The NBA's most influential: Gilbert Arenas, #10

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Greetings and welcome to the “NBA’s most influential,” a list of the 10 players who will/could have the greatest impact on the league next season. To be clear: this is not a list of projected MVP candidates, or who this author thinks will be the 10 best players in the league next season. It is simply a list of the 10 players who, based on their game, their importance to their team, and their importance to the rest of the league, will have the greatest impact on the league next season whether they succeed or fail. Without further ado, here’s Gilbert Arenas.
From the beginning of the 04-05 season to the end of the 06-07 season, Gilbert Arenas was one of the best guards/pure scorers in the league. He averaged 25.5, 29.3, and 28.4 points per game during those three seasons, and missed a total of 12 games over that three-year stretch. Few, if any, players could match Gilbert’s combination of three-point range, an explosive first step, passing ability, and the strength to finish at the rim any time he got his shoulder inside of his defender.
Allen Iverson succeeded by putting his defender on a string, fooling his defender into giving him a lane to the rim, and hitting a quick-release mid-range jumper whenever he was given room; Gilbert was Iverson 2.0, a combo guard with the athleticism and raw strength to bully his way to the rim or the free throw line and the ability to rain threes on any defense that sagged off of him. (And Gilbert, of course, had the swagger to match his skills.)
That was then; this is now. Thanks to injuries and a firearm suspension, Arenas has only played 47 total games in the past three seasons, and his combined FG% in those three seasons is only 40%. 
Here’s the thing: Arenas still has more than enough talent to be an impact player. The arrival of John Wall will likely force Arenas to play the two next season, but Agent Zero has the ability to make an Arenas/Wall backcourt absolutely deadly. Flip Saunders has said that Arenas will spot up more this season, and he has the ability to punish any team that leaves him alone beyond the three-point arc. His knee injuries have taken a good bit of his explosiveness from him, but Arenas was never an above-the-rim player; his greatest talent as a driver was always his strength and ability to keep any defender on his shoulder once he got by him, forcing him to either concede the layup or give a foul — even if Arenas’ first step isn’t what it once was, he can still burn any team that gives him anything resembling a lane to drive through. 
Make no mistake: if Arenas can deal with the fact that he isn’t a 28 PPG scorer anymore and if his knees aren’t completely destroyed, he could absolutely turn himself into one of the best offensive two-guards in the league. Whether Arenas can accept his new role or not will be a key factor in Washington’s success or failure next season.
The Wizards could be very, very good next season. They could also be very, very bad. I don’t want to make a hard-and-fast prediction about that team, because they really have no floor or ceiling; it’s hard to name a team with more extremely talented and extremely flawed players. 
John Wall may be the best perimeter prospect to enter the league since LeBron; he’s also a rookie with limited three-point range, questions surrounding his ability to be a pure point guard, and an aversion to driving to his right. JaVale McGee is a true 7+ foot center with crazy athleticism, a Mr. Fantastic wingspan, and surprising skills for a man his size — seriously, he’s just as comfortable stepping around the help-side defender and converting a Giant Gervin finger roll as he is putting home an easy alley-oop. He’s also a center who’s never shot 51% from the field and has always seemed all to content to let his man get by him for an easy layup. 
Andray Blatche has true power forward size, small forward skills, and put up absolute monster numbers after Antawn Jamison was traded away last season, but he does tend to float in and out of games, especially on defense. Josh Howard and Al Thornton are talented scorers with superb mid-range games who have all but been given up on at this point in their careers. Kirk Hinrich was thought of as one of the most complete two-way combo guards in the league before he mysteriously became “Zombie Hinrich” and averaged less PPG in his last three seasons than he did in any of his first four seasons. Heck, even Nick Young and Yi Jianlian have shown flashes of greatness throughout their disappointing careers, and the latter has supposedly found his game this summer while working with renowned coach David Thorpe. In short, this is an extremely talented team with exactly 0 sure things on its roster.
Exactly how good or bad the Wizards will be next season may hinge on the John Wall effect. The Wizards have a roster filled with extremely talented players with glaring weaknesses; great point guards highlight the strengths of their teammates whilst hiding their weaknesses. Wall hasn’t played a minute of NBA basketball yet, but from what I saw in Las Vegas, the kid is for real. He gets into the paint at will, can hit the mid-range jumper if he’s given space, and, most importantly, knows how to set up his teammates when the defenses collapse on him. 
