Arenas to Knicks? Walsh says wait and see

By Chris Sheridan

NEW YORK -- At nearly the exact same moment that Avery Johnson went on ESPN's "NBA Shootaround" show Friday night and demonstrably raised the possibility of the New York Knicks making a push for Gilbert Arenas, that very same topic was a matter of discussion between myself and Knicks president Donnie Walsh.

And although Walsh didn't exactly endorse the notion, he certainly didn't dismiss it.

"I don't know if he's available, and I don’t know if he’s going to be able to play. There are a lot of questions, and we’ll have to see as time passes what the story is, but I know this: When I had guys in the same situation, I traded all of them," Walsh said.

The difficulty of the Wizards finding a taker in an Arenas trade was heightened by the events of Friday afternoon when Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony gun possession charge, and Judge Robert E. Morin scheduled sentencing for March 26.

Arenas remains suspended indefinitely, but commissioner David Stern will eventually have to decide how long of a punishment fits the crime. A 50-game suspension would have the effect of wiping out the possibility of Arenas returning this season, but a less severe suspension (my early guess was 30 games, and I'm sticking with it) would allow for Arenas to return to the court this season. And with the relationship between Arenas and the Wizards organization seemingly headed toward a divorce, the most palatable option for Washington would be to try to find a team willing to trade for the three-time All-Star who has four years and $80 million remaining on his contract -- but who will have sat out the majority of the past two and a half seasons.

"I would assume they are going to go out and try to develop it, because they have to develop the market. That's what I had to do with [Ron] Artest and Stephen [Jackson]," Walsh told ESPN.com. "I mean, nobody’s going to call you up and say ‘I want the guy.' So you've got to call up, and it takes time."

Walsh said the situation was comparable to the time when he was president of the Indiana Pacers and was forced by ownership to trade Artest after the infamous Palace brawl, and again after Jackson was arrested for firing a handgun outside a strip club. (Jackson eventually pleaded guilty to a felony and was suspended for 7 games, the league office apparently deciding that his actions were not egregious enough to merit the minimum 10-game suspension mandated in the collective bargaining agreement for any player convicted of a violent felony.)

Walsh ended up trading Artest to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic, and Jackson was dealt to Golden State in a multiplayer deal that brought back Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.

"The first pass, nobody had interest," Walsh recalled of the Artest talks. "But you keep calling, and then something happens to a franchise, and they go ‘Yeah, you know what, we might be interested.'"

Walsh agreed with the assessment that with so much in limbo, Arenas -- for the time being -- is virtually untradable.

"Temporarily, because you've got to see what happens here, because I don’t know what the league is going to do, I don’t know what the court is going to do, but after it’s all cleared up, then it’s easier to answer that question."

The Knicks remain committed to clearing as much salary-cap space as they can for the summer of 2010, and they'll have enough room to go after another max-contract player in the summer of 2011 if they keep Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries on the roster for the remainder of this season and all of next season.

If they traded Curry and Jeffries (combined 2010-11 salaries of $18.15 million ) for Arenas (2010-11 salary of $17.73 million), they would in effect be taking themselves out of the 2011 free agent market because Arenas is owed $19.3 in '11-12, $20.8 million in '12-13, and $22.3 million in '13-14. But one prominent league official suggested that if Arenas was amenable to modifying his contract, agreeing to a team option in each of the final two or three years of his deal (Arenas currently has an early termination option after the '11-12 season), his tradability would increase significantly. But Arenas would thereby be putting $40-61 million of guaranteed money at risk, making for one hell of a huge financial gamble.

I asked Walsh whether he' would sacrifice his 2011 cap flexibility to trade for Arenas. His reply: "I’d have to make that decision at that time. But he’s a very good player."

Arenas is eventually going to try to resurrect his career somewhere, and New York -- the Knicks need a point guard -- cannot be dismissed as a possible option.