Rusty but relieved, Arenas looking forward to contributing again
Gilbert Arenas made his 2010 NBA debut Friday with mixed results in a 112-91 loss
The former All-Star carried the Wizards during one stretch in the fourth quarter
If he and rookie John Wall get on the same page, this could be a formidable duo
NEW YORK -- The fall of Gilbert Arenas has been long and well-chronicled. His days as an NBA All-Star have long been forgotten, erased by the memories of a bum knee that robbed him of the better part of two seasons and a monstrous mistake, his decision to bring unloaded guns into the Wizards locker room last season, which cut short a third.
Arenas' past will never truly be forgotten, available to interested parties with a simple click of a Wikipedia page. But, on Friday, Arenas took the first step toward putting some distance between himself and his history. In his first NBA game since January, Arenas scored 18 points in Washington's 112-91 loss to the New York Knicks.
At times, it wasn't pretty. Arenas checked into the game with 2½ minutes remaining in the first quarter and proceeded to launch an errant 26-foot three-pointer. But, at times, there were glimpses of the Arenas of old, the confident gunner who for years ranked as one of the games most dangerous scorers. He pumped in 14 of the Wizards first 15 points in the fourth quarter to pull Washington to within six before an energized Knicks team pulled away.
"He can still score," said Wizards coach Flip Saunders. "I think [sometimes] he went in looking to get fouled instead of looking to score. For him only having 1½ practices over the last three weeks, I thought he played pretty well."
Indeed, the sour taste left from the loss was sweetened by the reemergence of an All-Star in a lineup that desperately needs one. Washington's first three games were the John Wall show, with the talented rookie taking the team on his shoulders. A healthy Arenas -- and he is healthy -- will relieve a sizeable amount of that burden.
Just playing relieves a burden on Arenas, too. It was a rough summer for Arenas, who spent part of the NBA's offseason contemplating retirement.
"I thought about retiring for a minute because I really didn't know what to expect," Arenas said. "I thought it was just too much negativity for me to come back in. I just didn't know if I was mentally prepared for it again. The funny part is that I didn't break down until after everything was over with. That's the weird part. While I was going through it, I had my teammates saying, 'Keep your head up.' Once the season ended and everybody left, I didn't have anybody to talk to anymore. It was like I was stuck on that island and that's when it really hit me hard."
Playing well won't erase the past. Arenas knows this, accepts this. But there is a part of him that is hoping by regaining his old form his transgressions will become little more than a distant memory.
"I've made mistakes and I have to live with them," Arenas said. "I'm ready to move forward and try to forget about the past. I know it's going to always be there but I want to be a better person and a better teammate."
He will get that chance. Since his return, his teammates have welcomed him with open arms, including Wall, whose ability to co-exist with Arenas will be a constantly monitored storyline this season.
He has the speed you don't see in the NBA anymore," Arenas said. "Either you're straight fast or you're [fast] laterally. He's both. What makes him look so fast is he goes one way and cuts back the other way. He has that Tony Parker and that T.J. Ford in him. He can maneuver."
One game is too small a sample to assess how the two will play together, especially a game in which Wall (13 points, seven assists, nine turnovers) didn't play particularly well. But the outcome if they can't is easy to predict. The Wizards will struggle and it will be Arenas who will shoulder most of the blame. But if the duo can discover some chemistry, the combined talents between the two, the blinding speed of Wall and the lethal shooting of Arenas, will give Washington one of the NBA's most feared backcourts.
And, perhaps, give those around Arenas something different to talk about.