- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

The question of Gilbert Arenas‘ return is hardly a question with a seven-win team.

Why hurry back to a season of dread and despair?

The only question is whether the Wizards will be able to exceed the 18-62 record of the 1961-62 Chicago Packers, the name under which they were born.

The Wizards seem well-qualified to post a franchise-worst record.

Bad teams lose winnable games because of peripheral players missing shots in the waning seconds instead of core players. In the Wizards’ latest failure, that was Mike James and Nick Young missing shots instead of Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

That would not be the case if Arenas were on the floor. That means the three-time All-Star Arenas, not the one with an uncertain future sitting on the bench in street clothes.

The Wizards cannot be sure whether that person ever will resurface. The bet, as time marches forward, is the three-time All-Star Arenas will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

After three knee surgeries and two gutted seasons of false timetables, Arenas is chasing a ghost. It just so happens he turned 27 years old last week. It could not have been the happiest of birthdays.

What exacerbates the situation is the $111 million that was tossed to Arenas last summer. If this were the option year of his contract, it is doubtful Abe Pollin and Ernie Grunfeld would have acted so benevolently toward Arenas.

There was the hope, if not assurance, last summer that Arenas was on the road to recovery and that all would be well in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood this season. That was before he underwent a third knee surgery in September and pushed his return date back to December, then to January and now to anyone’s guess.

Even Arenas is guessing after yet another setback and cursory check of the standings.

“Seven wins,” he said.

He is talking of playing basketball in the summer league now.

By then, he could be talking of being ready by the start of training camp.

This is the drill with Arenas now, unfortunate as it is for him and the franchise. The circumstances are dire.

There is not a trace of hope in the house on Abe Pollin’s Fun Street. If Arenas becomes the next Penny Hardaway or Grant Hill - once All-Star players reduced to competent by injuries - the franchise will need five to seven years to recover.

That is assuming no team would be willing to accept Arenas’ contract until the final year of it.

It is easy to second-guess the gamble of Pollin and Grunfeld. It is easy to say they should have let Arenas walk last season. Those critics would have been the first to question the franchise’s commitment to winning if Arenas had not been re-signed.

That was the criticism leveled in Pollin’s direction during the brouhaha involving Juwan Howard and the Heat. That charge eventually prompted Pollin to overpay for Howard once the team received a do-over from the league office.

So now the Wizards are stuck anew with a player whose contract appears incommensurate with his value.

That reality is ever more frustrating because of a conference that is shedding its junior varsity label. Franchises in the conference that could be counted on to supply the Wizards with a couple of victories each season have moved ahead of them. The Magic will remain a worthy team in the seasons ahead because of center Dwight Howard. The Hawks are young and energetic and appear to have a future. Even Dwyane Wade and the Heat are in recovery mode.

Arenas reminded everyone last summer how the Wizards were in first place in the conference in February 2007 before the injuries started to fell them.

But that conference is no more, starting with the Celtics, who went from a lottery team to a championship team in that time.

And to the lottery is where the Arenas-tied Wizards are heading this season.

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