It’s a good word. It’s a good thing to do. And something that some just assume Gilbert Arenas can’t do.
Well, he can. Perhaps not in the most tactful manner, but he can … especially when it’s for a guy with whom he has always had a special relationship with, Nick Young (and I’m not talking about the time Gil arranged for Nick’s Range Rover to be stolen).
According to reports before the Wizards’ preseason matchup against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, Arenas told Flip Saunders at that morning’s shoot-around that his knee was sore and that he wouldn’t be able to play.
“We had two hard days of practice, so it’s a little sore and stiff as far as today,” Saunders told the media around 90 minutes before the game. ”At least that’s what he said to me at shootaround. So based on that, I don’t think he’ll play.”
Evidently that wasn’t exactly the case.
After the game, when asked about comments Young had made that Arenas talked to him about sacrifice before the game, Arenas said, “Yea, I told him I’d sacrifice playing tonight so he’d get some time. Because I know he’s kinda frustrated not getting a chance to crank it up at the three position, especially since we’re going three guards. So I told him I’d fake an injury or say something’s wrong with me. So that’s why he said sacrifice.”
It seemed to work. Young scored 24 points in Flip’s offense on 10-14 from the field and 4-7 from deep. And this was mostly after Young had a rough start guarding Joe Johnson, something which the old Nick might not have been able to bounce back from.
It should also be noted, as appears in the video below, that Arenas finished his comment with a bit of a smile on his face.
Now, surely several red flags will be raised by champions of unflappable communication between a coach and a player. Oh well. It’s certainly better than the alternative of a bothersome knee … and I’m sure Flip will get over it. If he even cares.
In the post-game press conference after his team handedly beat the Hawks 107-92 in their first home preseason contest, pushing their record in meaningless games to 3-1, Saunders was asked about how he saw Arenas fitting into a more uptempo offense. Flip made a point to answer in a particular manner.
“You know one thing I think everyone has to understand some … Gil, in the two years I’ve been here, has been the easiest guy I’ve had to coach. Okay? So people say, ‘Gil, Gil…’ He is receptive and he will do whatever I ask him to do from a coaching standpoint. And I’ve said that from day one,” exclaimed Saunders.
“So whatever role I give him … I think it’s more the opposite where he’ll defer more than he will try to do too much, especially with the group that we have,” the coach continued. “So I think if I ask him to score, he’ll score. If I ask him to set people up, I think he’ll try to do that. And he did that last year and he’s continued to do that through training camp this year. I think that’s one of the reasons that our younger players have been so committed to what we’re trying to do because how he’s gone about his approach to doing things too.”
That last paragraph especially hits the nail on the head of the message that many of those who cover the Wizards locally were trying to convey last season; not the national media who only had memories of a shot-jacking Arenas in Eddie Jordan’s pro-style Princeton offense, where he was asked to score a lot. Of course, Arenas’ performance last season was distracted by terrible team play, and then guns.
I can go through Gilbert’s numbers in his brief 32-game sample to prove that he was putting in the effort to be a better distributor, but I’ve done that times before.
Saunders was also asked to compare this year’s team, in terms of picking up his offensive concepts, versus last year’s team at the same point of the season.
“I think this year’s team is definitely a team that doesn’t feel entitlement,” the coach said. “[They are] more receptive, or more trusting right now. When you have a young team and you’re going through and you’re learning, a lot of times you don’t have to break bad habits. You can teach them how it really has to be done. I think we’ve got a lot of young guys that are like that … that are very committed to trying to be as good as they can be.”
“I think last year, those guys … they would run what we wanted to run, but there’s a difference … we’re moving the ball more. The ball doesn’t stick as much. If it’s going to stick, it sticks in your point guard’s hand because he’s the guy that’s going to make the decisions.”
Sacrifice. In one way or another, Gilbert Arenas is willing to do it … in a preseason game … and as a veteran for a young, struggling teammate. And isn’t that a large part of what’s been asked of him in the past?
Now that the ball is a little less stickier from Tuff Juice (and others, to be fair) and in the hands of John Wall, sacrifice just became a bit easier … we think.
We’ll have to see what Saunders has to say regarding Arenas’ comments about rigging the coach’s system with feigned soreness; comments from the guard’s beleaguered mouth made not long after his coach made a point to defend him.
So, make a big deal out of all this if you will, because it’s certainly warranted to some degree, perhaps. But first, let’s watch some Gil …