That’s right - better.
“The plan was not to have him play as good as he had in the past, but to play better than in the past,” said Mr. Grover, who daily has watched Arenas play against fellow Attack clients and NBA stars such as Dwyane Wade, O.J. Mayo and Tracy McGrady. “I have no reason to believe that won’t happen. But it won’t shock me at all to see him as an All-Star again this season, a 20-plus-point scorer, probably the comeback player of the year.”
Arenas said his legs indeed are stronger than they were before his injury. And after playing regularly in Mr. Grover’s facility, a Chicago Pro-Am league and the occasional pickup game on weekend visits to Washington, Arenas appears as confident as ever.
Arenas had braced himself for the prospect that he might never return to the form that made him one of the league’s best players and most popular figures. Last spring, after averaging 13 points and 10 assists in the only two games he played during the 2008-09 season, he predicted he would morph into a traditional distributor/floor general point guard under new coach Flip Saunders.
But now, Arenas is back to his old self, eschewing the “true point guard” label and determined to attack as aggressively as ever.
“I had been hurt, was hearing everyone say, ‘Oh, they don’t have a traditional point guard,’ so I figured, ‘Hey, maybe that’s what I need to be.’ ” Arenas said. “But you know what? What is a floor general? What’s ‘pure point guard’? At the end of the day, you’re not going to be able to prove everybody wrong or right. If I average 10 points and 10 assists, then it’s, ‘Oh, he’s not back to what he was.’ If I score 45 and four assists, then it’s, ‘Oh, he’s not a true point guard.’
“So, if you don’t go out and win a championship in three years, there’s always going to people doubting you.”
But can the Wizards win a championship, a title that would require the club to rise from second-worst in the league to first?
Team captains Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison say that with Arenas, center Brendan Haywood and shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson now healthy and with the offseason addition of Mike Miller, Randy Foye and Fabricio Oberto, the Wizards have a legitimate shot at contending for a championship.
Arenas - normally the one for brash predictions and bold statements - this time declines to join in.
“Where did we finish in the East last year?” he asked. “Last. Then until we prove ourselves, that’s what we are. You can’t predict. Anyone can guess where we’re gonna be at. But until the ball goes up in the air, we’re last in the East. We took some steps in the right direction this summer, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I saw. If you wanna say stuff, it’s just for conversation, just for the chat rooms. And it’s all great and wonderful, but it doesn’t mean anything.”
Arenas has a simple list of personal goals: “Stay healthy, work hard and enjoy.” Regaining his All-Star status, he says, is not on the radar. Instead, his sights are set on more elite status.
“All-Star’s not my goal. I never wanted to be an All-Star. All-Star is the 24 hottest players at that time. All-League? That’s my goal,” said Arenas, who was named to the All-NBA second team in 2006-07 and twice made the third team. “All-League is only 15 players. So All-League and to play as many games as possible. That’s it.”
Unlike in past years when Arenas would give the new season a theme - he dubbed the 2006-07 campaign “The Takeover” and the ‘07-08 season “Reloaded” - the guard offers no such title for this, his third comeback.
“I don’t have no theme,” he said. “I just wanna go play basketball because I haven’t been able to the last two years. It’s no Takeover, it’s no Reloaded. I just wanna play.”