While the Washington Wizards introduced a youthfully overhauled roster, including No. 1 overall pick John Wall, to the media on Monday, the spotlight during the approximately two-hour session quickly turned to their longest-tenured player when guard Gilbert Arenas entered the practice court at Verizon Center.
After several stops to pose for pictures, the three-time All-Star participated in a short news conference in which he answered questions, mostly about his comeback from last season's 50-game suspension for bringing firearms into the Verizon Center locker room.
Arenas subsequently spent a month at a halfway house as the Wizards were completing a trying season that also included a team-issued one-game suspension to forward Andray Blatche and a season-ending injury to guard-forward Josh Howard four games after the club acquired the former All-Star from the Dallas Mavericks in a trade-deadline deal.
"I'm very happy," Arenas said while addressing the media in hushed tones. "In the past I used to show happiness on the outside. There's no need to do that anymore. Now I can just play the game the right way and play with my passion, and that's really the focus."
Clad in a new No. 9 jersey, a fully bearded Arenas went about his media obligations without so much as a grin. The staid demeanor, like his updated number, represented a vast departure from his former persona as "Agent Zero," when Arenas carried himself as the exuberant face of the franchise and welcomed the adoration and attention associated with that standing.
Arenas did not address specifically his tribulations from last season but mentioned a "breath of fresh air," signaling an inclination to redirect his energy toward remaking his image after the franchise reacted to the suspension by quickly removing all likenesses of him from Verizon Center. Part of that purge included an oversized banner hanging on the arena's Sixth Street side and all Arenas jerseys in the team store.
"Any product you own, if something happens to it, you got to do what you've got to do to save your company, so I understand it," Arenas said. "Now we've just got to move forward."
Part of that process includes NBA commissioner David Stern strongly advising against discussion of the gun incident. Stern spoke with Arenas last Tuesday about his enthusiasm over having one of the league's most exhilarating players back on the court but also told Arenas not to talk about the matter. Soon after the conversation, Stern informed new majority owner Ted Leonsis that public comments from management about the incident were not unacceptable as well.
That directive left Arenas to discuss other issues Monday, including regaining fan support and getting better acquainted with his teammates, the majority of whom were not on the roster last season. The most recognized of those is Wall, whom Washington selected in the June draft shortly after defying the odds to win the first pick in the NBA's draft lottery.
One of the main story lines during training camp, which was scheduled to begin today at the Patriot Center with the NBA's first-ever midnight madness, will be how Arenas and Wall handle playing together in the back court. Arenas played point guard last year before his suspension, and Wall is a natural distributor entrusted with the position for the long haul.
"There's been a lot of talk about whether you can play guys like that," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "You look at Detroit with Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas. Both those guys were maybe considered point guards, guys that wanted to have the ball. Both these guys, they've played a lot together over the last three weeks. There won't be any problems with those guys at all."
Entering his eighth year with the Wizards, Arenas, 28, averaged 22.6 points and 7.2 assists in 2009-10 before the gun incident derailed his season. The abrupt conclusion to a promising start was all the more disheartening considering Arenas was on the mend from left knee surgery that forced him to miss the first 73 games of the 2008-09 season. One season previous, Arenas started the first eight games before knee surgery and came back as a reserve after missing 66 games.
Wall, meantime, begins his first professional training camp after averaging 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals during his only season at Kentucky. Wall's first professional experience in a competitive environment came during the NBA summer league in Las Vegas, where he was named most outstanding player. In four games, Wall averaged a league-high 23.5 points and 7.8 assists, with 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
"We just got to go out there and play as a team," Wall said when asked about developing an on-court relationship with Arenas. "It's us. It's not between me and him. It's us and the whole team.