The title of this picture should be: "The Last Straw."
Gilbert Arenas: Everybody saw this coming. Everybody, that is, except Gilbert Arenas. And you know, Agent Zero could have saved himself. It was still possible. If he had simply been humble and contrite, maybe begged for a little forgiveness, Gil might still be playing basketball. Instead he joked, laughed, made finger guns at his teammates, insisted he had done nothing wrong, accused David Stern of being "scary" and "mean," and then tweeted that his finger guns were all in good, harmless fun...just a way of breaking the tension with his teammates.
Instead of focusing on the obviously crazy facts -- Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton's got into an argument over a card game, Arenas threatened to blow up Crittenton's car, Crittenton threatened to shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee, Arenas showed up with four unloaded guns a few days later and gave Crittenton a note telling him to take his pick, Crittenton responded by whipping out his own gun and loading it -- or David Stern's just and appropriate response (declaring Arenas unfit to play basketball and suspending him indefinitely), I'm going to talk about what might have been. What should have been.
I mean, just a few short seasons ago, Gilbert Arenas was the Clown Prince of the NBA. He stuffed the ballot box to make the All-Star team, he created awesome nicknames for himself, he bought loads of his own jerseys which he signed and handed out before and after games, he played online video games against fans, he threw lavish (and very public) birthday parties for himself, he blogged relentlessly, he publically threatened to rain jump shot-y death on anybody who had crossed him (usually inventing rivalries on the fly, and always in good fun), he dropped 60 points on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in L.A.
At that point, I told my buddy Statbuster that Agent Zero symbolized everything fans love about the NBA. Now he's become everything they hate.
What in the bloody hell happened? He was supposed to take we, the fans, to a new and better place. He was supposed to be the future.
I guess, in retrospect, we should have known this was going to happen. Or something similarly bad. Over the last couple seasons, as injuries robbed him of a game that had been blossoming into something that could have been truly special, Arenas began to withdraw. He stopped laughing, and when he did laugh, there was an edge to it. He stopped blogging. He started barking at fans instead of joshing with them. He accused the officials of conspiring against him.
The thing that always made Gilbert Arenas such a joy to watch was the fact that he so obviously loved playing basketball. More than that, he loved being loved. But that love -- which had been given so freely to the underdog upstart who defied the odds to make it in the best basketball league in the world -- started to die a little when Arenas signed a $111 million contract while recovering from injury only to get injured again and missing most of the season. For whatever reason, fans tend to become bitter and resentful when players sign big-money contracts and don't immediately play up to (or above) the level of that contract. (For further reading, see Lewis, Rashard.) And Gilbert didn't play up to the level of his contract. Heck, he wasn't playing at all.
Being mocked and openly criticized by so many people seemed to really get to him. And it became obvious this season that he no longer genuinely loved basketball the way he used to. I would guess that's because he not only had to come back from a pretty serious injury (which is always harder than the average joe realizes), but because he felt pressured to justify -- to the experts, to the fans, and especially to his teammates -- that he still had it, that he was worth every penny of that $111 million, that he was still The Man...while also working to fit in on a team that had played most of the last two seasons without him.
That would be a pretty serious challenge for even the most well-adjusted human being.
This has been nearly lost to NBA history, but Larry Bird missed all but six games of the 1988-89 season after having surgery on both of his Achilles tendons. Bird's decision to have surgery came just after he had signed a lucrative contract extension...which naturally raised a few eyebrows. (Sound familiar?) When Bird came back the next season, he shocked people (especially his teammates) by gunning to prove he was back, by subtly criticizing Celtics coach Jimmy Rodgers to the press, and by staging very public (if passive-aggressive) protests against Rodger's new "spread the wealth" offense by (at times) refusing to shoot when open and forcing passes to guys like Joe Klein.
Things got so bad that a couple of unnamed teammates -- Kevin McHale and Jim Paxon were the likely culprits -- said Bird's behavior was tearing the team report. Bird responded by calling the unnamed teammates gutless quitters.
Yes, things were getting ugly.
