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Is Gilbert Arenas Officially Damaged Goods?

Submitted by on February 8, 2011 – 10:50 am2 Comments

It’s not a good time to be Gilbert Arenas. Sure, he’s living it up in sunny Orlando and playing for a team that hasn’t lost every single game on the road this year (shots fired at Gil’s former team, the Washington Wizards!). He’s also rich beyond belief, pulling in approximately $1.5 million every month. And, of course, he’s got all the fame that one guy can handle—not to mention an arsenal of nicknames that come second only to Shaquille O’Neal.

But Agent Zero has been going through some issues as of late, both on and off the basketball court. Over the weekend, he didn’t score a single point against the Boston Celtics, the first time he’s been held scoreless since the 2004 season. He isn’t getting good shots off, his arthritic knees are giving him problems, he’s a step slower than he used to be and, well, he’s just not the superstar he once was. He’s also stuck in the middle of a fierce bout of baby mama drama with Laura Govan—the mother of his three children, as well as a fourth unborn child. She recently served him with child support and custody papers—at halftime of a game between Gilbert’s Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat!

So, yeah. Things aren’t all swell for Arenas lately. And the guy who just a few years ago looked like one of the burgeoning superstars in the league is down in the dumps as a result of it. But, does that mean that Arenas is officially damaged goods when it comes to playing in the NBA?

Not necessarily. For starters, you need to keep in mind that Arenas hasn’t played a full season in more than three years. Last season, he was suspended for 50 games by David Stern after bringing four unloaded guns into the Wizards’ locker room. The years before that, Arenas was injured for most of the year thanks to a balky knee. Same for the year before that. So while he’s struggling this season, it’s probably what we should have expected out of him during the 2010-2011 NBA season. Guys can’t just miss three years of action and come out playing like superstars. It takes time.

Secondly, Arenas only joined the Magic a couple of months ago and, though it may be hard to believe, there is a natural ebb and flow of NBA basketball that doesn’t allow a guy to just pick up and move to a new team without a pretty lengthy trasition period (hear that Knicks fans hoping to land Carmelo Anthony?). It could take the rest of the season and the offseason for Arenas to gel with his new Magic teammates. He needs to understand how they play and figure out where he fits in before he becomes a true member of the team.

Third, Arenas has some serious off-the-court issues going on right now that are no doubt taking a toll on his psyche. He may not openly admit it, but he’s living in a new city right now for the first time in a long time. His whole family is living in another city and he still has responsibilities back in Washington. At the same time, he’s going through a break-up with Govan and dealing with all the problems that that brings. And until he resolves that, he has little chance of regaining the confidence and swagger that he once possessed on the basketball court. Sorry, Gil: It just ain’t possible.

But the biggest challenge Arenas faces is adopting a new role on whatever team he ends up on moving forward. Once upon a time, Arenas was a young, cocky player who hoisted up shots and had no conscience when it came to trying to put up points for his squad. He challenged Kobe, took it to the rim against LeBron and fearlessly put his body into harm’s way to drop as many points as he possibly could. But those days are long gone. Today, Arenas needs to fill a role. He needs to score when he gets the opportunity to, play better defense and turn himself into a threat again—without resorting back to his old ways. He’s not going to be the guy on any NBA team anymore. And he needs to accept that sooner and later.

If he does, Arenas could have a great second life in the NBA. He could learn a thing or two from a guy like Grant Hill, who overcame adversity and injuries and transformed himself from a superstar to a top-notch role player in order to extend his career. It’s not a glamorous role and it’s not a role that’s going to get Gilbert another $100 million contract, but it will keep him in the league and make him a valuable commodity again. But the choice is his. Only he can decide to seize the opportunity to become a productive player again. For our sake—and for the sake of all the NBA fans out there who have enjoyed watching Arenas play—let’s hope he does.

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