FACT: We cannot outright dismiss everything Gilbert Arenas says, because he is very candid, honest, perceptive and open about some very key concepts. There is an element of truth in his words that needs to be discovered and analyzed.
By now, you've probably read Mike Jones' article about Gilbert Arenas, as well as Jones' two-part blog post with leftover Arenas quotes that didn't make the article. If you read the stuff Arenas says carefully, there is an unbelievable amount of rich, detailed information and substance, some of which hasn't really seen the light of day. The problem is, as with anything Arenas says, you have to read it carefully.
Here now is an attempt to translate some of the quotes Arenas gave to Jones into key points. Make the jump to add your interpretations too.
"Nobody could guard me before, and can't nobody guard me now," Arenas, 27, told The Washington Times last week, breaking a silence he maintained since departing for Chicago in July. "If I hadn't come up here, I'd be starting off the season with a 95 percent chance that I'd be sitting out more games. ... [Mr. Grover] saved my career."
Takeaway: Arenas has his confidence back, and confidence is a key part of what made him great. This is a good thing. The other thing is that Arenas was lying to himself whenever he said he was feeling fine during his rehab the past two seasons. He did that probably because he knew that without his confidence, he was nothing. This is also not a bad thing. Move along, folks.
"They handled me going off what they had seen before and said, 'You can't lift weights because you might chip a bone,' " Arenas said. "That's their experience. Everybody has theirs. It took me two years to realize that I was a case study. Ultimately, I can prove I can get hurt, sit out two years and come back and be as good as I was.
Takeaway: Arenas needed a new voice to tell him what he needed to know, because there really isn't too much of a difference between what the team was saying and what Tim Grover ultimately said. Grover must have been better at communicating his message in a way that would reach Arenas. Grover also was there with Arenas every day, which helps. Maybe Arenas resented that he felt he was being treated like a commodity by the team rather than a person. Of course, Arenas is a commodity to the team, so ... umm ... yeah.
The last part of the quote is only significant in the same way the first quote was significant: his confidence is back, and that's good.
"If you have a kid that loves basketball, that eats, sleeps, drinks and thinks basketball and all he knows is basketball and he gets hurt and he's your franchise player, you need to hold him back from himself," Arenas said. "If I'm saying I feel good and you know it's supposed to take six months, instead of letting me at four months run ... they should have held me back. Rather than saying, 'Let's let this guy do what he wants and use him to sell tickets' - sometimes you have to protect players from themselves. I don't feel like I got that type of protection. But, I don't judge them for that. Some things just happen. I told them I felt OK because I wanted to play, and they did what they did."
Takeaway: Dan Steinberg already took this down in the above link, so there's not much more that needs to be said. The Wizards were absolutely not rushing Arenas back - in fact, they were doing the exact opposite. The selling tickets thing is just odd - maybe he's talking about this year, when he shut down after two games? I don't know. I always thought that was a team decision, but maybe it was an Arenas decision. Who knows. Most likely, this was just blowing smoke.
The bottom line remains that Arenas felt like he was being treated like a commodity or an asset and not like a human being. Sure, he says he needed protection from himself, but Grover told Arenas the same things and Arenas listened to him. After two years of rehab, Arenas just needed another voice. Even the best of us begin to tune out people if they're saying the same things over and over again.
And like Arenas said, the Wizards didn't do anything wrong (well, at least not in this context). If they treated him like a commodity or an asset, that's because he is exactly that to them. They probably tried to stay sensitive, but their loyalty is to the organization, first and foremost. Arenas has to understand that.
If anything, this just shows that more teams need to be enlisting the help of outside people when trying to rehab their players. People rehab better when they get an outside voice yelling in their ear.
"I had been hurt, was hearing everyone say, 'Oh, they don't have a traditional point guard,' so I figured, 'Hey, maybe that's what I need to be.' " Arenas said. "But you know what? What is a floor general? What's 'pure point guard'? At the end of the day, you're not going to be able to prove everybody wrong or right. If I average 10 points and 10 assists, then it's, 'Oh, he's not back to what he was.' If I score 45 and four assists, then it's, 'Oh, he's not a true point guard.'
"So, if you don't go out and win a championship in three years, there's always going to people doubting you."
