"GilbertArenas," says Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, "can find motivation in aspeck of dust." To a litany of past slights--unheralded in high school,passed over in the first round of the NBA draft, named an All-Star last seasononly as an injury sub--Arenas has a doozy to add: He believes USA Basketballnever intended to give him a fair shake in tryouts for last summer's worldchampionships team. Arenas has backed off his vows to exact revenge on Team USAassistants Mike D'Antoni (Suns coach) and Nate McMillan (Trail Blazers coach),but his hurt feelings linger. "[USA Basketball] knows I belong," Arenassays. "It's just that they already had their minds made up. Give me therespect."
So Arenas lugs aneven heavier motivational toolbox into 2006--07. "I use things to keepmyself burning," he explains. The strategy works: He has upped his scoringaverage in each of his five years, from 10.9 points as a rookie to 29.3 lastseason--which included 42.5 per game against the Warriors, the team that,coincidentally, failed to re-sign him after his breakout second season.
Arenas now wants anew role: defensive maven. "I'm going to take the challenge of stopping ouropponent's best player," he says. That attitude is welcome on a team thatwas third in scoring last year (101.7) but tied for 21st in points allowed(99.8). If Arenas is able to lead Washington past the second round of theplayoffs, where it hasn't gone since 1979, it could mean a short run for thenewest of his self-given nicknames. "It's Stealth," he says. "Ithink I have one more year to hide under the radar."
Projected StartingLineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 42--40 (5thin East)
Points scored:101.7 (3rd in NBA)
Points allowed:99.8 (T21)
(fourth season withthe Wizards)
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Wizards
You know thatGilbert Arenas is going to get his 30 points most nights, so the key is howmany bad shots you can force him to take. How many possessions can you createwhere his teammates are standing around watching him?... Antawn Jamison didn'thave the impact that he had the year before. He's an excellent offensiverebounder who has turned himself into a three-point shooter, but this wasalready a perimeter-oriented team. Where it needs help is inside, because noneof its big men are legitimate NBA starters.... DeShawn Stevenson was among thelowest-rated starters in the league last year for the Magic. He's a poorshooter, and though he will compete and bring some energy, he isn't a greatdefender. The bottom line: If he's starting, you're in trouble, but if he'scoming off the bench, then you feel O.K. about him.... I don't see how they'vemoved closer to addressing their defensive deficiencies, which they mask bytrapping and gimmicking you. They have as many defenses as any team in theleague, and they'll use them all in a single game.
For the last twoyears the Wizards have had the top-scoring trio. In 2005--06 it was GilbertArenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler; in '04--05 it was Arenas, Larry Hughesand Jamison.