Are we too hard on Arenas?

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SAN FRANCISCO — We’re here in San Francisco, where next door in Oakland the Wizards will take on the Golden State Warriors tomorrow.

After dropping what is now their sixth straight game last night against the Sacramento Kings, Washington owns a 7-16 record, and was forced yet again to wait for Gilbert Arenas to reclaim his former heroic form.

Arenas continues to insist he’s making progress, and based on the fourth quarter, when he scored 11 of the Wizards’ final 22 points — including eight in the final 3:20 of the game — he definitely appeared to be doing so.

     The guard said he’s still re-acclimating himself with pressure situations, but says he must do so faster.

     “No one’s trying to jump off the boat while it’s sinking. Eventually I’m going to have to repair it. The team is waiting for me to repair it and I’m going to have to. They’re looking for me to be that leader. I’m going to have to get back into my prime quicker than I thought.”

     The Wizards aren’t putting pressure on Arenas to do so, however. They obviously need him to. But he said most of the pressure comes from what he reads and hears from the media.

     “It’s only pressure whenever someone mentions my name they mention $111. Instead of just calling me a basketball player, they always put a number behind it like that defines who I am,” Arenas said. “There is no pressure of playing basketball, but every time you read an article, they mention you and say ‘yeah, 111 guy.’”

     And then, while it wasn’t whining, Arenas almost made a plea for patience and understanding.

     “I haven’t played in two years. I can’t take game-winners in practice, I can’t practice [clutch] free throws in practice. You can simulate the game but there’s no crowd, there’s no nothing. So I’m learning as I go,” Arenas said. “I’m getting back and feeling the vibe again, and people don’t understand that. If you’re a bodybuilder and don’t lift for two years and come back and try to live 400 pounds, you’ll break you’re arm. I’m happy where I am, progress 20 games into the season, but I know where I need to be.”

     OK, maybe Gil does have a point that we in the media are putting extra pressure on him by using “the $111 million man” or “who is in his first season back since signing an $111 contract” to describe him. We don’t say, “said Jamison, who is playing on a $50 million contract.”

     But, to much is given, much is expected. And by signing such a large deal, Arenas subjected himself to being held to a higher standard.

     Antawn Jamison was getting dressed next to Arenas when Gil made the above statement, and he let out a chuckle. As a guy who has often mentioned how priviledged he and his teammates are to play this game for so much money, I think Jamison gets it.

     But is outside pressure to blame? Maybe it is in Gil’s mind, but should it be? The media was the latest inflicter of pressure upon Arenas, who following last Saturday’s loss said he was eager to get away from Verizon Center and it’s fans.

     Whether Arenas had signed for $111 million or $85 million, I think fans are expecting the same heroics from Arenas because of the player/action figure Arenas created when during three All-Star seasons he was 19 for 21 on game-winning shots. But do we in the media make it worse and cause fans to be harder on Arenas because we mention the dollars?

     What say ye? Should the media stop mentioning the $111 million, and should fans stop wearing Gil’s jersey and rising to their feet and holding their breath until he starts knocking down those game-winners again?

     It’d be an interesting experiment, but not one that has no chance of being conducted.

     Last night’s play and pressure-related comments were further testament, however, to what Gilbert implied and I wrote on Sunday, that the thing that’s slowing Arenas is mental and not physical. In that story, he said he was eager to get away from Verizon Center and the pressure of the fans.

     I think we can all say now, he’s fine physically. The mind is catching up, but still not quite there.

     The more I look back at that final Tyreke-Evans-steal-kill-the-Wizards-hopes play on tape, I get the feeling that Arenas waited just a second or two too long to make his move. He said he had hoped to take Evans by surprise by trying to cross him over. Up until that point, all of Gil’s drives had just been straight to the basket. But on that play, he said he was trying to cross over so that way he would be on the same side of the lane as Jamison, and if Nocioni stepped up to take the charge, Arenas could dump the ball off to Antawn. But hesitation — possibly a bit of lacking confidence — hurt Gil.

     But if you look at the tape, Gil has the ball and dribbles, dribbles and Evans quickly looks back over his right shoulder three times to check his spacing and see if he had backup. Then he gets settled into his stance and locks in on Arenas, who then tries the crossover and boom, get picked.

It should be interesting to see how tomorrow’s game at Golden State plays out. Will it come down to another last-second play for “the basketball player”? SHHHHH, let’s see.

 

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