However, Bird turned things around by getting hot (27 PPG, 10 RPG, 8 APG while hitting nearly 50 percent of his treys in the final month of the season). But the Celtics -- despite winning 11 of their last 13 games -- never really jelled. Their season ended in a first round playoff upset by the New York Knicks...in the decisive Game 5 in Boston Garden of all places. The symbolic moment came when Boston's fourth-quarter comeback was halted because Bird missed a wide open reverse dunk. Rodgers was soon fired, Paxson was cut loose, Bird's body gave out and forced his retirement two seasons later, and the Celtic didn't recover until the last few years.
My point? Other than that all roads lead back to Larry Bird where I'm concerned? Gilbert Arenas isn't the first superstar to start cracking under the weight of expectations. And no, I'm not saying he was or ever would have been on Bird's level. I'm just saying that, considering the circumstances and everything we knew about him going into his surgeries and his singing of that otherworldly contract, his ugly downward spiral really isn't all that surprising.
I mean, the dude very nearly made himself great out of spite. Think about that. He wasn't going to let Javaris Crittenton show him up. Not in front of the other Wizards. Not when he, Gilbert Arenas, had so much on the line, both physically and psychologically.
In many ways, we had lost Gilbert Arenas -- the real Gilbert Arenas -- long before Crittendon threatened him and Stern suspended him. And it was no sure thing we were going to ever get him back. Now it's very nearly a sure thing we never will.
As sad days for the NBA go, this one is way up there.
The Washington WizardsGenerals Bullets: Against that backdrop, the Bullets were [PUN ALERT!!] blown away by the Crabs 121-98. Is this "rivalry" over? Hell, it never really started. But make no mistake: this Bullets team is hurtin'. Just ask DeShawn Stevenson: "It's like a black cloud over us. Hit us over the head again and we might break."
This situation is so red-hot that even Shaq -- who has never to my knowledge been lost for words -- kept his mouth shut about it. According to the AP recap: "O'Neal refused to comment on Arenas' plight. After being asked, O'Neal simply traced his fingers along his lips as if closing a zipper."
Antawn Jamison, for his part, just wants his team to focus on...wait...what are they paid to do again? Oh, yeah! Play basketball! "We have to find a way to turn this around, so we really have to put this behind us as quickly as possible," Jamison said. "It is what it is right now and we just have to focus on basketball. It's been awhile as far as us doing, but that should be our main and most important objective right now."
Good luck with that, Antawn.
The New Jersey Nyets: For the New Jersey Nyets, the hits just keep on coming. They already suck chocolate salty balls, and last night they had to play on the road against a decent team with something to prove. The Hawks had dropped four straight games, and in their previous loss to the Heat in Miami, Atlanta scored a season-low 75 points.
Fortunately for them, the Nyets were coming to town.
The result was a foregone conclusion even before the Dirty Birds held a players-only meeting the day before: a blowout victory. Like, a total blowout. Like, by 30 points. And the Nyets were down 17 points after the first quarter, so it's not like the Hawks slowly pulled away or anything. This was like old school Mike Tyson knocking somebody the hell out in the first round.
How hard did the Hawks smack the Nyets in their collective mouth? This hard:
Said Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe: "We came out and we missed a bunch of shots right at the rim. We got anything we wanted and for some reason the basket had a lid on it. And that just gave them tons of confidence. Again, this is a very difficult time for us right now, where we're sort of stuck in mud and you've got to slug it out."
It's a slug or be slugged world. And the Nyets are feeling awful punchy.
The Orlando Magic: Speaking of struggling teams, what the hell is up with the Orlando Magic? I mean, I know the Craptors have been playing better, but what the hell? The Magic -- playing at home, by the way -- were down 18 points to start the fourth quarter. And while they made a run, their rally still ended in fail. Check out this excerpt from the AP recap:
The reigning Eastern Conference champions are in such a rut that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said his team was "lifeless" during the latest defeat. Forward Brandon Bass even told the team at halftime that it looked "shell-shocked" because it couldn't believe what was happening to it.
"My point is it's not happening to us. Some things happen to you. Those things are out of your control. We're the ones doing this. We're the actors," Van Gundy said. "We've got to change this around. It's us and we've got to do it. It's not going to happen because we miraculously do it. It's going to happen because we make it happen."
