Gilbert Arenas runs.

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gilbert_arenas.jpgA scrapbook of last season will not be found on Gilbert Arenas’ coffee table. The games Arenas didn’t play were marked by endless criticism, judgment, and legal trouble. Those that he did were plagued by inefficient scoring, disinterested defense, and team-wide disappointment. There were few moments, if any, fit for the refrigerator, as Arenas’ (and the Wizards’) ’09-’10 season was a failure in almost every regard.

Things have changed. John Wall has a tendency to bring everyone’s attention to the front of the room, far away from the dark hallway they used to enter it. Wall’s arrival, combined with Ted Leonsis’ enthusiasm and a fair amount of roster turnover, has Wizards fans looking anywhere but behind them, regardless of how miserable last season was for the franchise and its followers.

Wall’s great hope doesn’t heal all wounds, though. Forget about the locker room nightmare, finger guns, and the aftermath of it all if you will, but even casting a blind eye to those events doesn’t make Arenas the player he used to be. The Gilbert we saw in 32 games for the Wiz last year was undeniably different than the one who tore up the league from 2004-2007, at least in part because of Arenas’ multiple knee surgeries.

Not that all blame can be placed on his bum knee. Gil’s ineffectiveness went far beyond his slower first step or his hindered lift. The difference in Gilberts new and old isn’t the easiest thing to fully explain, but to see Arenas on the court last season was to see a knock-off of the Agent Zero original; he may look basically the same and fulfill the same basic functions, but he’ll never have the same grandeur.

That is, unless the knee really is somehow the key to all of Arenas’ troubles. Maybe a healthier Gilbert is a happier Gilbert? And a happier Gilbert a transcendent one? It’s worth a moment’s thought, improbable though it may be.

If somehow that is the case, then Michael Lee of the Washington Post comes bearing good news:

Seemingly taking a cue from Mike Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth, Flip Saunders is requiring every player to pass a conditioning exam before participating in training camp in two weeks. Saunders wants the Wizards to be a running team next season, so he is making his players run four sets of 10 full-court sprints, with 2 ½ minute breaks between each set. Guards have to complete each set in an average aggregate time of 57 seconds.

Arenas may have been less than enthusiastic about playing for the Wizards several months ago, but guess who was the first player to complete the conditioning exam? Yep, Arenas. According to a league source, he finished the first set in 42 seconds.

In all likelihood, Lee’s report doesn’t mean all that much. The problem was never that Arenas was too slow to be effective in the NBA at all, just that the speed taken by multiple knee surgeries prevented him from ever matching his own high-scoring standards. Still, it’s good to know that Gil is in something resembling basketball shape, and that his knee doesn’t limit him from acing Saunders’ test.

It seems unlikely that we’ll see Gilbert perform at an elite level ever again. That’s the threshold through which Arenas can’t return. He can still bounce back from his poor decision-making, even if his locker-room-gag-gone-wrong will forever haunt his Wikipedia page. That much can be pushed aside, provided he can be valuable on the court once again.

Perhaps Arenas’ knee is better than ever, and his new role alongside John Wall is ideal for his talents. That would be wonderful. A re-imagined Arenas could (and likely will) do a lot of good for the Wizards this coming season, and for the franchise as a whole. Yet there’s still a tombstone marked ‘Hibachi,’ or ‘Agent Zero,’ or whichever of his many monikers you prefer, standing to signify the end of the player we once knew.

PBT Extra: Who do you want to see most in first All-Star Game?

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Tonight the NBA All-Star Game starters will be announced. Then the coaches have a week to vote and the rest of the roster will be put together by them.

This year should see a few first-time All-Stars, guys bursting on the scene and grabbing fans attention — so we asked people on Twitter who they most wanted to see in his first All-Star Game and I break it down in this PBT Extra.

The winner? Giannis Antetokounmpo with 45 percent of the vote. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, he’s second in the fan voting for the frontcourt in the East (behind only LeBron James). Good news for those fans, the Greek Freak is almost guaranteed to be a starter, he’s getting plenty of media votes and likely a lot from the players as well.

Second place in the poll? Joel Embiid of the Sixers. I’d love to see him, but will players and media members vote in a guy on a minutes restriction? Will the coaches pick him for that same reason? He is on the bubble.

Russell Westbrook: ‘Don’t say what’s up to that b— a—’ (video)

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Did Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant talk during the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night? Westbrook said no, though video and first-hand accounts indicate otherwise.

Even more clearly: Westbrook – who walked near teammates Enes Kanter, Anthony Morrow and Jerami Grant – didn’t want someone talking to someone as they left the floor after the game. ESPN caught Westbrook saying, “Don’t say what’s up to that b— a—.”

You will never convince anyone Westbrook is referring to anyone but Durant.

Russell Westbrook commits epic travel (video)

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Between getting laid out by Zaza Pachulia and apparently talking with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook committed a travel for the ages.

The Thunder guard took an inbound pass against the Warriors and just started walking up court without dribbling. The violation was so blatant, NBA officials even called the travel.

And it’s not as if they’re inclined to blow a whistle in that situation. Before Westbrook, Kemba Walker set a high bar last season, but he got away with this walk:

Are Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on speaking terms after apparent conversation? Westbrook: ‘Nah’ (video)

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Russell Westbrook deleted Kevin Durant‘s goodbye text and, months later, told the whole world they still hadn’t talked.

That apparently changed during the Warriors’ win over the Thunder yesterday – though not if you ask Westbrook.

Westbrook dunked in the third quarter, and according to ESPN commentator Mark Jackson, Westbrook told Durant, “Don’t jump.” Anthony Slater of The Mercury News also wrote of the same quote.

ESPN’s telecast caught Durant clearly speaking to Westbrook shortly after. It appears Westbrook is talking back, but his back is to the camera.

After the game, Westbrook denied the exchange:

 

  • Reporter: “Are you and KD on speaking terms?”
  • Westbrook: “Nah.”
  • Reporter: “You guys had a little exchange in the third quarter.”
  • Westbrook: “What exchange?”
  • Reporter: “You and KD said something to each other.”
  • Westbrook: “Oh. You gotta maybe sit closer to the game. You maybe didn’t see clearly.”

This is so Westbrook – stubborn to the point of denying reality.

That approach worked for him when everyone rightly told him he was a significantly lesser player than Durant. Westbrook ignored that fact until it became false.

I suspect he wants to forget this exchange so he can maintain a cold animosity toward someone he prefers to resent.