Arenas incident has silver lining
The Gilbert Arenas-gun investigation may be an opportunity for the Wizards
The team has reportedly made it clear it's open to trading anyone on the roster
Should Arenas be charged, the Wizards could possibly void the rest of his contract
Opportunity rarely knocks for teams with bloated payrolls, underachieving players and more long-term contracts than a bailed-out Fortune 500 company. But for the Washington Wizards, it's banging on their door. And all they have to do is open it and shove Gilbert Arenas right out.
With the latest incident involving the three-time All-Star guard, in which D.C. police are investigating whether Arenas, who has admitted to bringing four unloaded handguns into the Verizon Center, brandished a weapon in a threatening manner toward teammate Javaris Crittenton, the Wizards have let the rest of the league know they are open for business.
According to multiple league sources, Washington is making its entire roster available and is open to all trades, including for players who bring less talent but have shorter contracts. But while interest in veterans, like Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, has been strong, sources told SI.com that teams aren't too keen on obtaining Arenas. Along with his obvious baggage from this gun incident, Arenas has had three knee surgeries over the last 2½ years, limiting him to 48 games in that span; he is in the second-year of a six-year, $111 million contract, meaning any team that trades for him now will be on the hook for about $90 million over the next 4½ years; and his teams have won only one series in four postseason appearances.
But Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who allegedly was the one to report Arenas' firearms to NBA security, may have another option -- one he's seriously considering should Arenas be charged with a crime: void his contract.
The move, which would free the Wizards of any financial obligation and instantly remove Arenas' salary from their books, is complicated but not unprecedented. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement clearly states that a contract can be voided if a player "at any time, fails, refuses, or neglects to conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship, good moral character (defined here to mean not engaging in acts of moral turpitude, whether or not such acts would constitute a crime), and good sportsmanship ..." It could be argued that any criminal charges leveled against Arenas would constitute a failure in personal conduct.
Cases of voided contracts in the NBA are few and far between. Roy Tarpley and Richard Dumas had their deals voided after violating the NBA's drug policy. In 1997, the Warriors terminated the final three years and $23.7 million of Latrell Sprewell's contract after he attacked coach P.J. Carlesimo, marking the only time a player's contract had been voided for insubordination. (This was two years after Sprewell scuffled with teammate Jerome Kersey, threatened to get his gun during the altercation and later chased down Kersey with a two-by-four.) But the NBA players' association appealed, and Sprewell's contract was eventually reinstated.
Union chief Billy Hunter said the players' association would litigate any attempt at voiding Arenas' contract and is prepared to go to war to make sure Arenas gets every penny he is owed. But that doesn't mean the Wizards shouldn't try to do it.
Think about it: By voiding Arenas' contract, Washington would get a reprieve from what has become a basketball death sentence. With Arenas' salary -- which escalates from $17.7 million in 2010-11 to $19.3 million in 2011-12 to more than $20 million for the final three years of the contract -- off the books, the Wizards are suddenly players in the summer of 2010. They can become big players if they move either Jamison (who is due $28.4 million through the 2012 season) or Butler (who is under contract for $10.5 million next season).
Sources said the team would prefer to move Jamison, 33, a good soldier and automatic 20-point, eight-rebound performer every night. The free-spending Cavaliers have long been enamored with the versatile Jamison, and they might be willing to absorb the final two years of underachieving Andray Blatche's contract to get him. By July, the Wizards could be armed with more than $25 million in cap space, a high lottery pick and a few decent parts in Butler, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
There is, of course, plenty of risk. If the Wizards do void Arenas' contract and lose a court fight with the union, they would be stuck with a player they don't want (and who knows he isn't wanted) and forced to either buy out his deal (highly unlikely considering how much money is involved) or trade him for anything they can get.
Still, this is a chance for Washington to start from scratch. The Arenas-Jamison-Butler core is not going to win a championship, and it may not even get the Wizards into the playoffs. Arenas' latest run-in is Washington's chance to change all that, to get the franchise back on track. That is, if the Wizards welcome the opportunity.