- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2009

Gilbert Arenas has put his mouth under lock and key, an expensive proposition that already has cost him and the Wizards $25,000 apiece.

The NBA is partial to speech, so long as it does not involve the deconstructing of the referees, the replacements or otherwise.

The rush to fine Arenas and the franchise is curious considering there is precious little insight to be gleaned from the preseason.

If Arenas is not in the mood to exercise his vocal cords in front of someone carrying a notepad or camera following a preseason game, the republic probably can survive it.

Arenas would not be the personality that he is if he did not have a shtick, this latest one about the business of winning.

He is waiting to show that he is all the way back. The five games of the preseason have been merely a tease, an indication of nothing conclusive. The verdict on Arenas will not come until after a month or two of games in the regular season.

Even if Arenas is able to reprise his old self during that period, that will be only the initial judgment. The NBA is an interminable grind that challenges the healthiest and fittest. Arenas cannot know how that left knee is going to respond to the rigors of the regular season until he is immersed in it.

That is one reason why there is not a lot to discuss at the moment. There is this great unknown before Arenas and the Wizards. No one necessarily wants to get into it - it might disrupt the shaky karma - but everyone is dependent on the stability of a left knee that has undergone surgery three times.

Everyone saw just how dependent last season.

The organization, from Ernie Grunfeld on down, has made it clear that it is incumbent on the core of the team to begin to reveal its championship aspirations this season. That is to say the Wizards are obligated to claim 50 victories and advance to either the conference semifinals or finals before succumbing to the Cavaliers.

If that prospect is waylaid by injuries again, no one will be in a forgiving mood, unfair though that is. Changes likely will come about.

Arenas is maintaining a professional front because no one is more concerned about the condition of his left knee than he is. Basketball is who he is. Take that away from him yet again, and the emotional tumult undoubtedly will be severe.

He is liable to dismiss that notion one day and embrace it the next, if he were inclined to be expansive, and he isn’t.

The last time he gave an extended interview, Arenas sounded a recurring theme: The playfulness of it all is done.

Otherwise, the Wizards are left to get through the rest of the preseason with fingers crossed and Antawn Jamison on the mend.

Those who wonder how a team could go from the dregs to the upper tier of teams in a season forget how it came to be with the Spurs.

With David Robinson missing all but six games in the 1996-97 season, the Spurs staggered through a 20-62 season. The Spurs did earn a bit of good fortune for their troubles: Tim Duncan, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft in 1997.

With Robinson healthy the next season and Duncan adjusting to the NBA at an accelerated rate, the Spurs compiled a 56-26 mark. They won their first of four championships in 1999, just two years after posting their franchise-worst record.

The Wizards do not have two big men in the fashion of Robinson and Duncan. But they have three All-Stars, a decent enough big man in Brendan Haywood, two nice additions in Randy Foye and Mike Miller and their deepest bench since the core was put together.

It is not championship material. It is a tier down from that if healthy.

Talking about it won’t aid in the team’s health, won’t exorcise the demons in Arenas.

He’ll probably talk at length the moment he feels he is truly back.

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