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Just play already

Before we get into the obvious subject of the post, I realize one could substitute the word "play" for "blog" and apply it to me.  I disappeared on Thursday because I was traveling to report on Brandeis' D-III NCAA Tournament run for our student newspaper, for which I edit the sports section (all my bylines are here).  Brandeis' run ended last Saturday in Plattsburgh, New York with a 65-55 loss to Amherst in the Elite 8, but it was still an unbelievable season, because the team lost their star player to a seemingly minor injury that got worse (sound familiar) and still managed to advance further in the tournament than any other Brandeis squad.    

I probably should have told you I was gone, but truthfully, this place is just as good, if not better, with Jake and Truth doing all the posting.  So I left it be, did my reporting, and now can devote the type of time to BF that you all deserve.  

Ok, to the issue at hand, and that is the wavering Gilbert Arenas.

He originally targeted March 3 for a return date, but in typical Wizards fashion, that return was delayed.  Last Saturday (that's March 15), Gilbert said he was getting an MRI, and announced he could have played in tomorrow's game against the Magic (that's March 19).  He then had the MRI Monday (that's March 17), but didn't go through a full practice, instead insisting he was told to "ramp it up" in practice and play more of what he deemed an "assists game."  Now, according to Mike Jones (who!), Gilbert won't play tomorrow because practice was cancelled.

Gilbert, who as you know plans to opt out at the end of this season, said he still wants to come back and play this season, but is wrestling with himself over whether its worth it.

"That's what I keep trying to run through in my mind," he said. "If we weren't in the playoffs, it wouldn't even be a discussion. But we have a chance of being pretty good in the playoffs, so it's tough."

Of course, with Gilbert out, what better time to speculate as to his destination this summer, as Sam Amico of Pro Basketball News did Monday.

A high-ranking Western Conference executive with knowledge of the situation has told Pro Basketball News that both the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers plan to "strongly pursue" Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas this summer.

Well jeez, why not throw in a few more qualifiers?  This quote by fellow SB Nation comrade Steve from Clips Nation definitely applies.

So whom could it be?  He has intimate knowledge of both the Lakers AND the Clippers off-season plans!  If it were a Clippers' executive, why would he know what the Lakers were planning?  If he works for the Lakers, how would he know about the Clippers?  Furthermore, if he worked for either one of them, would it really be in his interest to leak their plans?  So maybe he works for a third team.  But if that were the case, why would he know about either of them?

Then, of course, there's the killer statement of the Amico article that is probably getting everyone all concerned.  

While the Wizards would be able to sign him to a longer deal than any other team (seven years compared to five),  the source told PBN they may be hesitant to offer him the maximum contract--mostly because they've managed to stay in the playoff race without him.

"They value (Caron) Butler and Antawn Jamison at least as much, probably more at this point," the source said. "They want to build the team around them."

The source added, "That doesn't mean the Wizards will let Arenas walk for nothing. But if the Lakers and Clippers push for him as much as expected, it's likely to result in a sign-and-trade."

Wait, so he has an intimate knowledge of the Wizards too?  And since when is simply "staying in" the playoff race a reason to ditch Gilbert?  I don't think I need to say anymore, because Ivan covered it already, but this just strikes me as the first of several strange Arenas rumors to come.

But let's get back on point.  Separating all the rhetoric, Arenas' story seems pretty simple.  He just needs to go through a full practice, like Caron Butler did, and then he can play.  That right, Eddie?

"There is no timetable for Gilbert. He's showing improvement, we're going to pick up his workouts a little bit more. A little bit more intense and then we're going to take a reading of his reaction after each workout and see how that goes but, we like the fact that he's improving remarkably well."

So now, I guess we're back at square one, except with Gilbert, square one could lead to several different square twos, depending on what is going through his head at the time.  One minute, he'll assure Ivan Carter that he loves the game too much to not play, but a few hours later, when Mike Jones calls, Gilbert will open the question again.

"That's what I keep trying to run through in my mind," he said. "If we weren't in the playoffs, it wouldn't even be a discussion. But we have a chance of being pretty good in the playoffs, so it's tough."

So basically, I and most others probably don't know how to respond.  One approach would be to do what Gilbertology did and use a good news/bad news paradigm.  Another would be to take a stand, which I suppose I'll do right now.

If it were up to me, I'd have Gilbert go through one practice and then have him play, no matter the opponent.  He's scared about the injury, sure, but you can't play basketball scared, and somewhere in the back of his head, Gilbert knows this.  The only way to conquer that feat is to play.  Plus, what's the long-term risk, really?  Worse-case scenario, Gilbert re aggravates it, misses the rest of the season like he would have had he sat out, and is better with his rehab this summer.  Best-case scenario, he comes back, feels much better, returns to his Agent Zero ways, and leads the Wizards in an upset playoff victory.  The reality is probably somewhere in-between, but you have to think the best-case scenario stamps his financial future, and the worst-case scenario might do so anyway.  

This is the thing we always have to remember with Gilbert.  His transparency and little-kid sense of bravado have always been his two most endearing qualities, but it's times like these where it would be nice for him to just suck it up and make a decision.  We can't tell Gilbert not to be sensitive and worrying about his own career, because that same sense of insecurity has made him into the player he has become, but that sensitivity can be channeled more effectively so it only comes into play on the basketball court.

And what better way to eliminate his lingering mental fears than to give him a basketball, put him in a key game situation, and let Agent Zero take over.