Shoals Unlimited: The Gilbert Arenas Complex

First, a caveat about anything and everything that follows regarding Gilbert Arenas' immediate future: Wizards Insider tells us that Gil only wanted to make sure the team didn't finish with its worst record ever (not possible, actually), and that "comeback" wasn't really the right word for what he's doing now. Hence, Arenas sat out Wednesday night’s loss to Cleveland. And if Gil sits out against Cleveland, you know there's more going on than the rush back to action we've come to expect from Agent Zero. ↵
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↵But you could draw some similarly deep conclusion from what the oft-injured Wizards All-Star did when he did return for a few games. Anyone still paying attention to the Wizards couldn't help but notice the uncharacteristically high assists numbers, and low turnovers. The shooting was abysmal, but he also got to the line, suggesting Arenas was finding a way to get points even when he wasn't quite on as the scoring machine of yore. If this seemed like a more measured and deliberate Arenas than the one we've come to know and love, get ready to have your suspicions confirmed by Ian Thomsen's excellent assessment of where Gil's head is at these days: ↵
↵⇥Arenas has spent some of his abundant free time watching old video of himself. "When I was getting MVP chants, I was always trying to make the big play -- throwing the ball up the court, hitting the big shots," he said. "I call it 'controlled reckless.' It was controlled chaos, the way I was playing. I don't need to play that way now." ↵⇥
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↵⇥Is this the beginning of a new approach? "I don't know about next season," he said with a smile. "But I don't need to play that way now. Because I have the ball in my hands. With Eddie Jordan's offense, it was equal opportunity, so I didn't get to control the ball as much; so when I did have it I tried to make something happen. Now I can give it up a couple times, I can do a lot of probing. Tap (interim coach Ed Tapscott) is just letting me go out and play." ↵
↵Note the beginning of the second paragraph: We could -- and Gil could -- be reading way too much into a few games. There might be a Gil next season that can put up points while playing point guard, like, say, Chris Paul or Deron Williams. Or the guys Thomsen cites as PG's who blossomed late (Billups, Nash, Mo Williams, none of them particularly good comparisons). This might even begin to establish a middle path, a fusion between the offensive weapon with "no conscience" and a more efficient neural center for the system. ↵
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↵What's revelatory here isn't that Arenas is self-aware -- call him what you will, but few athletes have done as genius a job of marketing themselves despite an (initial) lack of traditional appeal or attention from the usual sponsors. Or even recognition from the broadcasting powers that be. But as with his game, Arenas' public relations always seemed like the work of a mad genius, an extension of the on-court oddness and off-court wackiness that branded him the NBA's great eccentric. ↵
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↵But in Thomsen's piece, you find Arenas totally sane and sober about how to fashion himself going forward. And, ironically, he more succinctly than ever explains what about the seemingly "crazy" Arenas was a conscious choice -- and very much tied into his conception of how to play the game. I'm not sure this means we have to reevaluate our old view of Gil, or buy into Chuck Klosterman's cynical belief that Arenas is more unorthodox marketing phenom than truly weird dude. But all of a sudden, you get that -- however authentic Gil's game or personality have been, or how uncompromising and awkward he's been in making them known -- the man was never defined only by the character he projected to the public. Even if that character was way more candid than the average athlete, blogging with impunity and refusing to exercise caution in his comments to the press. ↵
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↵Just when you thought Arenas had showed you everything, and worn-out the whole care-free, silly, impetuous persona that defined him on and off the court, you realize just how much more complex the guy really is. That alone should have us eagerly anticipating his 2009-10, and seeing him -- if not all NBA players -- in a somewhat different light.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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