Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
|2010-2011 regular season||Gilbert Arenas|
On November 27, the Orlando Magic trekked to Washington for a road game against the Wizards. That evening, the Magic won by the score of 100-99 on a game-winning put-back by Dwight Howard.
But the bigger story was the performance of Gilbert Arenas.
Against Orlando, Arenas turned back the clock and played like the 2006 version of himself when he was at the apex of his skills, putting up 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists in roughly 37 minutes of playing time. More importantly, Arenas was 12-of-14 from the free-throw line, mixing jumpshots with forays at the rim — the things he used to do on offense in his prime.
Whether or not this was the performance that triggered general manager Otis Smith‘s desire to eventually acquire Arenas via trade, no one knows except for Smith. However, it can be stated that Smith was in attendance that evening (as he always is, given that he travels with the Magic on the road), watching everything unfold and surely Arenas’ stellar play influenced his decision.
As the story goes, Smith traded for Arenas on December 18, gambling that a fresh start would revitalize the fallen superstar. The hope was that Arenas would be a playmaker and provide Orlando with the scoring punch they needed on the perimeter, given that the team’s offense went from elite in 2010 to average in 2011 at the time of the transactions.
Unfortunately for Smith, he gambled and lost.
To put it bluntly, Arenas was awful with the Magic. Particularly on offense.
Sure, there would be games when the stars would align for Arenas and he’d be able to be very productive for Orlando coming off the bench. Arenas’ performances against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 28, the Charlotte Bobcats on April 6, and the Atlanta Hawks on April 24 (Game 4 in the playoffs) come to mind.
Yet those were rare events rather than regular occurrences.
The Arenas that the Magic got, for the most part, was an inefficient shooting, turnover-prone, sometimes-hobbled player. There were those that argued that Arenas needed a lot of minutes to be effective. Thing is, in 29 of Arenas’ 49 games with Orlando, he played more than 20 minutes a night. If anything, head coach Stan Van Gundy displayed an extreme amount of patience with Arenas, giving him a lot more rope that he probably deserved.
It’s true that Arenas’ freelancing ways didn’t mesh well in Van Gundy’s structured schemes offensively. But it’s also true that Arenas’ freelancing ways were precisely what the Magic were trying to inject into a lifeless offense.
It didn’t work.
Maybe Smith expected Van Gundy to hand over the point guard reigns to Arenas, play him heavy minutes, and go “all in” with the experiment. Maybe that would have given Arenas the psychological edge to succeed in the sense that he could play free and easy, and not have to worry about getting quickly yanked to the bench after a mistake, something that happened every so often when he was backing up Jameer Nelson at the point guard position. However, even after taking some of those theoretical factors into account, the reality is that Arenas didn’t produce and it was hard for Van Gundy to justify giving him more minutes than he did.
So not only was the Arenas experience a flop, it can be argued that he has the worst contract in the NBA. When Smith acquired Arenas, he inherited a player with four years and a little more than $80 million left on his contract.
Granted, Orlando wasn’t brimming with a lot of payroll flexibility to begin with, but trading for Arenas puts them in salary cap hell. As Smith proved himself, no contract is untradable but the Magic better hope that the amnesty clause is implemented in the new collective bargaining agreement or else the odds of getting rid of Arenas any time soon will be low.
Because if Orlando wants any chance at surrounding Howard with the talent needed to become an elite team and championship contender once again, thus providing him with an incentive to re-sign with the franchise and stay for the long haul, letting Arenas go begins the process of reinvention.
If Arenas can’t be released, is it possible that he can have his best offseason ever and help the Magic next season?
To be honest, with Arenas, it’s hard to be anything but skeptical.
But at least Arenas is entertaining on Twitter.