1. What now for Arenas?
Five questions and instant answers about Gilbert Arenas' future after the former All-Star was sentenced Friday to serve 30 days in a halfway house in the gun-possession case that rocked the NBA.
1. Is a sentence that includes two years of supervised probation and 400 hours of community service in addition to the 30 days in a halfway house harsh enough for the Wizards to make a run at voiding Arenas' contract?
The prospect of the Wizards' trying to wipe out the remaining four years and $80.2 million on Arenas' deal can't be completely ruled out because the team has a new owner, Ted Leonsis. And Leonsis, according to sources close to the situation, hasn't weighed in yet with the Wizards' current management about his Arenas plans or views.
Multiple league sources, however, still maintain that it is highly unlikely that terminating Arenas' contract is something Washington will pursue. That likely would have been the case even if Arenas had received 30 days of jail time, if only because most league experts felt that a jail sentence spilling into next season was the only basis for a successful void attempt.
One source with knowledge of the Wizards' thinking insisted to ESPN.com that the Pollin family -- which has maintained operational control of the team this season after the death of longtime Wizards owner Abe Pollin in November -- had abandoned the idea of trying to terminate the contract after assessing its options. It is assumed that Leonsis will also concede that a void attempt has little to no shot of succeeding, especially after Arenas received zero jail time at Friday's sentencing hearing, but technically that thinking must still be classified as an assumption until Leonsis -- who agreed to terms Thursday with the Pollins on purchasing the franchise -- settles in.
Yet you can safely call it a very strong assumption. Reason being: Since Arenas has already been suspended for the rest of this season by NBA commissioner David Stern and because Arenas' main legal obligation (those 30 days in the halfway house) will undoubtedly be completed well before he has to report to training camp on Sept. 27, Washington won't be able to claim that Arenas' sentence prevents him from rendering services and thus breaching his contract, which is widely regarded around the league as the only basis that the Wizards would have for trying to void it.
Don't forget that the last attempt to void a contract in the NBA for a non-drug offense was Golden State's failed attempt to terminate Latrell Sprewell's deal following Sprewell's 1997 attack on then-Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo. No one was hurt and no shots were fired in the Arenas-Javaris Crittenton gunplay incident, making this case -- for all the negative attention it generated and the frightening possibilities that come with the presence of guns in an NBA locker room -- less severe in the eyes of many legal experts.
2. But this was a felony conviction. Why wasn't that enough to violate the morals clause in Arenas' contract?
As ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan noted in an earlier Arenas FAQ in January after Arenas' guilty plea, there is specific language in the league's current labor agreement with the players specifying that a "violent" felony triggers a minimum 10-game suspension.
But even the last violent felony in the league -- Stephen Jackson, then with the Pacers, pleaded guilty in 2007 to a felony endangerment charge after firing rounds from a pistol in a strip-club parking lot in Indianapolis -- produced only a seven-game suspension ... and only after Jackson's participation in the infamous Indiana-Detroit melee that spilled into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills in November 2004.
Arenas supporters would argue that the former All-Star has been punished plenty already when you add up the 30 days in a halfway house, lost salary ($7.4 million) and cancellation of his endorsement deal with adidas on top of the damage to his reputation.
3. What about a trade or buyout that allows the Wizards and Arenas to start fresh next season?
The landscape can certainly change, since we're some six months removed from the start of 2010-11 training camps. But neither of those options looks very likely from the current vantage point, either.
The Wizards would be the first to concede that, after shopping Arenas without success before the clash with Crittenton, there is no apparent trade market for the 28-year-old now given the mammoth contract he possesses ... and the PR hit any team would absorb along with taking on that mammoth contract ... and the three surgeries on Arenas' left knee in an 18-month span between April 2007 and September 2008.
A buyout would undoubtedly appeal to both parties -- especially to Arenas, since it would give him the opportunity to choose his next team -- but would also have to be classified as the most daunting buyout in NBA history given the riches Washington still owes the former Agent Zero.
