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Posted at 2:20 AM ET, 12/21/2010

On anniversary of infamous gun incident, Gilbert Arenas moves forward

By Michael Lee

Gilbert Arenas's drive to work will be a lot less stressful on Tuesday morning. He'll show up for to play a game for the Orlando Magic against the Dallas Mavericks, rather than taking those familiar roads from his home in Great Falls home to the Verizon Center and stepping into the locker room a year after the worst decision of his career placed him and the Wizards in a situation that few could've anticipated.


Things can really change in one year. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

On this Dec. 21, the Wizards will celebrate a rare blowout win over the Charlotte Bobcats and Arenas play his second game with the team he has longed to play for ever since he was suspended for bringing guns to the arena in a dispute with former teammate Javaris Crittenton. As the anniversary approached, Arenas's mind was thankfully elsewhere.

"What's funny is I didn't even think about it," Arenas said after making his debut with the Magic on Monday in Atlanta. "That's something that happened in the past and I can't think about the anniversary and all this. That's for you guys to write about, not me to think about."

The past 12 months have been difficult for Arenas, as he's lost millions in salary, gained an unfortunate reputation, lost his estranged mother, and completed a divorce with the Wizards after more than seven years. Arenas admitted that he struggled trying to find his place within the organization.

He wanted to part ways before the season began, but understood that there was nowhere for him to go. The challenge was harder when he never trusted that the Wizards had plans of keeping him around for the long term, no matter what owner Ted Leonsis of President Ernie Grunfeld may have said publicly.

"It was weird at first, because I didn't know how I would be welcomed back in Washington," Arenas said. "I was nervous, scared, trying to do anything just to fit in. I felt that's where I was just trying to fit into something where I felt really that I wasn't a part of. I tried to do everything to stay out of headlines and stay out of people's way."

Magic general manager Otis Smith observed closely how Arenas appeared uncomfortable as he returned from his 50-game suspension. Smith felt that Arenas needed a fresh start somewhere, and that the former three-time all-star could help Orlando get back on the right track. "I think he was trying," Smith said. "I'm not sure if he was trying to do everything everybody was telling him and then some, I thought. So I had a tendency to take some of the fun out of the game for him. I think he'll try to get it back here, with the guys we have and the guys in that locker room, I'm sure he'll enjoy playing with them on a nightly basis. He's excited about the opportunity to get back what he once had. So, we'll get it back."

Arenas changed his jersey to No. 9 to symbolize a new beginning with the Wizards, but said that the uncertainty of his role -- he started, came off the bench, played off the ball, then played point guard -- put him in a dark place that he couldn't overcome. "Maybe more mental darkness than actual, for me. It was just the mental darkness, because I'm looking at everything. I'm seeing what's going on and I'm like, 'Aw, this again.' It's like, well this isn't a fresh start. You guys are still judging me. It was just frustrating at times. I was like, 'I thought this was a fresh start, but it's really not.' "

Dwight Howard, a former high school teammate of Crittenton, approved the Magic's acquisition of Arenas and has encouraged him to be aggressive and not try to ease his way into the fold. He also said the team is not worried about any of Arenas's past baggage. "Why bring it here? It's a fresh start for him. He's looking to get going. We're just going to welcome him with open arms. We don't have any ill will toward him or whatever happened while he was in Washington."

Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said that he was focusing on what Arenas can offer Orlando. "More than anything, he loves to play basketball and he's a great competitor. He loves to be in situations at the end of the game and is afraid of nothing. If you want to be a great team come playoff time. Those are the guys you need."

Now that he's with the Magic -- which already has an established franchise cornerstone in Howard -- Arenas feels unburdened. "I don't have the pressure of anything right now. I don't have the pressure of trying to fit in where I'm not wanted," Arenas said. "Everybody welcomed me and they just want me to be me. You're going back to a team where you don't know if you're welcome. Everyone is trying their hardest to make you feel welcome. When it's forced, it's never going to work. Here, everyone has the same personality. It's easier to come to a team where everyone is upbeat."

And he no longer has to look back on the day that changed his life, and the course of the franchise he once ruled. "I think both sides are free from it," Smith said. "I don't know if it's a one-sided thing. I think Washington is probably more relieved than he is, because you don't have that hanging on your head. You can rely on your young guy [John Wall] to grow into his team, without that every day. I think it's a win-win for everybody involved."