I’ve seen JaVale McGee hang out on the perimeter and try to be a 7-2 shooting guard during both NBA and Summer League play for who knows how long; in Vegas, when McGee was working off of Wall’s penetration, he was throwing down Alley-oops and catch-and-dunk opportunities with reckless abandon, and looked like a completely different player. Wall’s summer-league teammates were also the recipients of countless open looks from beyond the arc and open lanes to drive through thanks to Wall’s penetration and savvy dimes. It was only Summer League, but Wall showed that he wants to be far more than an athlete/scorer; he wants to be the next great point guard in this league.
All of this brings us back to Arenas. If Arenas accepts that Wall is going to be the one making everything go in Washington, he could absolutely experience a career renaissance — getting easy looks from beyond the arc, working drives on defenses tilted towards Wall’s side of the floor, or setting Wall and everybody else up with passes for easy finishes. If Arenas reverts to his old habits and (as he is occasionally wont to do) stops the ball and tries to relive his 28 PPG glory days on a bad knee, he may become an albatross for Washington, tempt his talented teammates to try and get theirs instead of playing a team game, and ultimately end up holding the New Wizards back instead of getting them back into contention. 
There’s also the matter of Gilbert’s off-court persona to consider. Before Twitter caught on and players regularly blogged, Arenas gained attention for his blog on NBA.com (ghostwritten for him by former NBA.com and current ESPN Los Angeles employee Dave McMenamin), which was funny, revealing, honest, and often charmingly insane. 
The blog was influential enough for former Deadspin.com editor Will Leitch to write an essay about Arenas entitled “Why Gilbert Arenas Matters More
Than LeBron James” in his excellent 2008 book, God Save the Fan
In the essay, Leitch praises Arenas’ accessibility; when approached by a fan at a bowling alley, Arenas invited the fan to join his game, hung out with him for hours, and then played video games with said fan all night. He also sponsored a professional Halo team, tried to vote himself into the All-Star game, talked about taking a shower in his full uniform, embraced the “Agent Zero” given to him by Wizznutzz.com, and admitted to dropping his daughter, “butt-first,” on his blog. By being so down-to-Earth and accessible, Leitch argued, not incorrectly, that Arenas was a new model of athlete, one who made LeBron’s reliance on corporate-friendly and team-first platitudes seem outdated and insincere. (Stop me if any of this sounds familiar to you.) 
Since 2008, Gilbert’s relationship with the media has changed. When twitter exploded, Arenas was no longer the athlete darling of Web 2.0; an Arenas blog post would probably be the 10th-craziest NBA player admission/statement of the day if it happened today. (Arenas briefly flirted with Twitter, saying he’d start tweeting when he got 1,000,000 followers; he never came close to getting that many followers.) 
Then, of course, there was the gun thing. An NBA player who developed a cult of personality for acting goofy and occasionally stupid got suspended for a full season for acting goofy and extremely stupid. It was one of those events that makes you consider just how athletes should be covered in 2010. 
The sports media (which I am, of course, a member of) will always try to separate athletes into Good Guys and Bad Guys, and Web 2.0 has often helped them do that. But an endearing web presence like Arenas getting suspended for a full season for bringing guns into a locker room highlights the fact that as athletes gain more and more control over their public image, they become less and less like characters in a narrative and more like human beings. The same Gilbert Arenas that invited a bowling buddy to play video games with him all night brought guns into the locker room because of a gambling dispute. 
In his Arenas essay, Leitch says the following about the contrast between Arenas and LeBron/Michael Jordan:
[An athlete] just has to be himself, an original thinker, someone who we feel is being straight with us. Michael Jordan never was this, and LeBron James never will be. We see through it now. We don’t believe him.
So, should we believe Arenas? Are we willing to accept his flaws, which are serious, and embrace the man that’s entertained us both on the court and off as a performer, Kanye-twitter style? Should we all go see Catfish and realize (spoiler alert, kinda) that being “you” on the internet is often just a way to market yourself rather than a true window into the soul? Or should we just worry about whether Gilbert will embrace playing off the ball alongside John Wall next season? 
All of these are valid questions Arenas raises, and ones we’re still looking for answers to in the thick of the Web 2.0 phenomenon and the dawn of the John Wall era.