Mired in frustration, many Magic players -- including Carter, Rashard Lewis, Matt Barnes and Jason Williams -- left the locker room without speaking to reporters, rare for the usually calm veterans. But those who stayed said nobody is pointing fingers.
"I think that the problem is everybody," Redick said, bluntly.
By the way, Hedo Turkoglu scored 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting while Vince Carter went 2-for-7 and finished with only 7 points. Vinsanity is now 10-for-47 (21 percent) in 2010. I'm just sayin'.
The Miami Heat: The game was tied at 99-all with 5.5 seconds to go in the fourth, and the Celtics had the ball...until Dwyane Wade pilfered the ball from Ray Allen and streaked down court to throw down what probably should have been the game-winning dunk. All the Heat had to do was play defense for 0.6 seconds!
I'm sure you can guess what's coming...
I'm also sure you can guess which team went on to win this one in overtime. Without Kevin Garnett.
By the way, according to ESPN Stats and Information: "Dwyane Wade scored 44 which is tied for the most by a player this season in a losing effort. The Hornets' David West also had 44 in a loss to the Rockets on Dec. 29."
Mario Chalmers, quote machine: Chalmers was responsible for guarding Rajon Rondo on that end-of-regulation play. And here's what he said about it: "That play could happen to anyone."
The Minnesota Timberpoops: Last night's home loss to the Gol_en State Warriors was their fifth in a row. What more can I say?
(Other than, you know, they gave up 26 points off 19 turnovers in a 6-point loss...while giving up 21 layups and 3 dunks. As always, I'm just sayin'.)
The Detroit Pistons: Last night's blowout loss to the Spurs was their 11th straight loss. What more can I say?
(Other than, you know, they missed 11 free throws while letting the Spurs nearly 60 percent from the field and from downtown. And they finally have everybody healthy and back in the lineup, so there really aren't any more excuses for their crappy play. Again, just sayin'.)
Rockets-Suns: Both of these teams receive a WotN. The Suns built a 16-point lead in the first quarter before, unbelievably, falling behind by 16 in the second quarter. Seriously.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry -- who's been in the coaching biz for 30 years, by the way -- said: "It's as crazy a game as I've ever been in. I looked at the stat sheet and we had a 16-point lead, then they had a 16-point lead. That's a 32-point swing."
He can't coach defense...but at least he can add.
The Phoenix _efense surrendered career-highs to both Aaron Brooks (34 points) and Carl Landry (31), but the rest of the Rockets were only 18-for-51 (35 percent).
As for the Suns, they shot at their usual blistering pace -- 54 percent from the field, 52 from beyond the arc -- but compensated by (as usual) being careless with the ball, to the tune of 17 turnovers for 25 points going the other way. And here's a bizarre little factoid from the AP recap: "It was the second time this season the Suns had rallied from a 16-point deficit in back-to-back games, their only two wins in eight tries in back-to-backs."
I have no idea what to make of that.
On the flipside, here's another factoid: "This was only the third time this season the defense-minded Rockets had allowed more than 113 points."
It was a crazy game. A fun game. An high-scoring game. And yet, oddly enough, kind of an ugly game. If that makes any sense.
The Memphis Grizzlies: The newly plus-.500 Griz fell back to .500 with a 117-94 blowout loss to the Utah Jeckyll and Hydes. What had to leave a crusty taste in the mouth of every Memphis players is that Utah was missing it's best player (Deron William) and blasted the Grizzlies anyway.
What's more, the Jekyll and Hydes -- who, again, were Deron Williams-less -- shot 57 percent and racked up a season-high 39 assists on 46 field goals. That's right. Utah tallied an assist on 85 percent of their baskets. That's...kind of incredible actually. Utah's bench had almost as many dimes (14) as the entire Memphis team (15).
Said Jerry Sloan: "When you pass the ball, and share, you get a lot of easy baskets."
Of course, it was one of those typicl back-to-back game situations for the Griz, who were coming off a tough 109-105 win in Portland the night before. Said Zach Randolph: ""They outworked us tonight. We came off a hard game last night and I think we were fatigued."
O.J. Mayo, on the other hand, felt his team didn't need no stinking excuses: ""Everybody in the NBA plays back-to-back. We just came out maybe a little timid. We need to play harder than we did tonight."