Even if Arenas was willing to, say, forfeit half of the $80 million left on his contract, that would still require Leonsis to cut a $40 million check in one of his first acts as the Wizards' new boss. Even if a buyout was paid out over a numbers of years instead of in one lump sum, it's hard to imagine any new owner starting out with that sort of cash splash when it doesn't bring a marquee free agent or some other asset in return.
As covered in this cyberspace in January, there would be undeniable interest in Arenas if he became a free agent this summer -- starting with Orlando and Magic GM/Arenas confidante Otis Smith -- given how many teams will have salary-cap space to burn. But one source briefed on Washington's plans said this week that a buyout isn't a consideration that's being seriously contemplated at this juncture because it would cost the team "way too much money."
Complicating matters further is the fact that Arenas doesn't have an agent to attempt to broker trades or initiate buyout talks for him. More than one Arenas associate has noted in recent weeks that Arenas has badly missed the guidance of longtime agent Dan Fegan after parting ways with Fegan before receiving his $111 million contract from the Wizards in the summer of 2008.
4. Does Arenas want to play for the Wizards again and are they really prepared to bring him back?
The signals were strong back in January, in the immediate aftermath of the incident and the subsequent unraveling of Washington's season, that both parties would have been happy to dissolve the relationship immediately.
But with so many obstacles impeding a palatable divorce, as covered above, Arenas and the Wizards have begun to realize that giving their relationship one more shot appears to be increasingly unavoidable.
As one longtime Arenas observer says: "What's clear is that he has to get back on the basketball court. He's lost without basketball."
The fastest way to make that happen is trying to heal his broken marriage with the Wizards, whose grave disappointment with their former franchise player -- the organization initially responded to Arenas' indefinite suspension by taking down a 60-foot-high banner of Arenas that hung on the side of the Verizon Center, deleting Arenas images from the team's Web site and clearing the team store of all Arenas merchandise -- appears to have softened some.
"I don't think we've ever moved on," Wizards coach Flip Saunders told The Washington Post's Michael Lee at Friday morning's shootaround in Charlotte before Arenas' sentence was announced.
"When you have someone who was with you like that, you know he's still a part of you. You don't really move on. You still think about him a lot. There are many times I thought, from a basketball standpoint, 'What if we had him?'"
Saunders told Lee that he has stayed in contact with Arenas the past few months, saying: "He's texted me a lot on the team and how it's doing, watching the games and those types of things. I just told him that he's going to have to move on [from this incident]."
If Arenas has to try to move on from the same city he's called home since signing with the Wizards in the summer of 2003, it won't come as a total shock to him. You'll recall that Arenas recently filed paperwork to the league office in New York to change his jersey number next season from No. 0 to No. 6, which is an application that is relevant only if he stays with Washington.
5. Is this just another nightmare day in the Wizards' disastrous season?
The past 48 hours, despite the severity of Arenas' punishment, might actually be the high point of Washington's season.
The Wizards aren't exactly bubbling with optimism, like they were back on opening night in late October when Arenas came back from two seasons of near inactivity thanks to his knee troubles to inspire an unexpected road win in Dallas.
But the events of the past two days have brought the first traces of clarity to the Wizards' immediate future after months of paralyzing uncertainty.
Any nerves about the lengthy delay in finalizing what was initially forecast as a relatively seamless transition from Pollin's estate to Leonsis were banished, at last, on Thursday.
And Arenas' sentencing Friday finally lets the Wizards know exactly how soon before he's eligible for reinstatement ... or maybe even eligible to move on through one of the aforementioned long-shot avenues in the event that the landscape does change in coming weeks and months.
