- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The rational reaction to Gilbert Arenas’ plan to return to the court from knee rehabilitation for the first time this season simply is to ask, “Why?”

Why would Gilbert, who has played just 17 games in the two years since he first injured his knee, come back with just a few weeks left in this season?

Why take the risk when his team has nothing to play for?

Why jeopardize the Wizards’ chance to finish with the NBA’s worst record and earn the best shot at the No. 1 pick in the draft?

But then, this is Gilbert and these are the Washington Wizards, the elephant graveyard of the NBA, the place careers come to die.

Perhaps the question is: Why not come back?

Why not provide a little fun for the paying customers who managed to watch their team win just 11 home games this season?

Why not create the illusion of hope for a better day? Don’t fans deserve that much?

After all, what is at risk here?

The No. 1 pick in the draft? The Wizards first would have to win the lottery. Even with the odds in their favor, we are talking about the Wizards here - they are more likely to have a Boston Celtics-Tim Duncan pingpong outcome than actually get the first pick.

And, really, do Wizards fans want to live through the heartache of their team drafting No. 1 and not being able to sign their pick - a real possibility?

And another setback for Gilbert isn’t really a setback on the road to glory for the Wizards. Talk about illusions - how about the illusion that the Wizards can join the NBA’s elite with Agent Zero as their flag bearer?

So by all means, turn Verizon Center into party central Saturday night. Breathe some life into the mausoleum.

Gilbert scoring 25 points and leading the Wizards to a win over the Pistons would be the highlight of the season, and when you spend thousands of dollars on season tickets you deserve at least one shining moment.

The town will be buzzing with anticipation of Gilbert’s return, which still isn’t a sure thing - Arenas said the only way he wouldn’t play Saturday is if his knee hits a glitch after three rigorous practices. In that case, his return would be pushed back.

But, according to Gilbert, he intends to be on the court in his Agent Zero uniform.

“That game, playing against Detroit, Saturday’s the plan,” Gilbert said.

It’s good to have a plan.

It might also be good to include interim coach Ed Tapscott and general manager Ernie Grunfeld in the plan, but who knows whether that happened. Based on his track record, the committee that makes decisions about Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards exists inside Gilbert’s head.

Arenas said the original plan was for him to come back Monday against Chicago but that team trainers and doctors wanted to have a sit-down, map out a plan and limit his minutes.

“But I wasn’t going for that,” Arenas said. “I don’t have discussions on game days. And I don’t want them to monitor my minutes. I want them to treat me like a normal player. Monitoring my minutes was part of my problem last year. I’d go in for six minutes, sit for 12 minutes, be cold. I want to just play.”

How about that? Gilbert doesn’t even talk to team employees on game days. I wonder whether the coach is included in that?

“I wasn’t going for that.” …

“I don’t want them to monitor my minutes.” …

“I want to just play.” …

I. I. I. I.

Sense a pattern here?

Gilbert said he will play only home games, except for the April 8 game in Cleveland and perhaps the season finale against Boston.

Got that, Ed? Are you listening, Ernie?

Maybe Gilbert texted them before he texted Chris Miller of Comcast Sportsnet to tell him he planned to play Saturday, which is how the news broke.

This would all be disheartening if there was some sort of realistic chance that the Wizards would someday become the San Antonio Spurs or the Cleveland Cavaliers, with Gilbert leading them.

But that’s not going to happen, and I don’t know who is to blame for that. The Wizards had little choice but to sign Gilbert to his $111 million contract last year. He was their bonafide star, and there were little, if any, other options.

But that deal meant the Wizards were signing up for the Gilbert show, which does not lead to an NBA championship. So why not start the show again Saturday night?