Takeaway: He's right. The traditional PG criticisms are silly. It's all about winning. If Gil wins, they can spin whatever he is into something positive. For now, Gil just needs to do what he can to help the team win best. That's being a scorer and a passer, which is what he's been and what he will be better now that he's in a PG-heavy system as opposed to the Princeton, which doesn't rely on a traditional point guard.
"Where did we finish in the East last year?" he asked. "Last. Then until we prove ourselves, that's what we are. You can't predict. Anyone can guess where we're gonna be at. But until the ball goes up in the air, we're last in the East. We took some steps in the right direction this summer, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what I saw. If you wanna say stuff, it's just for conversation, just for the chat rooms. And it's all great and wonderful, but it doesn't mean anything."
Takeaway: Great news. Enough with the silly predictions, it's all about results. It seems a bit odd to me that Arenas is the one member of the Big 3 who actually has last season weighing on his mind (at least publicly). Sure, there were a lot of injuries, but the team won 19 games. Guys like Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were on that team. I'm sure they're driven by that season's failures privately as much as anyone, but you'd like to at least see some public recognition that, yeah, there are a lot of things we did wrong last year that we need to improve upon. I'm happy that Arenas is standing up and saying that the team has a long way to go. It's the sign of a leader.
It's also good that you have the contrast between the proclamations of Butler/Jamison and the realism of Arenas. That'll keep the other players' confidence levels up while also spurring them to improve. I just never thought I'd see the roles reversed.
"I don't have no theme," he said. "I just wanna go play basketball because I haven't been able to the last two years. It's no Takeover, it's no Reloaded. I just wanna play."
Takeaway: While he's probably saying this in part because he doesn't know what to expect of himself (i.e. if he starts off hot, you could see the bravado and silly stuff come back), it's good to hear we aren't getting any silly campaigns.
"I feel great. I'm never gonna be 100 percent. But I feel great. You can't crumble up a piece of paper and then when you open it up again expect it to be smooth like it once was. But I know my legs are stronger than what they were, and now I don't have to just rely on my speed."
Takeaway: I wouldn't make too much from the 100 percent comment. Instead, I think this shows Gilbert sees himself as a different player. For those who want Gilbert to be a different player, this is good news. The first step to changing is admitting you won't be the same guy.
"It was the psyche," Arenas said. "He had three plates on there, and I'm sitting there like, I don't know who you think this is, I'm not Dwyane Wade. He told me, if you can get six good ones, and I ended up getting 10. Thats when I started playing, getting into the league. Started and my first game was 47 points, all layups and dunks."
Takeaway: It appears a lot of Arenas' rehab failures were related to a lack of confidence or a mental roadblock. That's just as important to break as the physical side of things. Grover knew that and exploited it.
"I got a lot of flack for working too hard, but I only know one way to work," says Agent Zero. "That's work hard. It's funny, I got flack for working too hard, and there are plenty of players in the league who don't work hard enough. But instead of giving those players flack, you're gonna bash the guy who's working hard and doing everything he can to come back.
"It's just how I was always taught. My dad would go out for auditions, and he'd be working on lines. He didn't get parts, but I would always hear him going over lines, even at 3 o clock in the morning, trying to get better. He always taught me if whenever you're resting, someone else is getting better. So, If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it the same way. I'll break every bone, tear every muscle to play this game."
Takeaway: Gil's just trying to justify his past behavior. I don't think this is too concerning. Sure, you'd like him to say unequivocally that he screwed up his rehab, but at least he admitted he was too eager last time. This is definitely one of the parts of the conversation where I would just internally roll my eyes and say "okay Gil, whatever you say." I don't have a problem with someone trying to justify working hard, even if they're wrong.
As for the comment about him breaking every bone and tearing every muscle to play this game ... it makes no sense, so don't read too much into it. It again just shows that the dude is sensitive to every criticism. You'd like him not to be, but the big picture is that without this sensitivity, he wouldn't even be where he is today. Sometimes, you just have to take some of the bad with the good.
"It's a good feeling. His first day, he called and talked to me and I told him that's the most any coach has talked to me at one time since high school. ... It's hard to say the grass is never greener on the other side, but for me, personally, it's greener now."
Saunders demands a lot of his point guards and sees them as an extension of him on the floor. And speaking of leadership, Arenas is aware that the perception of him is that he's not a team leader.
But he says that's not because he isn't capable of leading or doesn't want to lead. Quite the contrary. He is taking seriously the task at hand.
