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Neither Wall nor Arenas is concerned about how they will function together. "This is easier for me," says Arenas. "I don't have to do all the thinking. I said, 'You do the thinking, I'll do the shooting.' " Says Wall, "The way he shoots the ball will [create] open shots for me. He can run the show, too. If I want to rest, I can take a step off and go off the ball."
The league finally got its first look at the duo together last Friday when Arenas, who missed Washington's first three games of the regular season with actual soreness in his left knee, returned to the lineup. In a loss to the Knicks, Arenas, after a tentative start, showed that his fluid stroke is still intact (he hit four of eight three-pointers), as is his trademark explosiveness (he scored 14 of the team's first 15 points in the fourth quarter). "I don't want [Arenas] to change," says Saunders. "The best part of his game is his ability to score. He can make us a much better team if he can continue to do [that]."
Should I just give up?
Every shot Arenas takes these days helps to erase the bitter memories of the past year. He kept it together when his teammates and coaches were around to support him. But when the season ended and the Wizards scattered, Arenas's mind began to wander. "As much as people were down on me, I was down on myself," says Arenas. "The suspension broke my spirit. I kept thinking, This isn't what I signed up for. I did something stupid and I regret it to this day. But we all f--- up. I just thought I didn't want to be a part of this anymore. I thought the league could do without another knucklehead running around. I thought I'd retire for a year or two and try to make a comeback later on."
He didn't, of course. Arenas talked with players around the league and spoke at length with Leonsis, who—despite the club's unsuccessful attempts to move Arenas in the off-season—assured him that the organization was behind him. "Having a long talk with Ted, hearing him say, 'I'm going to stick by you,' that was big," says Arenas. "That's all sometimes people need, some positive."
There was one other source of inspiration: Undisputed III, a direct-to-DVD movie about a prison fighter who overcomes a grotesque knee injury to reclaim his status as the best fighter in the world. Arenas watched it more than a dozen times over the summer, and the mountain-man beard he sported during training camp was modeled on the facial hair of the film's protagonist, Yuri Boyka. "[Boyka] wanted to prove he was still the man," says Arenas. "That was my whole mentality over the summer. Right now I'm just trying to sit back and let John get comfortable. As he gets comfortable, then I'll bring my will into it."
Boyka is a brooding character, and Arenas has adopted that trait as well, becoming uncharacteristically standoffish with the media since his return. "I understand what people think because of the perception of me," says Arenas. "They read the funny stuff, like me taking a crap in [teammate] Andray Blatche's shoes. But nobody is going to ask what Andray did to deserve it. You read about it because that's when I'm at my goofiest, when I'm around my teammates. I don't get in trouble outside of this building. You are not going to catch me drinking and driving, or picking up prostitutes. People don't see what my teammates see, the guy who is in here three times a day working out. That's the guy they don't see."
Perhaps they will. Redemption in sports is often measured in wins, and when he is playing well, Arenas is capable of delivering them. At the end of Undisputed III, Boyka finds happiness in success. In time Arenas may too. And if that entails no longer being the go-to guy, then so be it. "I've had three knee injuries," says Arenas. "I've disgraced my legacy here. For me to move over for John Wall is a no-brainer. What's the point of my fighting with him all day? It isn't going to make me look any better. It's not like I think I'm God's gift to the NBA and can't step aside for somebody else. I can move aside for John Wall. That's no problem for me."