Uncertainty unquestionably remains about the status of Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld, and it might not be addressed until the ownership transfer is officially completed later this spring. Will Leonsis elect to keep Grunfeld in place, as he did with the GM he inherited (George McPhee) with hockey's Washington Capitals? Or will he hold Grunfeld accountable, as some rival executives suspect, for the in-house dysfunction that gave Flip Saunders no chance in his first season as Wiz coach?
It remains to be seen how much serious long-term planning can proceed until Grunfeld's status is clarified, but the payroll-shedding trades in February of former Wizards mainstays Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood -- along with this week's long-awaited answers to mysteries that have hovered over this team for months -- have moved the Wizards much closer to plotting a course for their future.
The reality, furthermore, is that the Wizards are pretty well-positioned to build a new future -- with or without Arenas. They could have close to $20 million in cap space this summer, depending on where the salary cap falls for next season, along with a forthcoming high lottery pick to fuel John Wall/Evan Turner fantasies. They also have two fairly large trade exceptions (worth $6 million and $4.5 million) to bring in fresh assets, and they have what one rival Eastern Conference executive described as "a good stash" of young players with trade value: Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Al Thornton and Nick Young.
The best news? The Wiz are still in the East, where the playoffs are only a year away with the right moves.
2. Western Conference
New Bobcats owner Michael Jordan didn't do much to dispel the notion that coach of the year candidate Larry Brown could leave Charlotte at season's end, so Brown will continue to be linked to a possible return to the Clippers or 76ers until he pledges otherwise.
Other names, though, are starting to circulate as likely coaching candidates for the Clippers.
Three options that the Clippers are strongly evaluating, according to NBA coaching sources: Byron Scott and Mark Jackson from ESPN's TV roster and Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey.
Although it is widely presumed in Los Angeles that Scott is a prospective down-the-road replacement for Phil Jackson and would rather wait to see if he has any shot at coaching the marquee tenant at Staples Center within the next couple of seasons, I'm told that the Clips are serious about trying to beat the Lakers to Scott, who was drafted by the then San Diego Clippers in 1983 before being swiped by the Lakers along with Swen Nater in a trade with the Clips for Norm Nixon, Eddie Jordan and two second-round picks in October 1983.
In his second season on Rick Carlisle's bench in Dallas after being fired by Minnesota with a record of 20-20 halfway through the 2006-07 season -- and after being considered for openings in Philadelphia and Chicago in the 2009 offseason -- Casey is also being increasingly mentioned in coaching circles as a Clippers target.
All of the above, of course, presupposes that the Clippers will be hiring a coach to replace Mike Dunleavy and interim successor Kim Hughes before free agency starts July 1, which is no given. The idea that they could leave the coaching chair open to enhance their long-shot pitch to LeBron James -- thereby inviting LeBron to essentially pick his coach -- has also gained traction. The risk there, though, is that the Clips miss out on all the coaching candidates who fit best while waiting to court a superstar they have no realistic shot at.
For all the pieces in place (Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Baron Davis and Blake Griffin) and the unquestioned allure of L.A., even the most optimistic dwellers of Clipperland have to concede that for LeBron to entrust his future to Clips owner Donald Sterling when LeBron needs to win multiple championships for his legacy is nearly impossible to picture.
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
40: The Lakers' 92-83 win Wednesday night in San Antonio was the 40th regular-season meeting between L.A.'s Kobe Bryant and the Spurs' Tim Duncan. That's the most head-to-head games for any two active players with their current teams; Duncan and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki have squared off 39 times in the regular season, while Bryant's Lakers and Nowitzki's Mavs have met 38 times. The Lakers have a 22-18 edge over San Antonio in those games, with Bryant scoring 1,009 points (25.2 ppg) and Duncan scoring 828 points (20.7 ppg).
.500: The Jazz are 10-10 this season in games in which they trailed by five points or more at halftime after Wednesday's come-from-behind home win over Boston, tying Utah with Cleveland (6-6) for the league's best record in such cases.
