- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gilbert Arenas promised to hang an NBA championship banner in the seasons ahead during his get-together with the local press Tuesday.

That promise came to $111 million, a genuine bargain by NBA standards if the championship comes to pass on Abe Pollin’s Fun Street.

Arenas has not demonstrated he is made of championship stuff. He merely has shown he is a high-scoring guard with a magnetic disposition.

He has considerable room to grow before he gets where he wants to be, starting with embracing the basketball tenets espoused by Eddie Jordan, the coach who sometimes is the last to know the plans of the mercurial Los Angeles native.

Arenas was seated at a table with owner Abe Pollin to his right and Ernie Grunfeld and Jordan to his left, the group aligned as one.

And they were on a day that highlighted the re-signing of Arenas.

It was a good day for the franchise, as good days in July are defined in the NBA.

Grunfeld was able to keep both Arenas and Antawn Jamison and preserve the team’s continuity, which is considered essential in the NBA.

The one-season rise of the Celtics suggests that continuity sometimes can be an overstated element.

Arenas also promised to tone down his “foolishness,” without being specific.

If it means he plans to improve his communication skills with Jordan, that would be a nice step. If it also means he plans to accept instruction instead of picking and choosing which instructions to follow, that, too, would be beneficial to the Wizards.

Arenas recognizes that he has established himself as an NBA star, is arguably the leading sports figure in the Washington region and merely has to win big to carve a legacy that ends with his jersey hanging in the same rafters as the hypothetical championship banner.

“I don’t need to score 50 points,” he said. “I’ve done that. Now it’s about winning 50 to 60 games.”

It also is about going deep into the playoffs, which the Wizards have been unable to do the last three seasons because of LeBron James.

“I count it as only one,” Arenas said. “They beat hurt dogs the last two seasons.”

Arenas is being paid as the one to take the Wizards where they have not been since the late ‘70s.

He said he is trying not to think of the contract in that fashion. He remembers how the fat contract went down for Juwan Howard, perhaps the favorite target of the boo-birds until being displaced by Kwame Brown.

For better or worse, the onus is now on Arenas. He is being paid franchise-player money, and franchise players are obligated to lead by example on both ends of the floor.

And that includes the defensive end of the floor, always a touchy subject with Arenas.

He smiled at one point and insisted he has taken a liking to defense, which possibly came as news to Jordan and the coaching staff.

At least Arenas is consistent.

The Wizards have cleared the playoff hurdle, which was a challenge for too long. Expectations have risen considerably since that exuberant night in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood after the Wizards eliminated the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs in 2005.

The city has invested its emotions in Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler, and now it wants to see a dividend from it. Even the injury affliction, however valid in dragging the team down the last two seasons, buys only so much understanding.

Arenas has craved to be acknowledged as the alpha male. Now he is. His contract numbers emphasize it.

So it is time for him to respond accordingly in deed and spirit. It is time for him to be the leader type he has resisted being. It is time for him to get in the faces of big-name opponents and see them as threats to his potential legacy.

It is his team, his city and his responsibility to meet the challenge that goes with a $111 million contract.

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