The Washington Wizards' seemingly endless search for a starting point guard may have ended yesterday with the free-agent signing of Gilbert Arenas, formerly of the Golden State Warriors.
Having tried Rod Strickland, Chris Whitney, Larry Hughes and Tyronn Lue at the point in recent seasons, the Wizards signed Arenas, the Most Improved Player in the NBA last season, to an offer sheet, reported to be for six years and approximately $65 million.
It was the first big strike of new president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, who took over for Michael Jordan three weeks ago.
"If you looked at our roster on July 1, we were pretty solid at the 2 [shooting guard], 3 [small forward], 4 [power forward] and 5 [center], but there was a blank at the 1 position," Grunfeld said. "The position that we really needed filled with an experienced player was that 1. From that standpoint, with him [Arenas] being young and having already done it and still having a lot of upside, in my view, Gilbert was the best player that fit that category."
There is a potential catch, however: Because Arenas is a restricted free agent, the Warriors have 15 days under NBA rules to match Washington's offer and retain Arenas.
But Golden State is said to be over the salary cap and could offer Arenas only the mid-level exception of about $4.9 million without either clearing out roster space or triggering the new luxury tax, so the Warriors are expected to let Arenas walk, with the only question remaining being when they relinquish him.
Arenas, 6 feet 3, will begin his third NBA season after leaving Arizona following his sophomore year. Last season, he averaged 18.3 points - including a career-high 41 against the Wizards last March - and 6.3 assists, 11th best in the league.
Arenas, 21, is scheduled to be arraigned next month in San Mateo County, Calif., on misdemeanor charges of possession of a concealed weapon and of driving without a license, after a June traffic stop where a police officer noticed the clip of a gun in the glove compartment of a sport utility vehicle driven by Arenas.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a subsequent search of the SUV turned up a .40-caliber handgun tucked in a bag hanging from the back of a passenger seat. Arenas has not entered a plea in the case, and could face up to six months in jail if convicted.
Arenas, a native of Los Angeles, was one of the more highly sought-after free agents this summer and was thought to be exclusively interested in Western Conference teams. The Denver Nuggets had early interest in him, and the Los Angeles Clippers reportedly offered Arenas a six-year, $62 million deal Sunday.
However, the Wizards won out, apparently because of their diligence. Grunfeld, new coach Eddie Jordan and assistant coach Phil Hubbard, who was an assistant at Golden State last season, flew to Los Angeles last week, skipping the early sessions of the Reebok Pro Summer League in Boston to woo him.
Later last week, when Arenas came to Washington for a visit, he met with Wizards owner Abe Pollin and members of the team's marketing department during a Washington Mystics WNBA game. Arenas' apparent signing would appear to blunt talk that the Wizards, in the post-Michael Jordan era, would be an unattractive team for talented players to sign with.
"This shows that Washington can be a destination for good young free agents," Grunfeld said. "People understand that we are committed, that we want to have a winning situation and to have a player of Gilbert's abilities and to bring the things that he can do is a big plus for us. Down the road, it will bring other free agents with him."
Further signings may have to wait, because Arenas' deal would bring the Wizards to their cap maximum of just under $44 million. Oddly enough, an unexpected $2 million added to the cap last week by the league gave Grunfeld the extra money to offer Arenas.
The team now has 12 players under contract, with three spots remaining to be filled before the November season opener. Grunfeld said the Wizards might still seek a guard or big man for the veterans' minimum salary slot, which is about $1.5 million a season.