got to get the big bucket. You got to get the free throws, the big rebound, defensive stops. You got to make the calls, you got to coach, you got to make the subs, you got to dance, you got to make the popcorn, you got to do damn everything around here or somebody is going to say something.
"I had a triple-double and I'm getting booed in the arena because I missed the free throws. That just comes with the territory."
Arenas fondly remembers this summer when he had his swagger back. Now he thinks he knows what he needs to do.
"If I don't go back to dominance," he said, "we're not going to win."
Even Gilbert Arenas, it seems, is waiting on the return of Agent Zero.
Rookie big men face tall challenge
While much has been made about this season's talented group of rookie guards, some of their peers haven't made nearly the impact.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin(notes), the draft's top pick, isn't expected to make his NBA debut until the beginning of January because of a knee injury. Memphis Grizzlies center Hasheem Thabeet(notes), the No. 2 pick, is averaging just 2.7 points per game and has yet to score in double figures. New York Knicks forward Jordan Hill(notes), the eighth overall pick, has scored 10 points just once this season.
Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough(notes) was hampered by a shin injury at the start of season, but has shown some flashes of late. San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair(notes), a second-round pick who stands just 6-7, has been the most efficient of all rookie big men, averaging 6.5 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 60.4 percent in just 14.1 minutes per game. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has considered moving Blair into the starting lineup.
"If the coach had any brains we'd be playing him more," Popovich joked. "The guy is like a stat machine and I still haven't figured out how he does it, how he scores. He has no moves on the post. He's not a shooter. I don't get it. And he figures out a way to get to the hole and get to the line, blocks shots. He guards people I don't think he can guard whether they are quicker, bigger or whatever."
Big changes for Warriors?
The Golden State Warriors entered the weekend with just seven wins, so they're listening to any and all trade offers. Team officials, however, don't plan to make any significant changes until further evaluating their roster after center Andris Biedrins(notes) and forward Ronny Turiaf(notes) return from injuries within the next two weeks.
The Warriors have yet to receive an attractive offer for young forward Anthony Randolph(notes) and are considering asking for a second injury exception to push their roster to 17 players. The Warriors used their first injury exception on center Chris Hunter(notes) and could ask for a second if Mikki Moore(notes) will be out a while after needing surgery on his right heel.
Eyes on Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys' mammoth new stadium will host its first basketball game Saturday when Texas plays North Carolina. The stadium will also host this season's NBA All-Star game, so numerous NBA and Turner Sports officials will be at Saturday's game to check out the site lines and seating.
Ski Austin, senior vice president of events and attractions at NBA Entertainment, said 70,000 seats have already been sold for the All-Star game. Another 10,000 seats will be used by the league and Dallas Mavericks to push attendance to a record 80,000 fans.
Pearl for Christmas
Kobe Bryant(notes) and Shaquille O'Neal(notes) will each play their 12th Christmas Day game when the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers meet next week. The only two NBA players who have played in more Christmas games are Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Dolph Schayes with 13 each.
"After a while, it was expected that I'd be playing on Christmas," Monroe said. "I just never really celebrated a lot of holidays while I was playing. They kind of came and went whether we were playing or traveling to play. "It was real tough as far as your family thing was concerned, but you just get used to it. When the schedule comes out, it's like, 'Hey, who are we playing this Christmas?' "
Monroe played the majority of those games with the New York Knicks. He wouldn't mind seeing LeBron James(notes) playing for the Knicks on Christmas next season.
"We hope that if, in fact, he were to come to New York, it would change the fortunes of New York basketball," Monroe said. "For the most, we've been waiting since the last team won it back in 1973. We've been waiting for a long time for a championship. Just bringing LeBron here doesn't mean that we are going to get a championship, but at least it makes it a lot more interesting."
Thunder and rain
There might not be a harder team to figure out in the NBA than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are 12-12 with a 6-7 home record and a 6-5 road mark.
Oklahoma City has a lot to be excited about with a talented young roster led by possible All-Star forward Kevin Durant(notes). The Thunder seem to be flirting with the possibility of contending for the playoffs, but have lost to such powers as the Los Angeles Lakers (twice), Boston, Cleveland, Denver and Dallas.
Still, considering that the Thunder opened last season with a 2-16 record, the franchise has made some progress.
"We remember when we were at the bottom and everyone was kicking us," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. "Even though we have won games, we are not that far removed from that. It humbles the group."