Months of smoke surrounding the notion that the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic might find a path to becoming trade partners seemed to spark fire on Wednesday, when Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post, a blog covering the Magic, reported that the Magic "have engaged in an ongoing trade dialog centered around Wizards shooting guard Gilbert Arenas."
Following up on Dunlap's report, Wizards beat man Michael Lee of the Washington Post reached out to perpetual pixel promoter and Wiz owner Ted Leonsis for comment on the rumors that the franchise was in talks to move its fallen three-time All-Star.
The arena experience improvement specialist offered this response:
Leonsis wrote in an e-mail, "It isn't true. I wouldn't tell you if it was true but I am telling you that it is not true."
On its own, that could look kinda-sorta wishy-washy, like Leonsis was trying to be too clever by half, come off cute and still retain some wiggle room, which seems to be what successful big businessmen do when they're not snappin' necks and cashin' checks. But Lee also reports that in his e-mail, "Leonsis said that he 'really likes and respects' Arenas and 'there are no trade discussions going on.'"
"The team is trying to rebuild and Gilbert is one of the leaders on the team," Leonsis wrote. "Gilbert is the best player on the team right now."
That's sweet, but also false, because the Wizards employ John Wall(notes), who has averaged 18.1 points, nine assists and nearly three steals per game in 11 tilts during his rookie year. Also, Arenas is shooting 38.1 percent from the field, has just a 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and, again, is not John Wall. To Gil's credit, however, he is also not Yi Jianlian(notes). So, bonus points for that.
While Leonsis' vocal public support does make it sound like he's in no rush to move Arenas, it wouldn't exactly be news for the Wiz to be shopping him, and fans would be hard-pressed to complain too much if he was — the team is neck-deep in a rebuilding effort to construct a team around 2010 top pick Wall, they're paying Gil $17.7 million this year and are on the hook to pay him $62.4 million over the next three, and while he's been inconsistent, he's also shown some flashes of the form that made him a folk hero in the District before knee injuries and a 50-game suspension for bringing handguns into the Wizards' locker room put him on the shelf for the better part of three seasons (including a 31-point, five-rebound, five-assist performance in a 100-99 loss against the Magic last Monday night), which could theoretically jog memories of great performances past and increase interest in the former Agent Zero.
What would be interesting, however, is if it was, as Dunlap's source claims, the Magic who have initiated talks on a "proposed deal [that] likely includes shooting guard Vince Carter(notes)" and could also involve "Wizards big man Andray Blatche(notes), Magic forward Rashard Lewis(notes), and Magic center Daniel Orton(notes)."
Orlando has gotten off to a strong 14-4 start and sits tied atop the Eastern Conference with the Boston Celtics, but they've been living largely off of the MVP-caliber early campaign of Dwight Howard(notes) (just over 22 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes) and the high-quality point play of Jameer Nelson(notes) (just under 18 points and 8.5 assists per 36, plus 50 percent field goal shooting and 41 percent from deep). They've continued to get uninspiring performances from Lewis, who keeps making threes at a 40 percent clip but has continued to decline in just about every other facet of the game, and while Carter's shooting percentages are up over last year, his per-minute production has dipped (his Player Efficiency Rating stands at 16.2, down about a point from last year).
If Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith is the one doing the dialing in the calls for Gil, the calls could be construed as a tacit admission that despite his team's hot start, the boss doesn't think Orlando is where it needs to be to contend for a title — that the Magic will need another viable scoring option and late-game closer to contend in the playoffs against Eastern foes like Boston, the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat (assuming, y'know, they get their act together), and that the 29-year-old Arenas may offer more upside in those roles than the 34-year-old Carter.
All of which makes the chatter understandable and constitutes some fun little thought experiments — could being around Dwight Howard, Cap'n Smiletime McInternetJokes himself, and living in the perpetual warmth of Florida help thaw Gilbert's heart-gone-cold? Would Arenas' offensive arsenal (no pun intended) and penchant for taking and making big shots late in games make Orlando a more dangerous playoff team? Would Rashard Lewis' beard get DeShawn Stevenson(notes)-level weird if he played in D.C.? But the bossman says it ain't gonna happen, so those experiments will have to remain in our thoughts, at least for the time being.