7: Utah's Deron Williams had his seventh game in 2009-10 with at least 15 points and 15 assists in the Boston win, nudging him ahead of Phoenix's Steve Nash (six) and New Orleans' Chris Paul (five) in that category. With 18 points, 16 assists, 8 rebounds and 4 steals, D-Will also became the first Jazz player to reach each of those levels in the same game since John Stockton against Orlando on March 14, 1995.
142: When Kevin Durant (16 points) and Russell Westbrook (zero points, five assists) managed just 16 points between them in Sunday's loss at Indiana, it marked the first time in their first 142 games together for Oklahoma City that they didn't combine for at least 20. Their previous combined low was 21 points against Portland late last season, when Durant scored 13 points and Westbrook had eight.
5: Golden State's Stephen Curry is the first NBA rookie to register five games with at least 30 points and 10 assists since Chicago's Michael Jordan in 1984-85. Curry is third in the league this season in that category, behind Cleveland's LeBron James (eight 30/10 games) and Miami's Dwyane Wade (six). Utah's Williams and Oklahoma City's Westbrook have three 30/10 games each; Sacramento rookie Tyreke Evans and Milwaukee rook Brandon Jennings don't have any.
Starting with its home loss to the Lakers on Wednesday night, no team in the league had more games left against teams with winning records than San Antonio.
Which is not good news for the Spurs, given their 17-24 record against winning teams this season.
Ginobili is averaging 23.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds in the 10 games since, prompting one rival executive in the West to say: "Manu has been the best player in the league this month."
That development has not only re-established Ginobili as a free-agent commodity this summer, but also makes the increasingly feasible prospect of a Lakers-Spurs matchup in the first round as tasty as it gets early in the playoffs. All signs point to Parker returning in time for the postseason ... and we've never seen these old rivals meet so early in the Kobe Bryant/Tim Duncan era. Can't deny that I'm selfishly rooting for that matchup in Round 1.
3. Fab Five Of The Sweet 16
You probably wouldn't need more than one guess to pinpoint our nomination for the major college basketball development of the week: Cal State Fullerton's Gerard Anderson is officially taking his Amare-esque repertoire to the Final Four in Indianapolis for the annual collegiate slam-dunk contest that airs April 1 on ESPN. (Follow this link for a YouTube look at GA's unquestioned qualifications.)
Yet we do have more trivia data to pass along -- yet again from ESPN researcher Pete Newmann -- to supplement your Sweet 16 viewing.
Despite the flood of underclassmen declaring for the NBA draft throughout the 2000s, there are five active players in the league -- about 1 percent of the current NBA population -- that reached the final 16 of the NCAA tournament four times in their collegiate careers.
Four of them are Dukies, true, but the list still has some novelty:Houston's Shane Battier (Duke)
1998: Lost in Elite 8
1999: Lost in title game
2000: Lost in Sweet 16
2001: Won NCAA title
Milwaukee's Charlie Bell (Michigan State)
1998: Lost in Sweet 16
1999: Lost in Final Four
2000: Won NCAA title
2001: Lost in Final Four
New York's Chris Duhon (Duke)
2001: Won NCAA title
2002: Lost in Sweet 16
2003: Lost in Sweet 16
2004: Lost in Final Four
Orlando's J.J. Redick (Duke)
2003: Lost in Sweet 16
2004: Lost in Final Four
2005: Lost in Sweet 16
2006: Lost in Sweet 16
Boston's Shelden Williams (Duke)
2003: Lost in Sweet 16
2004: Lost in Final Four
2005: Lost in Sweet 16
2006: Lost in Sweet 16
4. One on One To Five
Five questions with Warriors rookie guard Stephen Curry:
Q: How closely has Year 1 in the NBA played out to what you were expecting?
A: Playingwise on the floor, it's been exactly what I expected. But it's been kind of a chaotic, crazy season for our team, with the amount of injuries we've had, so nothing could really prepare me for that. I've lost more games this season than I think I have in my whole career in basketball, so it's been a different situation in that regard. But for the most part I've really enjoyed everything about my rookie year.
