In light of the recent tidbid that the Wizards and Gilbert Arenas are considering shutting him down for the rest of the season, friend of the blog Tom Ziller cyber-penned this post on NBA Fanhouse suggesting that there's no point in bringing Agent Zero back this season with the Wizards stuck at 4-23. The money line is this:
No offense to D.C., but what exactly would be the point of bringing Arenas back now? Did Dwyane Wade help the Heat much last season? Should David Robinson have made a late push to get back on the court in 1996-97? When you are this bad, there is little to be gained by returning a star with a bad knee.
Jake already expressed a couple counterpoints to this view over at Gilbertology, but here are six reasons why I disagree with Ziller's line of thinking.
1. We're talking about a chronic injury
The biggest difference between the Arenas situation and the ones Ziller described is that Arenas is returning from three knee surgeries, not one. When David Robinson got hurt, it was the first time in his career that it happened, and there wasn't all that much risk that he wouldn't come back and still be an effective player. Dwayne Wade's problems last year were somewhat similar to Arenas', but not in the same degree. Wade hurt his shoulder in 2006/07, came back early for the playoffs, then never really healed all that well going into 2007/08. Arenas hurt his knee in 2006/07, never really healed all that well going into 2007/08, missed time, came back early for the playoffs and aggravated his injury enough to repeat the same process. Even with Amare Stoudamire, a guy lots of people are comparing to Arenas, there was only one hitch in his recovery.
What's the point? More than anyone, Arenas needs to prove to everyone that he's healthy enough to play. It's been nearly two years since that last happened, and it's completely understandable to worry about whether he's ever going to be the same player. If you keep him out all season, you're now that much further removed from his last healthy foray. Ernie Grunfeld is going to enter an incredibly important offseason without having any idea whatsoever how much he can count on his franchise player. If he comes back, at least there's a larger body of evidence of his post-return play.
2. The validation of Arenas' health matters more than his actual health
Allow me to explain. Yes, it is essential that Arenas is fully healthy before making his return. The organization speaks often of Arenas signing a six-year contract, not a six-month contract, and they're right.
However, shutting him down this year has lasting effects into the offseason, and I'm not just talking about fan opinion. It's looking more and more like Ernie is going to have to find a new coach for this bunch. Knowing the way coaching tenures are going recently, however, what coach is going to sign on to a team when he has no idea how much Arenas can give him? There's always the worry that Arenas will stay out and management will make said coach a scapegoat, just like Eddie Jordan was perceived to be around the league.
In essence, a healthy Gilbert Arenas makes the Wizards job that much more enticing to a big-name coach. If you shut Arenas down, then you have no idea how Arenas is going to play moving forward. Ergo, there's reason for a coach to wonder if he'll get anything from Arenas when he takes the job, making the job less enticing.
3. Arenas provides a building block
No, this team isn't making the playoffs. However, there are a ton of young guys on this team coming into their own, and it'd be nice if they had some time to play and grow around Arenas rather than in place of him. If Arenas is to return fully healthy, he will be our franchise guy and everyone else will need to play off him. That includes Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Dominic McGuire and the rest. They have all seen their role jerked around, partly because of coaching, but mostly because of circumstance with all these guys injured. The more time we can get for them to grow around Arenas rather than without him, the better they will develop into the roles they should fill.
You have to worry that the young guys already have picked up bad habits that make them poor compliments to Gil. We've seen how Andray Blatche has become more of a scorer and less of a rebounder and screener this year. If he is to play with GIl, that'll have to change a bit. We've also seen how Nick Young has continued to monopolize the ball (albeit more efficiently) with Gil out. We've also seen how JaVale McGee has stopped rolling to the basket as effectively as he did earlier in the year, which needs to change if he plays with Gil. The more you hold Gil out, the more you are inhibiting the development of those skills. The best way these guys can learn those role-playing/maturity-type skills is to practice them with the franchise player out on the court. You take away Gil, you take away that chance.
4. Arenas needs to experience the transition
A month into Ed Tapscott's tenure, and I can see that we're between offensive and defensive systems. It's clear Ed's trying to change the way we play, but he knows he needs to do so gradually because we've been playing this way since 2003. We still run a lot of Princeton-type sets, but many of the pet plays have been eliminated in favor of more pro-style screen and rolls. You know the play where the point guard passes off to the wing, takes a backscreen from a center and gets a return pass from the wing for an open three? Gil scored a ton of points just on that one play. I haven't seen that play run at all recently.
Anyway, the point is that Arenas, like the rest of the players, needs to learn how to play outside of the Princeton. I'd rather his transition period happen now, when there's nothing really on the line, than next year, when it may inhibit any real push toward the playoffs and beyond.
5. Arenas' psyche will be damaged
Jake touched on this in his post, and I think it's a really good point. Gilbert has gotten to this point by silencing the doubters with his bravado and confidence, but that has to be melting away the more he stays off the court. You keep him out, you run the risk of shattering that confidence forever.
6. What more could he do to his knee?
Seriously. If he gets hurt again, it's a sunk cost anyway. We just repeat this same process again. The earlier we can see whether it's a sunk cost, the better equipped we'll be to deal with it.
All of this is under the premise that he's actually going to be healthy enough to play this year. If that's not true, then he should sit. But if it's not true, it should really not be true. Keeping Arenas out as a precaution would not be the right idea.