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Gilbert off the bench? Really?

Mike Wise got into the subject in the column he wrote following last night's 111-98 win over the Knicks but I thought I'd throw it out there for you folks to discuss as well. Following the game, Gilbert Arenas had an informal chat with Mike and then other reporters and dropped the concept of coming off the bench once he is cleared for game action (which Gilbert says could be sometime after the all-star break with March 1 set as a possible target date).

"I don't want to mess up the rhythm these guys have going right now," Gilbert said to me at one point. "I want to make sure that I come in and help us keep rolling along."

Now, I've learned over the past three years to be very careful about drawing broad conclusions from Gilbertspeak. It isn't that he's dishonest. Not at all. It's just that he tends to say whatever comes to mind at a particular moment (like last year when he basically said that he played poorly in an ugly loss to Portland because Eddie Jordan was making the team play defense) and five minutes later, he may say something totally different. Once he comes back, it's going to be hard to imagine Gilbert wanting to play 20-25 minutes as a reserve. In fact, I can promise you: that isn't going to happen.

Anyway, how the team blends in Gilbert and possibly Etan Thomas if and when he is cleared to return, will be very interesting. Gilbert has always been a guy who plays heavy minutes, needs the ball in his hands and takes a high volume of shots. No problem there: he's one of the top 10-15 players in the league, but his presence will obviously alter the dynamics a little. I personally believe that this team will be a terror if Gilbert is even 85 percent of what he was last season.

Think of the points in transition he can create off of the improved defense this team is playing, think of the extra free throw attempts that come from his drives to the basket and imagine the late game possibilities of having Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison on the floor at the same time. Who do you load up on?

As for Thomas, his return sure couldn't hurt. I believe that he and Brendan Haywood are done with the scrapping and fighting stuff. Sure, they'll compete hard and go at it like they should on the practice floor but in talking to both of them last season, I came away with the sincere impression that they were embarrassed by what has gone on in the past and don't want it to happen again. Having a healthy Thomas would also give Jordan another big man option.

Jordan already has Brendan, who is playing well, as well as Andray Blatche, whose length and ability to run the floor presents issues for opponents and lately, another intriguing option has emerged in Oleksiy Pecherov, whose ability to shoot the long ball and knack for rebounding can create some real mismatch issues. It was interesting to see how reluctant Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph were to come out on Pesh last night. Haywood called him a Ukrainian Antawn Jamison.

Etan would give the team a physical banger to use on guys like Dwight Howard, Ben Wallace and Kendrick Perkins in playoff series should those matchups happen. (Remember that Etan ate Howard's lunch in a game down in Orlando early last season).

Anyway, it's still way too early to speculate too much on what is going to happen but then again, that's why barber shops and bar stools exist, right? So get to it.

By Ivan Carter  |  January 19, 2008; 11:22 AM ET
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