Mayo has a point. I mean, Memphis had 19 fast break points, so they must have had a little energy. Of course, they couldn't shoot, defend or hold onto the ball (20 turnovers for 26 points going the other way), and those are all telltale signs of weary legs.
Lionel Hollins, quote machine: Regarding his team's rematch with the Jazz on Friday: "If you weren't happy by the whoopin' that you got tonight, then you'll come back and compete the next game." I love it when a coach uses the word "whoopin'."
Ron Boone, Jazz Color Commentator and unintentionally dirty quote machine: This totally awesome quote was submitted by Basketbawful reader Jenna W. regarding CJ Miles' first quarter of 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting: "Well, when a guy is hot, for the most part, you wanna milk him."
The Los Angeles Lakers: On the subject of weary teams playing the second game of back-to-backs...the mighty Lakers had just pulled back on top of most of the NBA Power Rankings before losing to...the Clippers.
Yep. The Other L.A. Team.
Were the still Pau Gasol-less Lakers lagging in the leg department? You tell me. They shot only 38 percent from the field (thanks largely to Mamba's 10-for-30 stink bomb), got outscored 54-34 in the paint, and gave up 26 fast break points.
Said Kobe: "They played better than we did. We weren't able to keep them out of transition. We lost because of our transition defense. We just gave up way too many easy points." Well, that and your shooting...but yeah...
Mike Dunleavy Sr., quote machine: "All these Laker people on the radio and all these Laker hangers-on, they're touting all those streaks, that we lost the last nine straight," said Dunleavy, who once coached the Lakers. "But we've had guys in the medical ward. In a fair fight, we're a good team."
Phil Jackson, unintentionally dirty quote machine: Regarding the Clippers', ahem, domination of his team: "They were down our throats all night." [Thanks, Adam. Yes, I saw you all the way down there.]
Mark Jackson: As Baron Davis (25 points, 10-for-18, 10 assists) was lighting up the scoreboard, Jackson exclaimed: "This is the Baron Davis who can be one of the premier point guards in this league." No offense to B-Dizzle...but he was playing against Derek Fisher's corpse, which tends to make opposing PGs look pretty darn good.
Jeff Van Gundy: For some reason, Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Van Ghouly always end up getting into a "Greatest Lakers" discussion. I hate this...especially because Van Ghouly always insists on the controversial viewpoint that Kobe Bryant either is or will be the greatest Laker ever.
Look, Magic Johnson is the greatest Laker ever. Period. Maybe that'll change. Maybe it won't. But until it does change, can we please stop discussing it? Thanks.
Lacktion report: Despite persistent finger cramps from keeping us all up-to-date on the latest Gilbert Arenas news, chris still provided his daily lacktion update:
Nyets-Hawks: Despite a steal in 4:14, Jason Collins downed a foul for a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl.
Bullets-Crabs: With top lacktator Dominic McGuire as his teammate, the fabulous Fabricio Oberto had to be gunning for a career-defining non-performance in the wake of Agent Zero being pulled out of Washington's arsenal. Locked and loaded into the lineup as starting big man, Oberto did not fail to disappoint at the Q with four fouls in 11:06 for a +4 suck differential AND a 4:0 Voskuhl that gives him a shot at worst starter in the Association this season!!!!
Warriors-Wolves: Nathan Jawai bricked once in 4:12 and added a rejection to earn a +2 for the Timberpups!
Pistons-Spurs: Jonas Jerebko tossed two pieces of masonry (once from the Riverwalk) and took a rejection for a +3 in 2:08 for Detroit, with teammate Austin Daye earning a +2 in 3:50 via giveaway and his own miss behind the arc.
Rockets-Suns: Louis Amundson radiated one foul in 4:08 to shine with a +1.
Grizzlies-Jazz: Jerry Sloan celebrating ending the Grizzlies' brief dalliance with a winning record by putting Kosta Koufos on the floor for a celebratory +1 via foul in 3:10 that also earned a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl.
Lakers-Clippers: Despite the shocking victory that Team Dunleavy earned at home against their co-tenants, Phil Jackson was able to send out Sasha Vujacic to lack it up, garnering a +2 via brick from the Million Dollar Theater and a foul in 6:16.