- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

It is not about the questionable defense of the Wizards.

It is not about their sometimes allergic reaction to rebounding the ball.

The 5-9 record of the Wizards is all about Gilbert Arenas, the team’s two-time All-Star who is mired in a funk. He is not even the leading player on the team at the moment. That distinction belongs to Caron Butler.

Eddie Jordan believes Arenas has become too worried with the officiating, which in turn has undermined his overall floor game. And that could be so. Jordan certainly knows the emotional makeup of his players better than anyone.

Yet Arenas is hardly the only elite player in the NBA to wonder about the inconsistency of the officiating and to respond demonstratively on occasion.

And he was inclined to have a word or three with the referees the last two seasons, and it did not result in a protracted series of disappointments: the nine-turnover game following the seven-turnover game, the 2-for-12 shooting game and the three-point game, to cite a few of this season’s lowlights.

Arenas is not in a good place mentally. This is obvious.

The cause of his psychological free-fall can be left to the self-appointed shrinks of the sports world. All you can say with certainty is that it happens, that players fall into slumps.

If you recall, Antawn Jamison might as well have shot the ball blindfolded last December, so abysmal was his shooting percentage. Then, inexplicably, for whatever reasons, Jamison morphed into one of the top 3-point shooters in the NBA in January.

What prompted his about-face? Who knows? He found a rhythm, as it is said. Maybe he stopped worrying about missing shots, which only contributed to his propensity to miss shots.

Sometimes it takes only a couple of baskets to release the stress in a player.

Sometimes a player makes several shots in a row, and suddenly, he is not worried about the prospect of a miss because he already has several shots in the field goal column.

Arenas came into the season carrying a certain amount of self-induced pressure.

This was supposed to be his coming-out season as a superstar, as one of the top 10 players in the NBA, no questions asked. He was featured in a good number of national publications and finally began to appear in shoe commercials.

This was his time, and it still can be. Fourteen games do not have to be indicative of anything in an 82-game season. It merely reflects where Arenas and the Wizards are now.

Rest-assured, if Arenas stays in his befuddling zone, the Wizards will be hard-pressed to win 35 games this season.

And there is not much anyone can do about that, not Jordan, not Ernie Grunfeld, and not the rest of the Wizards.

Other than Arenas, the Wizards have played well enough to be 9-5.

DeShawn Stevenson has been the $980,000 steal. Who did he replace again?

The Poet and Brendan Haywood have played with unexpected conviction and energy at center. In the team’s win over the Hawks, the two combined for 14 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots.

By their anemic standard in recent seasons, that kind of production leaves you almost faint.

Butler, of course, becomes more efficient and All-Star-like with each passing game, and Jamison remains ever valuable to the cause, despite showing signs of slippage at age 30.

Antonio Daniels has been his usually reliable self, and Jarvis Hayes, who can make observers cringe with his itchy trigger finger, made all three of his 3-point attempts against the Hawks.

Andray Blatche has disappeared, which was not unexpected, and Darius Songaila is out until whenever.

With the monumental exception of Arenas, the Wizards essentially have met their expectations or exceeded them in the case of the two centers.

It is real simple with the Wizards. What’s wrong with them? Arenas is what’s wrong with them.

He is the anointed one, and the anointed ones of the NBA are obligated to carry their teams and not the other way around.

In his blog, Arenas writes that his overall numbers, other than his shooting percentage, are up from last season at this time.

And that is where numbers can be misleading because a player could score 60 points and then come back to have three consecutive games of nine points and still be averaging nearly 22 points.

That is not unlike Arenas through 14 games. He has had three exceptional performances, and the rest have been either ordinary or somewhere close to awful.

A month from now, the Arenas-induced concern could be so much nothing.

He is too good, too clever and too smart to let this matter persist.

Perhaps he needs to become reacquainted with his inner playground artist and just play the game free of inhibitions.

There is evidence he is thinking too much on the floor. He has developed the habit of pump-faking a shot attempt when he should be shooting the ball after catching it. The pump-fake maneuver merely allows the defender to get a hand in his face.

Arenas also sometimes allows the short, quick types to fluster him, as was the case most recently with Atlanta’s Tyronn Lue. His push-off maneuver against Lue late in the game was blatant, an easy call to make.

Arenas and the Wizards could focus more on planting short defenders in the low post, where Arenas has a polished back-to-the-basket game.

Arenas and the Wizards resorted to this tactic on occasion against T.J. Ford last season because Ford had the capacity to stay low to the floor and bother Arenas on the perimeter.

Too often Arenas is miscalculating the space he has generated for himself. He nearly has beaten a defender and pulls up to shoot the ball, only to allow the half-beaten defender to recover just enough to bother his shot attempt.

The recovery of the defender would be a moot point if Arenas would complete the sequence by taking another dribble before pulling up to shoot.

This is the instinctual part of the game, and Arenas is wrestling with that as well.

Even in the home game in which he nearly broke the ankles of LeBron James with a quick move, Arenas allowed the 93-year-old Eric Snow to dribble past him for an uncontested layup at one point.

Sorry. That is just not supposed to happen, ever.

Snow can’t beat most grandmothers to the basket. Yet there he was beating the athletically superior Arenas to the basket.

Arenas still likes the fullcourt pass, as does the opposition, which is only too eager to intercept the low-percentage floater.

And Arenas also has been incredibly painful on the road, which is why the Wizards have an 0-7 mark there.

Just imagine where the Spurs would be if Tim Duncan became Michael Olowokandi each time the team was on the road.

You could dispense the same notion with all the 50-60-win teams of the NBA.

The Wizards embraced the goal of 50 wins going into the season, and they still might get there.

If so, it will be in large part because of Arenas.

If not, that, too, will be on Arenas.

It is his team; it still could be his season.

He at least can be thankful the calendar page to November has turned.

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