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 Fm 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� 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."