Arenas has knee surgery, says he'll be back in December

WASHINGTON -- Gilbert Arenas had a third operation on his left knee Wednesday morning, putting the Washington Wizards in full spin mode as they face another season of uncertainty concerning their franchise player.

"I don't know if it is a setback," team president Ernie Grunfeld said.

Grunfeld might be the only person who can say that with a straight face. The star player who signed an $111 million contract in July seems almost certain to miss the early part of the regular season at a minimum, dousing the team's hopes of having a healthy campaign after the past two were wrecked by injuries to top players.

"It's just an opportunity for other guys to step up and pick up the slack," said Grunfeld, a sentiment he has uttered often in recent years.

The team said the arthroscopic procedure removed a "moderate amount of debris" from Arenas' knee. Grunfeld offered no timetable for Arenas' return, but Arenas told The Washington Post that he plans to be back on the court in early December, which would rule him out for the first month of the season.

"I just had some floating debris in there that was slowing me down," Arenas said, according to the Post. "It was irritating the knee so we decided to go in there and clean it out. This should actually allow me to come back faster."

But a team source told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher that Arenas' timetable was "optimistic" and said a January return is far more likely.

The surgery is the third on the knee in 17 months. The decision to clean out the knee was made Tuesday night after Arenas consulted with several knee specialists around the country, ESPN.com has learned.

"When we ramped up his rehab he had some discomfort and some swelling," Grunfeld said, "so they thought this was the right time to do it."

Arenas missed 69 regular-season games last season and had to shut himself down during the playoffs. Still, Grunfeld expressed no regret about the decision to give Arenas a six-year, $111 million contract after the point guard opted for free agency during the offseason.

"This is not a one- or two-month proposition for us," Grunfeld said. "Gilbert is 26 years old and we are looking at the big picture and we are expecting to have him in this franchise for a long time and to be an outstanding player for us."

Arenas first hurt his knee in a game against Charlotte in April 2007. He tried to rush back and was playing in summer league games a few months later. The overzealous approach resulted in a second operation in November, causing him to miss most of the season.

Arenas vowed to take a more cautious approach to rehabilitation this summer, but the knee once again did not respond the way he would like.

The doctor who performed the operation Wednesday said debris buildup is common in Arenas' type of injury, and that an MRI showed the knee to be structurally sound.

"This was a proactive procedure that will enhance his rehabilitation process," said Dr. Marc Connell, the Wizards' team physician.

Arenas has proved to be one of the most exciting players in the NBA when healthy, averaging 22.8 points, 5.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds in his seven-season NBA career. The Wizards played relatively well when he was absent last season, with Antonio Daniels at point guard and Caron Butler asserting more control, but the team lost again to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

"We feel good where we are right now," Grunfeld said, "and I think we will be a very competitive team."

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.