"Flip asked me to lead this team and I'm gonna be his leader," Arenas said. "The last coach didn't want me to be his leader, so I didn't want to be."
Takeaway: Lots of people are justifiably jumping on Arenas for the "Eddie Jordan didn't want me to be a leader" stuff. On the one hand, what Arenas is saying is probably plain wrong. I've never talked to Eddie Jordan, but I guarantee you that if Arenas came up to him and said "I think I need to be more of a leader," Eddie would not respond by saying "No, you're not a leader. Just be your goofy self and leave the leading to someone else." If Gilbert showed some initiative about being a leader instead of constantly deflecting the responsibility to other people, Eddie would have absolutely loved that. Sometimes, you just have to take matters into your own hands despite the guidance you may perceive to be faulty.
On the other hand, I don't recall Eddie ever going to Gilbert like Flip Saunders did and saying to him "I expect you to be our leader on and off the floor. Not Antawn, not Caron. You." Eddie seemed like a bit of a hands-off coach. He seems to be mostly under the philosophy that the players sort those types of things out and it didn't matter necessarily what resulted as long as everyone was willing to abide by his broad ground rules. This is probably what is meant when he is referred to as a players' coach. It's a sound coaching strategy, but also one Arenas may have interpreted as being stand-offish. Arenas probably felt his coach was either a) afraid to "deal" with him or b) so afraid that he couldn't trust him as a leader that he never impressed it on him. In Arenas' language, that might mean Eddie "didn't want me to be his leader."
So if we're thinking about going forward, the good news is that Arenas knows what Flip wants him to do and knows Flip is committed to him as a leader so long as Arenas himself is committed to being a leader. Arenas probably never had that with Eddie. It was probably more like: Yeah, I want Arenas to be a leader, but if he doesn't want it, I can't force him. He has to want it before I can even give him that responsibility. Which is a fine way to think, but it's probably not the way to make Arenas tick.
"You don't have to think so much. You just play. The offense we used to run was a thinking man's offense, and we had a lot of young players, so it didn't work. The first year we won  games, and then after the whole team being in it for a year, we won 45 games, but then we lose our 2-guard in Larry [Hughes]. You can't keep losing players, and then you get new guys in with that type of system. And every training camp, you gotta go back and teach.
"And we've got all these young players on the team, and your older guys in the offense get hurt, now you can't play young players like Nick and Andray and expect them to do great in that scheme. You see they have obvious talent, but they can't remember all the plays. Your I.Q. had to be great to understand the offense. Teams that run systems like that, Sacramento, New Jersey, our 49 win team, they were all older, experienced guys, but if you don't have experienced guys, it's a struggle to remember all the motion, all those cut-backs."
Takeaway: Steinberg unnecessarily made fun of this, in my opinion. If you read between the lines, rather than accept what Arenas says at face value (we shouldn't do that, remember!), he's just saying that the younger players on the team are not best suited for a read-and-react offense like the Princeton. Gil is 100% correct that the teams that were most successful with the Princeton didn't have too many rookies playing big roles. In 2002, the average age of Sacramento's top eight minute players was 27. The Nets had some younger guys (K-Mart, Richard Jefferson), but those are the types of guys that fit better into the read-and-react system.
By contrast, the Wizards have so many youngsters who need structure. We've been pleading for Blatche to find a couple things he's great at rather than several things he's good at. Young has been without structure his whole basketball life. Javaris Crittenton's been on three teams in two years. JaVale McGee just started growing into his body. Etc. Etc. You can't put these people into a system that requires a lot of thinking on the floor and expect them to just get it right away.
Gil's not making fun of his teammates' IQ; he's saying that it would be better for their development to get more basic skill training rather than have to learn a complicated offensive system that requires a lot of counter moves based on what the defense is doing. Isn't that what so many of us have been saying for so long? And Flip's offense is excellent for that type of development. The playbook may be huge, but it's also filled with explicit set plays that have to be run, with players filling explicit roles within that system. It's not about making a series of counter moves and counter-counter moves based on where the defense is.
As for the Hughes comment - again, don't take it at face value. The root point is that the players always had to re-learn a complicated system during training camp. A more flexible pro-style system with simpler roles will simply eliminate all that time spent on re-learning things. Maybe this will mean more time for defense work?
Whew. This is a group project to sift through Arenas quotes, so please, explain to me how you think his words should be interpreted.