- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just days after Washington Wizards co-captains Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison expressed optimism that they would soon get some relief in the form of a healthy return by franchise player Gilbert Arenas, the mood suddenly shifted to despair.

Butler said he didn’t expect Arenas to return from his September knee surgery during a Thursday interview on ESPN 980’s “The John Thompson Show.” He reiterated his thoughts Friday: The two-time All-Star said “the truth happened” and that forced him to change his opinion.

“I really don’t think it’s gonna happen,” Butler said.

Arenas also expressed uncertainty about his return from a third knee surgery since April 2007.

“I don’t know. I mean, seven wins? Would you?” said the three-time All-Star, who last July signed a six-year, $111 million contract to remain in the District. “And truthfully, right now, I’m not even close.”

The revelation came two weeks after team president Ernie Grunfeld said, regardless of how bad the Wizards’ record was, Arenas would return this season. Grunfeld said there was no timetable and that the decision remained in the hands of the medical staff.

Grunfeld couldn’t be reached directly Saturday, but responding to a voicemail through public relations director Scott Hall, he maintained that the team’s stance hasn’t changed and that as soon as Arenas is healthy - whenever that may be - the guard will return to action this season.

Arenas had originally targeted December for his return, and then he had the date pushed back to “sometime after Jan. 1.” He has yet to resume practicing with the team but continues to work with the team’s trainers to regain strength and stability in his knee.

Although he remains uncertain about this season, Arenas said he plans to begin practicing with his teammates in February and possibly attempt a return after the All-Star break.

Arenas played two games of two-on-two basketball last weekend with teammates Mike James, Nick Young and Javaris Crittenton - his first such action since his surgery. Two days later, he played a few more two-on-two games, the last of which was Monday.

But when Arenas’ knee failed to respond as favorably as he had anticipated, he started to question whether a comeback would happen at all this season.

“It’s a matter of recovery,” he said. “It’s taking a good two or three days to recover, depending on how hard I go when playing two-on-two. So, I’m not even sure. What am I gonna do, play a game here, play five minutes a game there?”

Arenas said he is conflicted about what to do. He doesn’t want to make a comeback prematurely only to cause further damage to his knee - which he did twice in the 2007-08 season. But the thought of missing basically two straight seasons frightens him because no modern-day NBA All-Star has missed such a period of time and managed to regain his form.

Grant Hill was a six-time All-Star before a series of ankle surgeries limited him to 18 games in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons combined. Since then he has never returned to form and he has continued to battle injury, never playing more than 70 games in a season. Hill’s Phoenix Suns teammate Amare Stoudemire missed all but four games the 2005-06 season because he had to have microfracture knee surgery. But he came back the following year and is now again considered one of the top big men in the league.

Citing those situations, Arenas - who in his All-Star seasons of 2004-07 averaged 27.7 points and 5.7 assists - said he would prefer to return this season, even if he’s not back to his All-Star form, so he can begin to regain his timing and get a head start on next season. He just doesn’t know if he can.

“I’m definitely playing summer league so I can get my rhythm back,” Arenas said. “That and all summer I’m going to just play a lot of ball to get my timing back.”

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