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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.