- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

It is almost obligatory to question the collective wisdom of Abe Pollin and Ernie Grunfeld in re-signing a one-legged basketball player to a $111 million contract.

At least that is one strain of thinking lurking in cyberspace after Gilbert Arenas underwent the third surgical procedure on his left knee in 17 months.

Hindsight, of course, is a flawless measuring instrument.

Things always look perfectly clear after the fact.

But let’s go back to July 1, when Arenas became an unrestricted free agent. Let’s imagine Arenas bolting to another team after Pollin and Grunfeld refuse to add enough zeroes to his contract.

Pollin, in particular, would have been criticized yet anew for putting financial considerations ahead of fielding a competitive team.

It would have been pointed out, and justifiably so, that all kinds of players return to their previous level of excellence after undergoing knee surgery and that any concern regarding the long-term health of Arenas was merely a pretext to save money.

And that assessment would have been fair.

This is not to suggest that news of Arenas’ latest surgery is unimportant.

It is a significant setback and leaves the franchise in limbo yet again.

The return of Arenas has been pushed back to December, which is hardly reassuring.

It is not as if he will be ready to drop 30 points on the opposition the moment he steps onto the floor. He will not be in game shape in December. He will not have his shooting rhythm. And there is no reason to believe at this point that he somehow will merrily pass his first back-to-back test on the schedule.

Yet both Grunfeld and Arenas are putting a happy face on the surgery, as if it were expected, routine, no different from brushing and flossing your teeth each morning.

They are facing yet another period of uncertainty and end up channeling the movie character Chance the Gardener in “Being There.”

Both Grunfeld and Arenas insist that “as long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

Or all will be well in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

That is easy to emphasize in September, just as it was easy to say Arenas was ready to go last year at this time. We know how that turned out. And we know how it turned out after Arenas was seeking to ride to the team’s rescue in April.

So here we go again, with the Wizards hoping to stay afloat until Arenas returns in the winter, if he returns then.

That challenge will be more problematic because of the departure of Roger Mason, who was no small element in the playoff push of the Wizards last season.

He extended defenses with his 3-point shooting and fashioned a number of high-scoring games. His absence could shift more scoring burden to Nick Young, whose ability is sometimes trumped by the excesses of youth.

See where this is going again?

The Wizards are going to need many of their complementary parts to exceed their customary production levels.

The worries extend to 33-year-old point guard Antonio Daniels, who likes to spend half the game mopping the floor with his body.

He probably will not hold up. Nor will Caron Butler, the team’s leading player with Arenas on the shelf. Butler has missed a combined 50 games in his three seasons with the Wizards.

Pollin and Grunfeld were correct in re-signing Arenas with what they knew at the time.

There was no talk of Arenas missing the first month of the season then. There was no talk of Arenas possibly facing another surgical procedure. There was only talk of the team going deep into the playoffs.

That was in July.

Now the talk is of Arenas being relegated to street clothes again.

“I wasn’t planning on playing until January anyway,” Arenas told The Washington Times’ Mike Jones.

Oh, really?

Everyone must have overlooked that tiny announcement in July.

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