Hanrahan: Year of change for the Wizards

Hanrahan: Year of change for the Wizards
December 29, 2010, 2:57 am
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Tuesday December 27, 2010 10:45 p.m.

By Frank Hanrahan

One player, one mind-numbing decision and the ripple effect that it had on the Washington Wizards is what 2010 will be remembered for. Gilbert Arenas would love to forget it, except for the part when he finally got out of town.

The beginning of 2010 marked the beginning of the end for Arenas in a Washington Wizards' uniform. Arenas, a one-time captivating all-star guard trying to make another comeback from knee surgery, singlehandedly triggered the reconstruction of the Wizards' franchise with his gun-toting incident that rocked the NBA, Washington and ultimately Arenas himself.

In December of 2009, reports surfaced that Arenas had brought guns into the Verizon Center locker room to settle a poker dispute with then-teammate Javaris Crittenton. The story never got straightened out and it appeared that commissioner David Stern was going to let the legal process play out and not suspend Arenas until Arenas did something he thought was funny but under the circumstances most did not, including commissioner David Stern. Then Arenas mockingly used his fingers to form a make-believe six-shooter and then aimed the pretend weapon at his teammates in pre-game introductions in a game in early January in Philadelphia. A picture caught the incident and it immediately became the talk of the sports world.

Stern had seen enough. He deemed Arenas not fit to play and suspended him for the last 50 games of the season. Arenas would later plead guilty to gun charges and serve 30 days in a half-way house.

Prior to the 2009-2010 season, Wizards' President Ernie Grunfeld ineptly traded away the number 5 overall pick to get veteran guards Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Grunfeld truly believed that those two newly acquired players, along with Arenas and veterans Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, the Wizards had a solid nucleus that was poised to go far in the playoffs. That plan came to a screeching halt when Arenas got the boot. The Wizards were a disappointing 11-21 when Arenas was suspended. Grunfeld had seen enough as well.

At the trade deadline, Grunfeld shipped off veteran mainstays Antawn Jamsion to Cleveland, and Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Deshawn Stevenson to Dallas. From would-be contenders to a rebuild in a few short months, the fallout from Arenas's behavior was fast and furious.

The Wizards would play out the 09-10 season with the likes of Alonzo Gee, James Singleton and Earl Boykins getting major minutes -- and it wasn't pretty as the Wizards finished 26-56 and were lottery bound.

In early June, Ted Leonsis became majority owner of the Wizards. Leonsis had built the NHL's Capitals into a surefire winner with a deliberate and patient approach to rebuilding. It also didn't hurt to have a young superstar in Alex Ovechkin leading the way.

Leonsis invited former owner Abe Pollin's widow Irene to attend the NBA lottery in late June to bring the Wizards much -needed luck. Boy, did she ever, as the Wizards jumped up 5 spots to get the coveted number 1 pick, which would turn out to be John Wall.

The Kentucky freshman guard was a no-brainer choice at the top spot as he clearly was the best player available in the draft. When healthy this season, Wall has shown flashes of brilliance with his end-to-end speed and will to win in late game situations. In 17 games, Wall has averaged 15.8 points and 8.4 assists. Wall, though, has been hobbled by an assortment of injuries, but appears to be finally getting healthy as 2011 approaches.

It took awhile for the end to come for Gilbert Arenas. After the Wizards selected Wall with the number 1 pick and put out the red carpet for him, you figured it was just a matter of time until Arenas was shown the backdoor.

After serving time in a halfway house and with his suspension now over, Arenas was cleared to rejoin the Wizards, this time wearing number 9 instead of number 0, a number that for so long was the most popular jersey in Washington.

It was clear from the outset of training camp in October that Arenas didn't want to be in Washington anymore. From not smiling on media day to faking a knee injury so Nick Young could play in the pre-season, Arenas had clearly checked out. Now if he could be a good soldier for the first few months of the season, maybe, just maybe, another team would give him one more shot.

Enter Orlando. After months of rumors about swinging a deal for the one-time offensive assassin, the Magic pulled the trigger in December, sending Rashard Lewis to D.C. Gilbert Arenas was free of the Wizards and the Wizards were free of Arenas' s large contract and distractions.

With Arenas out of the picture, it is officially John Wall's team. Now, if Wall could just stay healthy in 2011. Knowing the Wizards' luck, that could be wishful thinking.