Inside The NBA

March 24, 2003

Golden Gil
Brash point guard Gilbert Arenas has improved the Warriors'
fortunes

Second-year point guard Gilbert Arenas compares himself with Kobe
Bryant and Allen Iverson, but Warriors teammate Jason Richardson
sees another resemblance: "We call him Baby Ron Artest."

After Golden State filed into its locker room at halftime last
month trailing the Spurs 65-49, Arenas threw his chair into the
wall and then excused himself for a cold, calming shower--in his
uniform and sneakers. He claims he was still sopping wet when he
scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half of a 103--99 loss.
"They think I'm nuts, and it may be true," says Arenas of his
teammates, who laugh at the badly patched hole near his locker.
"Players who want to win get emotional, and that's why I get so
many technicals." (He has a team-high 13.)

Two weeks after he was named MVP of the Rookie Challenge game at
All-Star weekend, Arenas's teammates were grumbling that he
wasn't distributing the ball. So without telling anyone, he
decided to not shoot in a game against the Knicks. New York was
leading 96-87 with 6:36 remaining when Golden State rookie coach
Eric Musselman screamed at Arenas to start firing. He responded
by scoring 14 points down the stretch in a 111-107 victory.

"It's like I'm Allen Iverson out there," says the 21-year-old
Arenas. "I'm faster than twos, and I played the point in high
school, so I know how to make decisions."

With Arenas averaging 18.2 points, 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds
at week's end, the Warriors (32-34, 3 1/2 games out of the
playoffs) were the league's most improved team over last season.
At 6'3" he is so strong that the Warriors don't need to
double-team bullish point guards, and despite his Artest-like
outbursts, Musselman has Arenas running the attack with an almost
unheard-of freedom. During a 113-98 win over the Suns last week
the coach called only seven plays.

So how is it that such a terrific athlete lasted until the 31st
pick? Arenas didn't play the point at Arizona (as a sophomore he
helped lead the Wildcats to the 2001 NCAA championship game), and
G.M.'s were concerned that he wasn't tall enough to play shooting
guard. He remains angry at the teams that worked him out then
passed him up: the Celtics, the Magic, the Blazers, the Kings
and, yes, the Warriors, who used their second first-round
selection (No. 14) on forward Troy Murphy.

After he was drafted, Arenas drew laughter from the Golden State
media when he predicted that he would be starting by midseason--a
prediction that proved accurate when he replaced the injured
Larry Hughes and almost immediately excelled. "Next year I might
as well try to be like Kobe and try to make the All-Star team,"
says Arenas, who still needs to cut down his turnovers, add a
midrange jumper and learn to vary his pace of play.

As a second-round pick Arenas wasn't entitled to a three-year
contract; when his two-year deal expires this summer, he'll be a
free agent. Unless the Warriors are able to move several players
and clear salary-cap space, they'll be able to pay him only about
$4.5 million, well below what the Nuggets and other potential
suitors are expected to offer. Golden State will try to persuade
him to sign a long-term deal with an opt-out after the second
year, when he could be in line for a max contract.

Arenas says he won't necessarily hold out for top dollar, but
he's looking forward to taking revenge on the teams that bypassed
him in the draft--including the Warriors, who would have him sewn
up if they'd chosen him in the first round. "You want to hold 'em
all hostage," says Arenas. "It's satisfying that they're still
kicking themselves in the ass about it."

Toronto's Vince Carter
A Change in the Heir to Air

Four seasons ago the NBA's marketing army tried to anoint Raptors
rookie Vince Carter as "the next Michael Jordan," but the hype
backfired when Carter's mounting legion of critics accused him of
being self-obsessed and unwilling to mix it up. Carter admits
that he was never comfortable as the Air Apparent. "It was
always, 'Here's what he can do,' and not what the team was
doing," he says.

Now Carter is trying to reinvent himself on his own terms, and
the initial signs are positive. Sidelined for 33 games by a left
quadriceps tendon strain and a strained right knee, Carter used
the time to reassess his career. At week's end lottery-bound
Toronto had gone a more respectable 10-11 since Carter's return
because its star is taking fewer shots (17.2 per game) and
stressing substance over style. "My game's different," he says.
"Everybody thinks I'm injured because I'm not trying to dunk on
people, but right now I don't need to put my body through that.
Longevity is what's important, and making sure I'm on the floor
as much as possible."

The 26-year-old Carter learned his biggest lesson at the end of
last season, when his teammates rallied to win 12 of their final
14 games and make the playoffs while he was injured. "That was a
chance for me to see what my teammates could do, to see how I can
come in and bring my game into what we already have going on,"
Carter says. "Me being a team player--and not taking 25
shots--works for us, and we're winning more games because of it."

Antonio Davis is heartened by seeing Carter put in more work in
the weight room, strengthening his body to absorb an 82-game
pounding. "He's really getting after it, and that's what
everybody around here wants to see," says Davis. "He's maturing,
he's talking a lot more and he's putting forth the effort,
letting his teammates know that he cares."

For the latest NBA news plus analysis from Jack McCallum, go to
si.com/basketball.

COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ARENAS) Arenas will stop at nothing to prove he should've gone higher in the draft. COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN COLOR PHOTO: RON TURENNE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Carter is trying to become a more selective shooter.

scout's Take

On the Atlantic Division-leading Nets, who at week's end had
gone 6-11 since the All-Star break:

"With Jason Kidd they're the best running team in the league at
home, but for some reason they become more of a walk-it-up,
half-court team on the road, which makes it harder for them to
get easy baskets and open threes. And they're no longer
surprising anybody with their Princeton offense--a lot of teams
have stolen their sets, so you get to see them being used two or
three nights a week. You'd think the return of Dikembe Mutombo
[due back this month from a broken right wrist] would help, but
they look like they're in no hurry to bring him back. He's going
to restrict their offense: They like to put their big men on the
high post, but they can't do that with him because he can't pass
from there."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)