I had some understanding of what it would be like just watching my dad [Dell Curry]. But once you get in the day-to-day grind and have to deal with the emotions of playing on a team and all that kind of stuff, there's no real preparation for it. It's just a matter of handling it yourself.
Q: You're putting up all these big numbers in the second half of the season when we'd normally expect a rookie to wear down. What's been the secret?
A: That's kind of been my focus just to finish out the year strongly. Once New Year's hit, I was playing a lot more minutes and I think that really boosted my confidence and got me going in the right direction.
I always had confidence, but I never put any kind of statistical goals on my season. For me to have such a drastic change and improvement over the course of the year, that's something I'm really proud of and hopefully it continues, even though things haven't gone well for our team. I try to use every game as another opportunity to get better. It's one of those situations where I've got to stay focused and prepare for the future and just keep working on my game.
Q: I remember Don Nelson saying Dirk Nowitzki would be the Rookie of the Year before anyone had ever really seen him and that heaped all kinds of expectations on him. I know Nellie always compares you to Steve Nash, but that doesn't seem to have put any extra burdens on you.
A: He knows how good Nash is, so for him to throw that comparison out there means a lot to me. It tells me I'm doing things the right way and moving in the right direction. It doesn't put any extra pressure on me, though, because I don't really think about anything besides playing when I'm out on the floor.
When I was in the whole draft process, that was the one comparison I heard the most, so I started using that in my team interviews at the pre-draft camp. [Teams] would ask: "What current or past NBA player do you model your game after or who do you compare yourself to?" I didn't have an answer before I heard that one, so I decided I had to use [Nash].
I see similarities because we both can shoot the ball and pass the ball, but I also see differences. We're not the most athletically gifted guys, so we use our creativity to get where we want to go. So that's something that's very similar. But he manages the game so well every time he's out on the floor and that's something I'm trying to learn and get my game on that level.
Q: You're making this late Rookie of the Year charge. Are you starting to like your chances?
A: It means a lot to me just to be in the conversation. I think there's a lot of stuff that goes into that vote and Tyreke [Evans] has been playing well all year. He kind of set the bar for all the rookies to try to reach. A couple guys have made a late run, including myself, so I feel like I'm in the conversation and have a chance. Hopefully I'll get some votes, but on a day-to-day basis it's not something I'm really thinking about.
Q: The Warriors get a Team Turmoil rep from those of us on the outside. You've seen a lot in one season, haven't you?
A: I've seen pretty much everything, from what Monta said about me at training camp [that Ellis and Curry were both too small to play effectively as a backcourt tandem] to when Stephen Jackson demanded that trade at the beginning of the year. That kind of set the bar for our season. That was the big media headline around our team, so people are naturally going to think that nobody wants to be here and a lot of people are disgruntled. And even now at the end of the year with the [possible] ownership change [after the Warriors were formally put up for sale Monday] and all that stuff, it's been an up-and-down year.
But I don't feel that way at all. Everybody around here loves our team, our fans are behind us. Hopefully we can get a good lineup out there to get us some wins in the future, hopefully next year.
With us being at the bottom of the West and having to feel that feeling of loss a lot, it's been very difficult to stay positive. So that's been a goal of ours since New Year's. We just want to finish out the year strong. The beginning of the year was real depressing around here and that's not something I'm used to. But right now we're focused on getting [four] more wins to help Coach Nelson get the all-time wins record. Things around our team are pretty bright.
5. ROY Guy?
With his late charge in the Rookie of the Year race, Warriors guard Stephen Curry has managed to find a few reasons to celebrate despite losing "more games this season than I think I have in my whole career." (See Box 4)
6. Eastern Conference
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
.354: That was the amazingly inviting combined winning percentage of Miami's final 11 opponents entering Thursday's win over Chicago.
