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"Gilbert Arenas," says Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, "can find motivation in a speck of dust." To a litany of past slights--unheralded in high school, passed over in the first round of the NBA draft, named an All-Star last season only as an injury sub--Arenas has a doozy to add: He believes USA Basketball never intended to give him a fair shake in tryouts for last summer's world championships team. Arenas has backed off his vows to exact revenge on Team USA assistants Mike D'Antoni (Suns coach) and Nate McMillan (Trail Blazers coach), but his hurt feelings linger. "[ USA Basketball] knows I belong," Arenas says. "It's just that they already had their minds made up. Give me the respect."
So Arenas lugs an even heavier motivational toolbox into 2006--07. "I use things to keep myself burning," he explains. The strategy works: He has upped his scoring average in each of his five years, from 10.9 points as a rookie to 29.3 last season--which included 42.5 per game against the Warriors, the team that, coincidentally, failed to re-sign him after his breakout second season.
Arenas now wants a new role: defensive maven. "I'm going to take the challenge of stopping our opponent's best player," he says. That attitude is welcome on a team that was third in scoring last year (101.7) but tied for 21st in points allowed (99.8). If Arenas is able to lead Washington past the second round of the playoffs, where it hasn't gone since 1979, it could mean a short run for the newest of his self-given nicknames. "It's Stealth," he says. "I think I have one more year to hide under the radar."
Projected Starting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 42--40 (5th in East)
Points scored: 101.7 (3rd in NBA)
Points allowed: 99.8 (T21)
Coach: Eddie Jordan
(fourth season with the Wizards)