- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

What more can Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan ask of two-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas?

These days, it must be kind of hard. One night, Arenas has 45 points and seven assists only to find out he’s been snubbed by Eastern Conference coaches for a spot on the All-Star team.

The next, after learning commissioner David Stern named him to the team, Arenas outperforms All-Star starter LeBron James in MCI Center, leading Washington to its fourth straight win with 32 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

But still, Jordan wants more.

“He’s maturing in every phase of his life, professionally, personally, on the floor and off the floor,” Jordan said Saturday. “He’s saying the right things and he’s helping his teammates, but he still has some more to grow. I want him to be a terrific leader, more of a verbal leader. And that’s going to come.”

Being that kind of leader is a trait players are usually born with. It’s the next step in Arenas’ evolution, and Jordan knows it won’t come easily.

Arenas, 24, who is having a better season this year than last, when he was named to the All-NBA third team, is as chatty as they come. But he knows Jordan isn’t looking for a chatty player always ready with a joke.

Jordan is looking for Arenas, averaging 28.3 points and 6.0 assists, to be more vocal — with criticism and praise — and to become the player his teammates look to for direction when the game’s outcome is in doubt.

Arenas, a huge reason why the Wizards (25-23) have won 12 of their last 16 games, is the first one to admit leadership is a tricky course to navigate.

“I’m trying to look around at stars in this league who have respect as a vocal leader,” he said. “It’s hard because you don’t know what to say to certain players, and you don’t know how to react to certain people. You don’t want to get on somebody’s bad side because of something you said wrong when you are trying to push them. So I’m still in a learning process.”

For many of the great ones, this was never a problem. Michael Jordan perfected it. Kobe Bryant has learned it, but some say Bryant will tear down a teammate, ala Jordan, yet hasn’t learned how to rebuild a player’s confidence afterward.

Former Wizards guard Larry Hughes, now with the Cavaliers but sidelined because of a broken finger, has been watching his former teammate. Hughes said it’s not in Arenas’ mentality to be the fiery leader. And that might be a good thing.

“You don’t want that right now. I’m serious,” he said. “He’s very into it emotionally, and a lot of times if a play doesn’t go his way he’s probably going to offend some guys with his mouth. It might come down the road, but he’s so talented he’s going to get frustrated with guys who can’t come up to his high level. That’s what will make it hard for him because he reacts real quickly.”

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