By Marc Stein
It’s widely assumed that Gilbert Arenas will never play another game for the Washington Wizards, even if no one seems quite sure yet how soon or by what means Arenas and the Wiz will ultimately part ways.
So it’s also natural to start wondering which teams out there might be interested in Arenas when the 28-year-old is finished meeting all the sentencing requirements stemming from his felony gun-possession charge and receives his eventual clearance to return to work from NBA commissioner David Stern.
Will Arenas manage to avoid jail time when he’s sentenced March 26? Are the growing whispers true about the Wiz -- fearing they don’t have a strong enough case -- backing off the idea of trying to void Arenas’ contract? How much longer will Arenas remain suspended by the league? Can Washington realistically find a trade partner or negotiate a buyout of Arenas’ contract when it still owes him $80.2 million over the four seasons after this season?
For all the above unknowns in circulation, here’s something definitive I’ve heard from three separate folks close to the situation: Arenas would love to land with the Orlando Magic when this ordeal is over.
I’ve also been led to believe that Orlando will give the matter strong consideration whenever Arenas becomes available, whether or not that happens before next season.
Sources told ESPN.com that Magic general manager Otis Smith, who was part of Golden State’s brain trust when the Warriors drafted Arenas as a second-rounder in 2001, continues to be one of Arenas’ closest confidantes in the league.
Sources thus say it’s a virtual certainty, given the depth of their friendship, that Arenas will lobby Smith to be the GM who looks past the damage this incident has done to Gil's reputation and grants his comeback chance.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh, speaking to ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan on Friday night about New York’s potential down-the-road interest in Arenas, gave some insight into the challenges Washington will face if it can’t void Arenas’ contract and has to try to create a trade market for him.
You’ll recall that the Wiz were unable to generate any trade interest in December even before this mess, thanks to their dreadful start and ongoing concern about the three surgeries on Arenas’ left knee in an 18-month span between April 2007 and September 2008. But Walsh reminds that trade prospects once looked similarly bleak for Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson in Indiana before he eventually found deals.
The Magic are also dealing with their own issues these days, struggling to live up to lofty expectations after last season’s trip to the NBA Finals and a busy offseason of roster reshaping that gave Orlando – even after parting ways with Hedo Turkoglu – what many observers consider to be the deepest team in the league. There would inevitably be questions about the Magic’s ability to make room for another ball-dominating big name when they’re still struggling to blend newcomer Vince Carter when All-Star returnees Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson.
Yet I’m convinced, based on everything I’ve heard this week on the subject, that Arenas will get a legit look from Orlando when the time comes.
Giving Arenas his resurrection platform, given all of the other personalities they’re trying to mold into a team these days, might prove in the final analysis to be too much for the Magic to take on. But who’s to say that the Magic won’t be embarking on another roster shake-up in the summer of 2010 if they don’t play a lot better in the season’s second half than we’ve seen so far?