19: The Nets ended a 14-game home losing streak with Wednesday's win over Sacramento, mercifully falling five losses short of the league record. The 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks lost 19 straight home games in one stretch of a 13-69 season.
2: John Salmons has two 30-point games since joining the Bucks on Feb. 19. He had zero this season with Chicago.
349: Salmons arrived in Milwaukee with a career scoring average of 9.1 points in 571 NBA games. But his 349 points in his first 17 games with the Bucks represented a debut total bettered by only three in franchise history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) scored 446 points in his first 17 games as a Buck in 1969, followed by Terry Cummings' 374 points in 1984 and rookie Brandon Jennings' 368 points in Milwaukee's first 17 games this season.
7. Marc's Quote
"I've got a lot of playbooks."
Clippers forward Drew Gooden, joking about his stints with nine different teams in eight NBA seasons.
8. From Portland To Poland
Talk to NBA personnel folks about Qyntel Woods and you get a mixed response. Some are quick to say that Woods' baggage -- after pleading guilty to an animal-abuse charge involving dogs in October 2004 that ended his career with the Blazers -- outweighs any potential payoff from giving him another shot.
Said one Western Conference general manager: "Samsonite."
Yet Woods has also won a few admirers around the league for his willingness to go to Poland and keep refining his game after his own unsuccessful stint with Olympiacos and a stop in Italy with Fortitudo Bologna.
"He's been playing great for Prokom," one veteran personnel man said. "He's been solid overseas. I think someone will take a chance on him."
Said another GM out West: "He's an NBA talent for sure. And he's grown by leaps and bounds as a person."
The reality Woods faces is that the only two teams to employ him domestically since his NBA demise in Portland are Miami and New York, where he was brought in by two of the league's few bulletproof names: Pat Riley and Larry Brown. But even Brown proved not to be bulletproof with the Knicks, as both he and Woods were swiftly ousted after New York's disastrous 2005-06 season.
Another factor likely to keep Woods abroad is money: He's a seven-figure player for Prokom as he enters free agency this summer. Not only does Prokom hope to re-sign him, but Woods, according to one well-connected source in the European market, is already attracting interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid for next season.
Because of the current risk-averse financial climate in the NBA and the potential PR hit any team faces by signing him if things go wrong, Woods would almost certainly be asked by any interested NBA team to play summer-league ball and/or come to training camp on a contract that isn't fully guaranteed. Which wouldn't be an easy call for Woods given the financial level he's reached in Europe.
"I think I'm closer [to the NBA] than I was," Woods said in a phone interview this week. "But mostly I don't even think about [the NBA]. It doesn't help to think about it. I try to focus on the season over here.
"I want the best situation for me. I would love to play in the NBA again, but if I'm not going to be a productive player and just be there, I don't want to be there. I'd rather be somewhere playing [regularly]."
Asked if he thinks NBA teams are prepared to finally pardon him for his Portland transgressions and lack of off-court discipline in his younger days, Woods said: "So far they haven't let go, but I think they should let go in my opinion. A lot of people make mistakes. Mistakes are made and people get wiser and get older and get better as a person."
There's little doubt that the 6-foot-8, 230-pound swingman has improved his game in multiple areas (ballhandling, rebounding, shot selection) since we last saw him as a Knick. There's likewise little doubt that he'd be an NBA rotation player if talent were the lone consideration. But Woods insists he'll cope just fine if he ends up staying in Poland or moving to another Euroleague club.To read the full TrueHoop blog entry, click here.
9. Chatter Box
Are wholesale changes forthcoming with the team officially up for sale in Golden State? Can GM Kevin Pritchard survive the firing of close front-office sidekick Tom Penn in Portland? And should the dwellers of Lakerland be concerned that Phil Jackson isn't under contract to coach the team beyond this season? Marc Stein joins NBA on ESPN Radio host Kevin Winter to discuss.
To hear the interview, click here.