By Ian Thomsen
November 02, 2007

BOSTON -- Gilbert Arenas appears to be discovering his inner Charles Barkley. After years of deprecating himself as an underdog never expected to accomplish anything, Arenas has vaulted to the other end of the spectrum. Now his words are as loud as his game.

"If I'm doing what I do and I lead this team to 50-something wins, that's MVP,'' Arenas was saying after his Washington Wizards' practice Thursday. "Hands down.''

He believe his 28.9-point scoring average over the past two years qualifies him to say whatever he wants, which -- as of this moment, at least -- should make him the most provocative star in the league. When I mentioned the trade requests of Kobe Bryant, who was recently linked erroneously in a rumored deal for Arenas, he shut his eyes and shook his head, tsk, tsk.

"I don't understand that,'' Arenas said. "I don't understand a player like him sometimes.''

How so?

"One, you want to get traded because you don't like your team, you don't think your team's good enough,'' Arenas said. "But any team you go to, they're going to have to get rid of a whole bunch of players for you, which basically puts you back in the same situation -- just in a different city. I don't know how a player doesn't see that. If he just doesn't like the organization, then I understand that. But you hear the Chicago rumors: If they had to get rid of Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, [Andres] Nocioni -- that's your whole nucleus. Now you're stuck with Kirk Hinrich, you, Joe Smith, 'Kim Noah, Ben Wallace. That's great defense, but offensively you're going to be doing the same thing you were doing before.

"So it's like your situation is not changing. Unless somebody's going to trade you a one-for-one player, he's not going to be in a happy situation there either.

"I've never seen [Michael] Jordan act like that. I didn't even see AI [Allen Iverson], when he was going through them bad days, you know? They were always talking about trading him, and he was like, 'If they trade me, they trade me; if they don't, they don't; but this is my city.' And I don't understand how Kobe doesn't feel that about L.A. -- it's his city.''

According to a fellow All-Star, then, Bryant is wrong to think he would be better off elsewhere.

"With the Lakers, he's always going to have the opportunity to attract players. A free agent is willing to go to a Laker uniform. Everybody wants to go to L.A. -- KG would want to go there,'' Arenas said of Kevin Garnett. "Jason Kidd would want to go there. Jason Kidd is up next season, right? He's a free agent [in 2009]. Why don't you wait? Maybe he'll just come over there. You never know.''

Arenas is promising to opt out of his six-year, $65 million contract with the Wizards this summer. His intention is to sign a new six-year deal worth more than $90 million to remain in Washington. As the top free agent, he can't claim any longer that he's a zero (as his uniform number suggests) just trying to make it. Now he says that he's already there; it's just that the rest of us haven't noticed.

"This is what a lot of people don't realize about me,'' Arenas said. "They call me a shoot-first point guard. And honestly, OK.'' Which means he can't argue with that. "But no one's ever [been] a point guard that averages points like me and he had two other guys that average [19].''

He was referring to former All-Star Antawn Jamison, who averaged 19.8 points last year, and Caron Butler, who added 19.1 and made his first All-Star team. They did this while Arenas was going for 28.4 to finish third in league scoring behind Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

"I've been doing it my whole career -- when I had Larry [Hughes, who averaged 22.0 in 2004-05 alongside Jamison's 19.6); Antawn, Caron," Arenas said. "I don't see Dwyane [Wade] doing that. I don't see Kobe doing that. I didn't see AI doing that. I don't see LeBron [James] doing it -- there's not another scorer with him scoring 20.

"I mean, AI did it [last year with 24.8 points for Denver after his trade from Philadelphia] because Carmelo already was having 30, so they never started from the beginning where two other players were averaging [close to] 20 points. And the way I can do that is because I push the ball so much that we're getting opportunities. It's not like we're taking 60 shots and I'm taking 30 of them. I took 25 shots [in Wednesday's season-opening loss at Indiana] and we had 99 attempts. Antawn had 25 shots. Caron had 19 shots. So your Big Three is still getting their opportunities.

"Nobody realizes how valuable I really am to teams. It's like, 'Oh, we don't know if he can be a point guard.' Well, every guard out there can't be me. But if I lose my speed, I can be them.''