Rumor: Jazz, Kings, Pistons getting new primary logos

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Conrad Burry received a copy of an Adidas catalog, and it shows logos for every NBA team next season.

Except the Jazz, Kings and Pistons.

This is circumstantial evidence, but it has previously held up as the first sign of a new logo.

Keep an eye on Utah, Sacramento and Detroit.

Chris Bosh pulls out of All-Star Game with calf injury; Al Horford to replace

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TORONTO — Chris Bosh was set to play in his 11th All-Star Game Sunday night, in front of his old fans in Toronto. He was talking at media availability on Friday afternoon about how he was a different person than when he played in Toronto, and how he was excited to be part of it.

Now he is out.

Bosh pulled out Friday afternoon, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical Yahoo Sports and since confirmed bu the NBA. It is due to a strained calf muscle (first reported by Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today).

Al Horford is flying to Toronto to replace him, reports Wojnarowski. This will be Horford’s fourth All-Star Game, and he will be the second Atlanta Hawk along with Paul Millsap. That’s one more representative than the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers have.

Bosh is not participating in the three point contest Saturday night either, being replaced by C.J. McCollum of Portland.Bosh was just excited to see the All-Star Game finally come to Toronto for the first time, he still clearly has a strong affection for the city.

Bosh said he excited to see the All-Star Game finally come to Toronto for the first time, he still clearly has a strong affection for the city.

“It’s just a trip,” Bosh said about being in the Toronto game. “This was one of my goals after last season to actually accomplish this, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s kind of poetic, a little bit, for me to be here to see it here for the first time. We talked about what if All-Star was here, and now it’s actually here, so it’s cool.”

Now he will be watching from the sidelines.

Bosh becomes the second Eastern Conference All-Star to pull out due to injury. The Bulls’ Jimmy Butler backed out as well due to a sore knee; he was replaced by teammate Pau Gasol.

Report: Celtics not interested in trading for Dwight Howard

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets battles for the ball with Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics at the Toyota Center on November 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets and Celtics reportedly talked about a Dwight Howard trade, though at the time, it seemed Houston was averse to dealing the center.

Now, that the Rockets are reportedly shopping Howard, is Boston a potential destination?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The Celtics currently have almost no interest in trading for Howard, 30, a talented center with a history of back issues and a questionable work ethic. He can opt out of his contract at season’s end, and even if he wanted to re-sign with Boston, the team would have reservations about offering a long-term deal. Also, Howard is not viewed as a player who would help attract another top free agent to Boston this summer.

The Celtics are in a great spot. Not only are playing well now, they have some nice players (including All-Star Isaiah Thomas and underrated Jae Crowder) and a boatload of draft picks.

They don’t need to cash in their chips for Howard.

Howard could help this team protect the rim and score inside, even as a rental. But at that point, it’s doubtful Boston would value him enough to offer the Rockets enough to deal him.

If the Celtics don’t want to pay Howard big dollars into his 30s – especially if they don’t think other stars want to play with him – there’s really no point dealing for him.

Houston will apparently have to find a team more desperate.*

*But also with assets. Sorry, Nets.

Gregg Popovich on coaching carousel: “I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired”

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — There has never been as much intrigue or confusion surrounding the All-Star coaches in both conferences. Steve Kerr is ineligible to coach the Western Conference, given that he coached them last year, but since he was officially credited with the wins that Luke Walton accrued while he was recovering from back surgery, Walton wasn’t eligible either. So that led to the selection of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was second in line.

Out east, the Cavaliers received the honor of having their head coach make the trip to Toronto…but they let David Blatt go while they were in first place in the conference, meaning his midseason replacement, Tyronn Lue, gets to coach the team.

Popovich was as confused as anyone about all of this, especially Blatt’s firing.

“I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired, including David,” Popovich said Friday morning at All-Star media day. “He’s a great coach. But usually people are fired for circumstances that are beyond their control, and it usually has nothing to do with whether they’re a good coach or not. I find that to be the case almost all the time. But as far as judging an organization, I’ll leave that to you guys.”

Blatt wasn’t the first coach to be fired during the 2015-16 season, and he isn’t the last, either. As we enter the All-Star break, five teams have fired coaches in-season: the Cavaliers, Rockets (Kevin McHale), Nets (Lionel Hollins), Suns (Jeff Hornacek) and Knicks (Derek Fisher).

The coaching ranks are fiercely loyal to their own, none more so than Popovich, who is the longest tenured coach in the league. Needless to say, he isn’t a fan of the shorter leash that coaches are getting.

“We all know getting into this what the volatile aspects of the job are,” Popovich said. “But being humans you still hope for fairness and that sort of thing. But the bottom line is most firings have nothing to do with the ability of the coach, and that’s the same.”

On Lue’s end, he recognizes the awkwardness of the situation that Blatt’s dismissal put him in, and has nothing but praise for his predecessor.

“Me and Coach Blatt have a great relationship,” Lue said. “He did a great job. We went to the NBA Finals together, and he’s put us in this position to be number one, close to the All-Star Game. So I think Coach Blatt definitely deserves a job in this league.”