There was an almost odd coincidence that Arenas made his debut with the Magic on the same day that the Wizards trounced the Charlotte Bobcats and Gerald Wallace, since Arenas's fall began when Wallace fell on his left knee in April 2007.

But Arenas was unable to hide his happiness about wearing the same jersey of his favorite player growing up, Penny Hardaway. His teammate Jason Richardson said Arenas is smiling like he hasn't smiled in years. "Probably since I got hurt. That injury stopped my career cold," Arenas said. "This is the first time, I'm proud to play basketball."

By Michael Lee  | December 21, 2010; 2:20 AM ET
Categories:  Gilbert Arenas  
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Next: Rashard Lewis arrives, Gilbert Arenas moves on

Comments

The best thing about this for Arenas is that Florida's gun laws are even less strict than Virginia's, and nowhere even close to DC's. He still can't take a gun into the stadium, but he can wear it openly on his hip if he wants and doesn't have to worry about crossing state lines on his way to work.

But seriously, who cares? Arenas is gone and the team is playing well. I have been a fan of Arenas from th start but am glad to see him go. Fresh start for everybody.

Josh Howard is coming along. Kirk is playing great as the pg instead of SF. Thornton, Nick and Blatche are all doing their thing. McGee needs a boost, but he is still better than Haywood and. Booker is playing hard to keep some court time.

Who knows how Lewis will fit on this team. I wish we could have picked up a bunch of draft picks for Arenas instead of Lewis, but I also know the trade rules don't permit that. Hopefully he will add depth to our front court and be an improvement over Yi.

let Wall sit for a month or so and really get healed. Someone needs to get him doing yoga for like an hour or more every day.

If we can win one of the next two games without Wall and be competitive in both (Bulls then Spurs), I will feel like this team is improving.

The team still has questions and is not a contender for much other than the 5th lottery slot, but it is more of a team than a few weeks ago. Getting Wall healthy to finish out the season and get some game comfidence will set us up for a good season next year.

Posted by: Blurred | December 21, 2010 7:05 AM | Report abuse

"If we can win one of the next two games without Wall and be competitive in both (Bulls then Spurs), I will feel like this team is improving."

I'd be happy if they're competitive in those two games. Chicago is a weakened by the loss of Noah.

I don't know if we can legitimately expect this team to win either of those games. Certainly the oddsmakers in Vegas won't.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 21, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

I was hoping we could put the gun incident away, but as Arenas was traded I guess there has to be at least one post mordem on it. Hopefully just one!

Posted by: gmac78 | December 21, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Man, he looks so out of place in that uniform.

Posted by: BMoreChil | December 21, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Samson151,

They look eerily like a playoff team, but we wiii see very quickly.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | December 21, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

"Probably since I got hurt. That injury stopped my career cold," Arenas said. "This is the first time, I'm proud to play basketball."

We could all keep our warm and fuzzy memories of Arenas if only he didn't ever open his mouth, or if when he did, nobody reported on what came out of it.

That said, I still wish him well in Orlando.

Posted by: nmik | December 21, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Gilbert who?

He should stop whiiining. He did this to himself.

Posted by: nyskinsdiehard | December 21, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Gilbert who?

He should stop whiiining. He did this to himself.

Posted by: nyskinsdiehard | December 21, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Samson151,

They look eerily like a playoff team, but we wiii see very quickly.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | December 21, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

___________________________________

whoa now..

Posted by: LoveTheWiz | December 21, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

"They look eerily like a playoff team . . ."

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | December 21, 2010 8:02 AM

Sure . . . in the NFL. With 7 wins, they'd lead the NFC West and be in line for home field advantage in the first round.

Posted by: kalo_rama | December 21, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm happy for Gil and flat out HAPPY AND THRILLED this circus is over..

We don't have the coach, GM, or veteran player or structure that a player of Gil's mentality needs to be in. I think Orlando has that, becuase Van Gundy ain't having none of the stupid s***..NONE OF IT..

And we can finally rebuild..We will be fine in 2-3 years..

As for the Magic, Otis Smith is a dead man walking...He will be fired after this year, so thanks for taking Gil off our hands Otis..I'm sure you are the only GM in the entire league who would have done so...

Posted by: kevenjones | December 21, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

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