The Washington Wizards were finishing a shootaround before a recent game against New Orleans when Gilbert Arenas emerged from the home locker room. Dressed in black sweat pants and a long-sleeved Wizards T-shirt, Arenas walked without a limp. When he spotted Hornets guard and former Wizards teammate Antonio Daniels making his way toward the visitors' locker room, Arenas ran toward him (again, no limp) and gave him a quick chest bump. He looked strong. He looked healthy. He looked like a player ready to make his season debut.
Here's the question: Why?
Certainly there's a case to be made that Arenas can and should take the court as he returns from his third knee surgery in two years. If he's healthy -- which Arenas now claims to be and league sources confirm -- and wants to play (he has targeted Saturday's game against Detroit), Washington would have a tough time denying the noted gym rat.
And maybe the Wizards don't want to. Maybe general manager Ernie Grunfeld feels he owes it to his players -- particularly former All-Star forwards Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, who have dutifully performed in the face of massive injuries (starting center Brendan Haywood has also missed the entire season) and a coaching change without so much as a whisper of frustration -- to give them the best chance to succeed in the final weeks of the season. Maybe Grunfeld feels he owes it to the fans, most of whom have continued to support the team (Washington is drawing an announced 16,319 per game, a modest decrease from last season's average of 17,962) despite its start-to-finish struggles. Or maybe Grunfeld feels he owes it to Arenas, with whom he has shared a close relationship since first signing him in 2005, to let him get back on the floor.
Those are all good reasons ... not to play Arenas this season.
Think about it: What does Washington have to gain by bringing Arenas back now? Would playing improve his timing? Spending a week in the Las Vegas summer league would do that. Would it placate the fans? The buzz in Washington in recent weeks has been more about what adding a young big man such as Blake Griffin or a flashy playmaker such as Ricky Rubio would do for the Wizards next season than winning a few games in April.
Say Arenas comes back. Say he is successful. Do you think D.C. fans would want a few extra victories if it meant losing out on a top three pick in June? Do you think they believe the chance to draft Griffin or Rubio is worth a couple of losses to the Raptors? Or would they rather beat Toronto and watch Willie Warren in a Wizards uniform next season?
Then there is the biggest question of all: What if Arenas gets hurt? Ask Amar'e Stoudemire about that possibility. In 2006, Stoudemire attempted to return to the Suns' lineup five months after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee. Three games into his comeback, Stoudemire was forced to shut things down after experiencing soreness in his knee.
True, Stoudemire's and Arenas' situations are different: Amar'e underwent dreaded microfracture surgery while Arenas had a simpler arthroscopic lavage procedure, during which a moderate amount of debris was removed after saline solution was washed through the knee. But that was Stoudemire's first surgery; Arenas had an invasive procedure to repair his torn MCL in April 2007 and a form of microfracture surgery to repair further damage just seven months later.
The bottom line is that the Wizards don't need Arenas this season. They need him next season. They need him to lead a team that will be expected to make a Tampa Bay Rays-type turnaround and battle with Boston, Cleveland and Orlando for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They need him to be the player they thought they were getting when they re-signed him to a six-year, $111 million contract last summer. They need him to be 100 percent. For that, they should be willing to wait a few more months.
Is there a current NBA comparison for Ricky Rubio? Does he remind NBA types of someone who is playing in the league now?-- John, Baltimore
The comparison people are making to Rubio is former NBA great Pete Maravich, and that has as much to do with Rubio's facial features as his game. But every NBA executive I have spoken to about the Spanish point guard believes his potential is essentially limitless. They love his ball-handling and court awareness and believe his international experience puts him in a Tony Parker-type position to be able to contribute right away. His shooting is considered suspect, but no one sounds worried about that.
"The skills he doesn't have you can teach," one NBA scout said. "Some of the ones he has you can't."
One GM mentioned that the 18-year-old Rubio already has the respect of his older teammates -- some of whom are 10 years his senior. That bodes well for a move to the NBA.
Do you expect the Mavs to re-sign Jason Kidd after the season?-- Patrick K., New Jersey
I don't. Mark Cuban has been steadfast in his support of Kidd this season, occasionally referring to him as his best player. But the Mavs' up-and-down play, combined with Kidd's age (36) and potential salary demands to return, make it unlikely he will be back. I just don't see it.
A more likely scenario to me is that Kidd would take less money somewhere else to play for a championship contender. Kidd's not stupid. He knows he won't get anywhere close to the $21.4 million he is making this season. And in a depressed economy, the market for Kidd will probably be less than what it would be in other years. So a two- or three-year contract starting at the mid-level exception might be enough to get a deal done.
Kobe Bryant has openly pined for Kidd over the years, and the Lakers have a hole at point guard, where Derek Fisher, while effective, is more of a spot-up shooter than a playmaker. Kidd and LeBron James developed a close friendship while playing for the U.S. national team the last three summers, and Cleveland could easily slide Mo Williams to shooting guard, with Kidd matching up with the bigger guard on defense. Think about that lineup: James, a team full of shooters and Kidd orchestrating the whole thing. That's scary.
Will Chris Bosh be available this offseason, or will the Raptors try to keep building up the supporting cast around him?-- Dave Douglas, New York
The Raptors probably won't initiate any trade calls on Bosh, but they won't turn their ringer off either. This has been a brutal season for Bosh. His knee has been hurting, his personal life has been rocky and he has yet to see any signs that the Raptors are building a legitimate championship contender around him. He's miserable. Another season like this will probably push him out the door in 2010.
GM Bryan Colangelo's preference is to build around Bosh, so I expect the Raptors to be active this summer. The Jermaine O'Neal-Shawn Marion trade created some cap flexibility, and they will have a high lottery pick to play with. If I'm Colangelo, one of the first calls I'm making is to New Orleans to try to pry Tyson Chandler away. They could dangle Marion -- who would fit in well playing with Chris Paul -- as the centerpiece in a sign-and-trade deal and bring back a young, defensive-minded center who would complement Bosh in the ways O'Neal did not.
You were wrong about the Rockets. After the trade deadline, you said they had basically given up on the season with the Rafer Alston deal. Care to reconsider your assessment?-- Kerry, Splendora, Texas
Oh, I was absolutely wrong. But in my defense, anyone who thought the Rockets would be better after Tracy McGrady went down and Alston was shipped out for the Memphis Grizzlies' backup point guard is lying. Houston has benefited from superior perimeter defense from Ron Artest and Shane Battier, a more up-tempo offense with Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry splitting the point guard duties and more quick low-post touches for Yao Ming.
Can they win a playoff series? Maybe. The Rockets have pulled out some close games recently (including a two-point victory at San Antonio on Sunday), partially dispelling the notion that they can't win down the stretch without a go-to scorer. But Houston has to find a way to avoid Utah. The Jazz, as was apparent in Tuesday night's matchup in Salt Lake City, are a matchup nightmare for the Rockets. Carlos Boozer runs circles around Yao, and Mehmet Okur kills them from the perimeter. And they know it. If the playoffs started today, the Rockets would open at home against the Jazz. I don't think home-court advantage in this situation is enough.