Gilbert Arenas has one more chance to change his legacy

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Orien Greene did not get a second chance. Not yet, anyway. Len Bias did not get a second chance. Ron Artest did. Many players with mistakes worse than Gilbert Arenas have gotten second chances and many players with lighter misdeeds have not gotten such chances at redemption.  There’s no rhyme or reason to second chances in the NBA. They just sort of happen.

Gilbert Arenas has gotten his.

He’s gone from a team that fell under frustration due to his injuries, then turmoil due to his locker room behavior, to a contender. A team with an established hierarchy, a coach that drives the cart, and a real chance to make a run at the East. Well, okay, a slight chance to make a run at the East (the big bad wolf is still running the game). Arenas has a chance to change the narrative of his career from “the boy who cried ‘Hibachi’ and then faded into a trivia question” to “the man who brought joy to the Amway Center.”

What happens next is up to him. For his part, he’s saying the right things:

“This is a new beginning for me,” Arenas said late Saturday night in a gray Magic practice T-shirt and black shorts, finishing a workout in the team’s practice facility. “This is a true new beginning. Changing my number was a new beginning, but this is a real new beginning with a new city, new people and new team, and I get to start fresh.”

via Arenas eager for ‘new beginning’ with Magic – NBA- NBC Sports.

Okay, so it’s not exactly contrition. You take what you can get. More interesting is the scene set in the story. Gilbert Arenas packed some stuff, said goodbye to his protege Nick Young, and hopped on a plane. He landed, and later wound up at the Orlando practice facility, alone. He spoke with reporters and watched his new team fall to Philadelphia shorthanded. There’s something dramatic about that image, isn’t there? Gilbert Arenas, Agent Zero, stripped of uniform and guns and crowd, just hanging out in a gym shooting baskets and watching his future on television.

It’s impossible to know what was going on in Arenas’ head Saturday night. We don’t know him, even now. We never did, and it wasn’t his fault that we thought we did, it was ours. This doesn’t mean that his indescribably stupid act of reckless behavior (which was too often overlooked as a childish prank or silly ignorance) wasn’t  in fact dangerous to himself, his teammates, and every person that walked into that facility. But it means that everything that came after, the assassination of character based on who he has been and who he is and who he will be, that nonsense was the product of some vain assumption on our part that we understand professional athletes. No amount of blogs or commercials or public images of facial expressions really give you insight to man or woman.

So we’re left to try and think about what anyone would do, what anyone would say, what anyone would think to try and get an understanding of the moment.

And in that practice facility tonight, shooting buckets alone, Gilbert Arenas probably felt excited, and remorseful, and determined, and a little bit scared. But mostly, he probably just felt thirsty and hot, because that’s what happens when you play basketball.

Arenas was never meant to lead, it turns out. Whether that’s a function of his knees, or his personality, or his game, or his leadership in and of itself or the inexplicable forces of nature, Arenas simply was not meant to be the star to take a team forward. So now he has to be a supporting character. All his quirks and eccentricities and innumerable basketball talents (or whatever is left of them), this is what his role has been reduced to, in his own words:

“If you have the open shot, take it. If not, pass to Dwight.”

Easy to say, harder to do, but something Arenas has been working on with John Wall in Washington: deferring. It’s not as easy as it sounds, going from having a license to thrill to a dependent authorization to execute if the situation warrants it. But that’s what Arenas has to do. If he does, and if that shot comes back the way it’s shown flashes of but inconsistently this season (39% from the field), he could be a difference maker. Throw in Jason Richardson as a difference maker, Brandon Bass as a difference maker, and Jameer Nelson in the driver’s seat and maybe, just maybe that’s enough to put them into a position to have lightning strike in the East.

It’s a long shot, but it’s what they’ve got. It’s what Arenas has got.

People will be rooting for Arenas. People will be mocking Arenas. The only person who has Gilbert Arenas’ back right now is Gilbert Arenas. His new teammates don’t know him well enough (outside of Jason Richardson), and Otis Smith has already put his weight behind Arenas in acquiring him. It’s all on Zero from here on out.

Reports have surfaced that Arenas will be wearing No.1 for Orlando. There’s all sorts of ways to look into it, but I prefer to think of it this way: it’s how many lives he’s got left in the NBA.

Here’s LeBron James trying on Lonzo Ball’s weirdo jump shooting form (VIDEO)

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Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range this season. That’s up a little more than six percent from last season, and three percent better than his career average. He doesn’t need much help there this season, but you know that LeBron is always looking for ways to improve.

Including, apparently, trying on UCLA star Lonzo Ball’s shooting form.

During warmups on Thursday before the Cavaliers took on the Chicago Bulls, LeBron messed around with Ball’s awkward shooting form. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an odd draw from right-to-left, with the right-handed Ball almost shooting from the left side of this face.

Ball was a 41.3 percent shooter from deep during his one season at UCLA and will be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, perhaps much to the chagrin of whichever team has to deal with his dad, LaVar.

Scottie Pippen throws blame for Knicks woes at feet of his former coach Phil Jackson

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Apparently, it’s not “be kind to your former boss month.”

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on ESPN’s “The Jump” — the Rachel Nichols hosted NBA show on each afternoon — and the topic turned to how much the Knicks stink. And why. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone on that front, but Pippen threw his former coach under the bus (transcription via the New York Daily News).

“To be honest with you, I’m going to have to go at my old coach Phil Jackson,” Pippen said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think he just hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor. I give a lot of credit to Carmelo who is being very professional in getting through these 82 game season. And now he’s being benched to some degree, they’re taking a lot of his minutes away. But this team just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. There hasn’t been any upside.”

After saying “fans would love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out,” Pippen was asked by host Rachel Nichols if he believes Jackson “should be out.”

“Yes,” Pippen replied emphatically.

Most of Jackson’s former players have his back, most recently Shaquille O’Neal who laid blame at the feet of the Knicks’ players. The ones that Jackson assembled into a mismatched team.

Phil Jackson’s record may be 77-162 since taking over the Knicks, but reports are he isn’t going anywhere. While owner James Dolan can flip like a pancake on a griddle, the sense is that Jackson will keep collecting his $12 million annual salary and will keep trying to build a triangle-offense team. That means Carmelo Anthony likely gets moved this summer.

Jackson has seemingly fallen into the trap the Knicks have been unable to climb out of for years — since James Dolan took over as owner seemingly — of not just picking a system, sticking to it, being patient and avoiding quick fixes. Triangle, Rhombus, pick-and-roll heavy, whatever offense the Knicks use should be built around getting Kristaps Porzingis touches and playing to his strengths. Get younger players who fit that system to go around him and let it grow together. Be patient. Instead, it’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Jackson deserves blame. A significant amount. So do the players. So does Jeff Hornacek as coach. But make sure Dolan gets a big slice too, this team has struggled since he was given control, and he is the one constant.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.