After the end of the 2007-2008 NBA Season, the Washington Wizards signed Gilbert Arenas to a six year, $111,000,000 contract. And, despite Gilbert missing most of that season with a knee injury and recovering from subsequent surgery, it seemed like something of a no-brainer. Prior to that injury ruined season, Arenas had averaged 25.7 points per game, 5.5 assists per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, and 1.9 steals per game playing for the Wizards. He was their key play maker, and a gutsy and often successful clutch shooter. The Wizards found their franchise foundation.
Sure, there were some indications that Gilbert was not your typical guy. There’s this 2006 piece from Esquire, which concludes,
The subject presents divergent sets of behaviors that suggest traditional pathologies, and their concurrent presence–well, that might make you think he’s flat crazy. But there is no acceleration to his madness, no manic upward slope, no crashing depressive spiral. The collections, the isolation, the aggressive tendencies, the endless training–they focus him, shield him from distractions, toughen him up. And while all that may make him a little nutty, it also makes him really, really good.
Everyone knew Gilbert was a little nutty. But it never seemed malicious, or detrimental. It just seemed like Gilbert. However, the problems went beyond his personal quirks into that unforgivable realm in sports – consistent injury. In the first year of his contract, Gilbert missed all but two (ill-advised) games. He spent the rest of the season recovering from surgery. The cost of Gilbert’s 2008-2009 no show? A mere $15,000,000.
Then, after 32 games this season (22ppg, 7apg, 4rpg) came the following decree from NBA Commissioner David Stern:
I have met separately with Mr. Arenas and with Mr. Crittenton. Both have expressed remorse for their actions and an understanding of the seriousness of their transgressions. Both have volunteered to engage in community service in order to turn the lessons they have learned into an educational message for others. I accept fully the sincerity of their expressions of regret and intent to create something positive from this incident.
Nevertheless, there is no justification for their conduct. Accordingly, I am today converting Mr. Arenas’ indefinite suspension without pay to a suspension without pay for the remainder of the 2009-10 season, and am also suspending Mr. Crittenton without pay, effective immediately, for the remainder of the 2009-10 season.
Arenas had played effectively in his 32 games this season. That was before keeping it real went wrong, and he decided that not only should he bring his firearm to work, he should maybe wave it around at his teammates for good measure. It was a stupid and costly mistake for the Wizards. Arenas’s contract states that he was to be paid $16,000,000 this season. Since he was suspended by the league, 50% of his salary will count against the total team salary – a loss of $8,000,000. When you do the math, that breaks down to $23,000,000 payed over the past two years for 34 games. That makes Arenas the highest per game player in the world, and The Wizards the winners of the Toughest Luck Award.
The problem for the Wizards is that Arenas is getting only more expensive each year. As his contract is structured, he is due $17,700,000, $19,300,000, $20,800,000, and (player option) $22,300,000 in consecutive seasons. Wizards management and fans have to wonder what is in store for them. What tricks will their franchise player, who can be described both mentally and physically as fragile, has in store for them. His huge salary already prevents reasonable trade offers, or the ability to sign big name free agents. His personal escapades cast shadows of doubt on his ability to interact with teammates and be taken seriously as a leader. He is costing the Wizards more than his already pricey contract would suggest. The question now is what will the Wizards do about it?