The NBA's decision to suspend Washington Wizards guards Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for the remainder of the season doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who was within earshot of commissioner David Stern over the past month.
Stern, league sources said, has been brimming with anger recently, not only over the reckless behavior with firearms displayed by Arenas and Crittenton in December but also Arenas' subsequent mocking of the incident, specifically a gun pantomiming spectacle in Philadelphia a few days after news of the altercation broke. Some league sources are surprised the punishment didn't exceed the season-long suspension and push Arenas' ban into the 2010-11 season.
Still, Stern made it clear during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that the suspensions for Arenas and Crittenton were for the duration for the 2009-10 season and that, barring further incident, both players would be eligible to play in the '10-11 season without any preconditions.
The question now is, for whom? Crittenton's contract with Washington expires after the season and his production in his first two seasons (5.3 points, 2.6 assists with three teams) coupled with the negative PR that will accompany him on his next stop means he will likely have to earn a job in the 2010 summer leagues. Though Crittenton, who may appeal the league's suspension, could be reinstated to the Wizards before the end of the season, it is highly unlikely he will ever wear a Washington uniform again.
Arenas' situation is far dicier. At a press conference on Wednesday, Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld told reporters that the team was exploring all its options, including voiding the remaining four years and $81 million on Arenas' contract. Multiple league sources believe Washington will spend the next few months formulating a legal strategy to escape the deal, a move that would free significant cap space for the spiraling Wizards to rebuild.
However, the NBA's ruling may preclude the Wizards from doing just that. Sources familiar with the situation told SI.com that by accepting the league suspension, Arenas was now protected by the "One Penalty" clause in the collective bargaining agreement that prohibits a team from penalizing a player who has already been disciplined by the NBA. Though the clause contains language that allows teams to impose an additional punishment for an "egregious" act or for conduct "lacking in justification," an NBA source said union lawyers have been meeting for weeks about Arenas' future and believe the Wizards have no grounds to void his contract. Should the Wizards try to go ahead with voiding the deal, union lawyers are extremely confident they would win in arbitration and Arenas' contract would be reinstated.
That leaves the Wizards with three options. They could try to negotiate a buyout with Arenas and recoup some of the money he is due over the next four seasons. During his press conference, however, Grunfeld said that a buyout "had not been talked about" and that the Wizards "have not considered that."
A trade is still an option. Despite his struggles integrating into FlipSaunders' flex offense this season, Arenas still has career averages of 22.7 points and 5.6 assists. With so many teams clearing cap space for a run at one of the high-profile free agents this summer, it's possible a team that misses out could be interested in Arenas this summer.
Bringing Arenas back next season is another option, though hardly a palatable one. League sources said Grunfeld was shopping Arenas before the December incident. And Arenas has told confidants that he has no desire to play for Washington again. His relationship with Grunfeld, which was once considered one of the strongest player-executive relationships in the NBA, has eroded to the point that the two have barely spoken over the last two months.
Ironically, Wednesday may have been the best day Arenas has had in weeks. If Arenas -- who has been advised during this crisis by his former agent, high-powered player rep Dan Fegan -- had contested the suspension, he would have subjected himself to intense media scrutiny and fan backlash during the appeals process. He would have polarized his dwindling supporters and kept his name in the public eye for weeks. And for what? Ten or 12 games at the end of the season? By accepting responsibility, Arenas takes an enormous financial hit -- the 50-game suspension will cost him $7.4 million in salary -- but he will be able to begin rehabilitating his image now instead of having it further dragged through the mud.
The NBA made its statement on Wednesday. And Arenas has made his. A lot of questions have been answered. But plenty more still remain.
AP: Arenas, Crittenton suspended for remainder of season