Monday, May 19, 2008

The Washington Wizards Should Trade Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert Arenas is a great player. Joe told you all about how well he's played, and that he's still relatively early in his career. And he wasn't really wrong in describing him to you. He gave you the facts, and the facts clearly state that Arenas is a top tier player.

But he's got to go.

First things first, let's deal with the basketball side of things. Arenas has averaged 27.7 points per game over his past three full seasons (not including this past year, when he only started 8 games). Arenas also averaged 20.3 field goal attempts per game during that stretch. As a comparison, Allen Iverson, the premier scoring point guard in basketball, averaged 30.2 points per game and 23.4 attempts per game. I see Iverson as a more valid comparison for Arenas than Kobe Bryant, since Kobe is a legitimate two-guard, and Arenas is supposed to be a point guard.

And there's the first problem I have with Arenas. He's covering a position that, to be fair to everyone, he doesn't play. He's most effective individually when he's got the ball in his hands, but he's not much of a distributor. Arenas' career high assists per game is 6.1, lower than Iverson's average in any of the past five years. Stephon Marbury, an alleged team-killer because of his lack of a willingness to pass the ball, played for a decade before his assists per game average dropped below 6.1 per game. I'm not saying that Marbury was a better player in his first ten years than Arenas is today....or am I?

The real problem for me is that the Wizards have to position him as at least the unofficial point guard, because if he doesn't have the ball in his hands, he's not doing what you're paying him to do. But what good is a guy playing point guard if he's jacking up 20 shots a game? Find me an NBA championship team that's had a point guard like that in the last 20 years. The closest I could find was Isiah Thomas in the 1989-90 season, when he averaged 18.4 points and 16.3 attempts. But he also had 9.4 assists per game, 50% more than Arenas' best season.

The thought that they had a point guard may have also led to the Wizards picking Oleksiy Pecherov (with 319 total NBA minutes) over Rajon Rondo in the 2006 NBA draft. Rondo is obviously no Gilbert Arenas, but as I've suggested, the Wizards don't need an Arenas.

"Injury-prone" may not yet be a hat that Arenas wears, but after last year where he missed the playoffs altogether, and this year when he played 94 minutes in 4 games and then shut himself down, it may be time to get fitted. Joe says it's part of the same injury; maybe so, but if it's lingered for over a year now, at what point does it become a legitimate concern? Do you have to hit Mark Prior status and miss multiple seasons before you make a conclusion? Taking a chance on an inevitable max contract on a guy whose last NBA action was pulling himself from a playoff series because of injury is risky. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool.

Now, let's take a step back from Arenas' numbers and look at the big picture: the Wizards haven't won anything with this crew. They've lost three straight first round matchups against the Cavaliers (to my dismay and Joe's delight), including the 2005-06 series when Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison were all healthy and effective, averaging 71.7 points between the three of them during the series. If they can't win with their "big three," then why would you want to keep them together? For a while, just getting into the playoffs was a treat for Washington basketball fans, but that time has passed. We want to see a team moving forward, getting better, and positioning itself to take the next step towards the NBA finals (I'm not delusional; just reaching the finals is a great achievemnt for 90% of the teams in the NBA). So if these guys can't do it, we've got to get some guys who can.

And how's this for a transition, getting rid of Gilbert Arenas gives the Wizards the opportunity to get some other guys. Arenas deserves and will get a max contract, and as many of us know, you get an extra year and some more money if you sign with your current team (which is the reason you see sign-and-trade deals). So, for Arenas to get a true max contract, he'll have to sign with the Wizards and then get traded to another team. (The sign-and-trade concept also allows teams without cap space to acquire free agents, as a result of the NBA's salary cap rules).

This could be a great situation for the Wizards, as the one thing Joe and I do agree on is that Jamison is not an elite frontcourt player, which means the Wizards don't have one. Among the high-caliber frontcourt players who could be available in their own sign-and-trades: Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand, Emeka Okafor, as well as other potential free agents like Baron Davis, Ron Artest, Andre Iguodala, Shawn Marion, and Josh Smith. Are all of those players more valuable than Arenas? No; in fact, it's debateable as to whether or not any of them are more valuable than Arenas. But I'd rather have at least a couple of them, like Brand, Marion, and Smith.

Would a sign-and-trade actually get the Wizards anything, though? I mean, Rashard Lewis' sign-and-trade netted the Sonics just a second round pick. But Joe Johnson was traded for Boris Diaw and two first round draft picks, and Kenyon Martin was traded for three future first round picks. Given Arenas' tremendous talent, it's fair to expect that the Wizards would be able to work something out where they get solid value in return.

Additionally, even after a sign-and-trade, the Wizards would likely still be a few million dollars under the salary cap, giving them the option to pursue another mid-level role player, such as an energy forward or a bench shooter. That opportunity to shift the talent around from small to big is a rare one, and I think it's one that Washington has got to take advantage of. Especially if the Clippers are as dumb as they look and would be willing to part with Brand for Arenas.

As I said, the point that Joe made about Jamison not being an elite frontcourt player is correct, but let me give you some more information about this player that Joe was so quick to bash. As he said, Jamison was one of four 20-10 guys in basketball last year, and he did sport by far the lowest FG% of any of them. But Jamison doesn't shoot from under the basket, he shoots jumpers and 3-pointers. Shaq's field goal percentage has always been higher than Rashard Lewis', that doesn't mean that Lewis is innately worse than Shaq. Jamison is a rare rebounder who also shoots from the outside. In fact, you could add up the 3-pointers made by the top 23 other rebounders in basketball and not equal the total 3s made by Jamison. He also had more steals than any of the other top 22 rebounders. So let's give him a little credit.

Additionally, as Jamison is a Wizards' free agent and has spent more than 3 years on the team, the Wizards can re-sign him at any price up to a max contract if they so desire. So the choice isn't so much between Jamison or Arenas; it's between Jamison and Arenas or Jamison and whoever they could get for Arenas.

Now, try this fantasy on for size. Arenas gets traded for Brand. Starting lineup is Antonio Daniels at point, Butler as a tall shooting guard, Jamison as a tall small forward, Brand as a heavy power forward, and Brendan Haywood in the pivot. I'm not saying that's the best starting lineup in the league, but I am saying that's an extremely balanced squad in terms of both offense/defense and inside/outside. I like that five a lot better than Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Butler, a smallish Jamison, and Haywood. Stevenson, Nick Young, Darius Songaila, and Etan Thomas would make up a nice bench, and you'd have a nice target in the draft/free agency of a backup point guard.

Gilbert Arenas has done fine work for the Wizards. But for this team to take the next step, they've got to move Agent Zero.

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