He laughed at what he'd just said, then repeated it to show he was serious. "If I lose my speed getting to the basket, I can be them. I can be a spot-up shooter. I can come off a pick-and-roll and make passes. I can reach their peak; they can't be what I am.''

I told Arenas that I imagined at his best he could be like Isiah Thomas, who won two championships as a scoring point guard. He nodded in agreement and said, "I'm much stronger and a better shooter than he was.''

But it's his up-tempo approach that makes the big difference, Arenas insisted.

"When I was at Arizona, Lute Olson made it perfectly clear. He said, 'If you guys want to keep your averages, you've got to put up more attempts. You've got to speed this game up.' So that's how I always played,'' Arenas said. "If you want to make everybody happy, you've got to get opportunities. You can't slow the ball up. I understand truthfully how Larry feels over there at Cleveland because, as athletic as they are, they slow the ball up so that if LeBron takes 25 shots and they only took 60 [as a team], it looks like he's dominating. But if you're running and he takes 25 shots and you got your 19 and somebody else got their 19, you don't know the difference.

"That's the only reason the guys on this team like playing with me. That's why Larry Hughes loved playing with me because at the end of the day, even though I take a lot of shots, it doesn't seem that way because if you average 19 [points] and you're getting 19 [shots], you're not looking at mine. You play with Kobe, you see he took 37 shots. I've taken 30-something shots before but it never looked like it because Antawn got his 22 and Caron got his 22 shots.''

He was making it sound as if Hughes appreciated Arenas more after leaving as a free agent in 2005 to sign with Cleveland, where he has averaged 15.5 and 14.9 points over the last two years.

"I'm not even going to lie, I'm not going to put words in his mouth,'' Arenas said. "But he told me in training camp, 'Man, I want to come back.' The first training camp he was there. It's not [because of] LeBron's game; it's the offense he's in. He's not in that offense that used to be when they had Ricky Davis, Darius Miles -- oh my God they were flying. Now they're more a half-court, set-up team, so when [James] tries to play his game, it looks more dominating than it's supposed to look.''

Because he's an impending free agent, I asked Arenas how he would feel about playing with Bryant on the Lakers next year.

"If he adapted his game to my style, then it would be a great fit,'' Arenas said, "because he's going to get his 45 shots but the game is going to be fast. So if he can play this style, we're going to go up and down and you're going to get your 45 or whatever shots you need to keep you happy, but everybody else is going to get an equal opportunity too.

"It's so funny that no one ever realizes that about my game, that I've played with two players that averaged [close to] 20 points, and they're never complaining. Because if you think about it, if someone said, 'Would you play with Gilbert?' they would be thinking about it like, 'Oh, I don't know, he's shoot-first.' And then when you actually sit down and look at it, it's like, 'Damn.'

"They're not paying attention to the game. They're looking at the stat sheet and saying, 'He's a shoot-first point guard. He's a selfish type of point guard, he's a reckless type of point guard.' OK, I understand, but you name your top five scorers, the best players in this league, and then give me two other players on that team that's dominating like the two players I have on my team. That's how you judge somebody. You guys are saying all these great stars are making other players better, and you guys are not mentioning me. And you think about everybody who's played with me.

"D-Wade had Caron [with the Heat in 2003-04]. Kobe had Caron [with the Lakers in 2004-05]. I have Caron. What's the difference?''

Butler never averaged more than 15.5 points before he came to Washington.

"LeBron has Larry Hughes. I had Larry Hughes. What's the difference?

"Same thing with Antawn. Juan Dixon -- there's a reason when these players are leaving [Washington], they're getting paid. I might not be your Steve Nash, but I'm doing the same thing he's doing. I'm making these players look better.''

I wondered if Arenas was planning to have his best year because he was playing for a new contract.

"I don't ever want to hear somebody say he's playing better because it's his contract year," he said. "I mean, I did make three All-Stars and All-NBA three times, so I guess that counts for nothing. But it's just about getting better as a player each year.

"If you have a player who plays dead for five years of his contract, and then he has a blow-up year, that's called false advertisement. I don't think you should pay him. Because you pay him, what do you think he's going to do? He's going to go back into hibernation.''

I asked if he was talking about the Clippers' Tim Thomas, for example.

"Yeah,'' he said. "Thank you.''

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