- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

He tried serious. Surly even.

He declared Agent Zero dead and retired the Hibachi. Once the most media-accessible star in the NBA, Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas aimed to be so focused on basketball that he had to be forced by the NBA - in the form of a $25,000 fine - to speak to the media. Although Arenas claimed otherwise, the fun appeared to be gone, and on the court he mostly sported a scowl.

But the new persona didn’t translate into on-court success. Aside from the season-opening 29-point, nine-assist performance in a victory over Dallas and a 32-point, seven-assist game in a win over New Jersey, Arenas largely has been disappointing.

In six losses heading into Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons, Arenas averaged 21.8 points but owned a .383 shooting clip while turning the ball over 5.3 times a game.

Arenas did away with his angry self Saturday night, proclaiming before the matchup with Detroit that he was going back to having fun and that Agent Zero and the Hibachi would return.

But aside from a buzzer-beating 33-foot 3-pointer at halftime, the Agent Zero heroics remained missing in action. Arenas recorded 19 points and 10 assists against the Pistons but made only one of three shots in a fourth quarter in which Washington blew a six-point lead and lost.

The defeat dropped Arenas’ Wizards to 2-7, the new offense he is charged with directing remains stagnant and the guard is caught in an identity crisis while trying to re-establish himself and learn a new system.

“In [former coach Eddie Jordan’s] system, he just told me attack, attack, attack 24-7,” Arenas said. “In this system, I have the ball so much, if I attack, attack, attack, you know, I’ll sit around and score 60; I’d just be ball-hogging. …

“I was a reactor. Now I find myself being a thinker. Just like the Miami game, I’m sitting there concentrating on getting assists - averaging eight assists, averaging nine assists because I want to be labeled a ‘point guard.’ ”

That self analysis explains a lot. Some nights (like the 93-89 loss to Miami last week), Arenas is a willing assailant, taking 27 shots (he made only nine). The next game he seemed passive, taking only 10 shots. Afterward, Arenas said he felt obligated to set up his teammates rather than try to score since he had shot so much the game before.

Another negative during the start has been the injury to Arenas’ go-to guy, power forward Antawn Jamison, and an apparent disconnect with fellow All-Star Caron Butler, whom Arenas has seemed to ignore in key situations. Butler, who has been miffed by his lack of relevance down the stretch of games, said on Arenas’ progress: “I don’t know. You have to ask him.”

Arenas said he is trying to figure out how to include multiple offensive threats at the same time.

Saunders believes Arenas just needs time.

“I just think it’s a combination of he’s trying to find out when things go bad when he should take over and not take over, and that’s part of the situation,” Saunders said. “Everyone just has to be patient. I have to be patient. We have to understand this is someone who hasn’t played [fully healthy in two years] really or put in a lot of games.”

The other key factor has been the tremendous pressure Arenas has put on himself.

“You see the players out there - Chris Paul - averaging 20 and 10, and you know they consider him the best point guard. So you put that in your mind like, ‘Man, in this system I can average 20 and 10. Let me go average 20 and 10.’ And then I catch myself trying to force it… and I’m sitting like, [crap], I can’t do that.”

Arenas might need to figure things out quickly, or the Wizards will find themselves having to dig out of an even larger hole rather than taking strides toward contending with the league’s elite.

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