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Monday, January 30, 2012
Answering 'The Gilbert Question'

By Brian Kamenetzky

ESPN.com's Chris Broussard reports the Lakers are considering Gilbert Arenas.

No signing, he says, is imminent. Or imminent adjacent. The Lakers would still need to schedule a workout (sound strategy), maybe two, and an interview as well, meaning it's a little early to get that jersey made up with his name on the back. Still, that the Lakers would even throw the idea around the war room is an admission the roster isn't championship caliber, and as long as he's out there, the Lakers are thin at guard, and struggle to score, The Gilbert Question remains.


AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebanhack
Is the former Agent Zero a good match for the Lakers?


So is it a good idea?

The Lakers lack ball handling, shot creators, perimeter shooting, and reliable bench scoring. In theory, at least, Arenas ticks all four boxes. He'll be cheap (all the Lakers can give him is a prorated veteran's minimum) and can be cut at the first sign of trouble. Sounds like the classic no harm, no foul scenario, right?

Yes, on the surface. Scratch a little and there are good reasons to say no. Here are three:

1. Signing Arenas means cutting a player. Not necessarily tragic, but still a consideration. My guess is Derrick Caracter would get the axe. (None of the guards could be released, because if Arenas didn't work out they'd need the dudes they already have. Some fans would want Luke Walton to go, but actually doing it would be a massive waste. They'd still have to pay him anyway, and would then lose the chance to include him in a trade next season when his expiring contract might have value.) Is it worth losing the rights to a young player with at least some potential for a flier on Arenas?

2. Signing Arenas means integrating Arenas. Integrating Arenas takes time. The Lakers are already a third of the way through the compressed season. If they're only now considering the concept of Arenas, kicking the tires on the actual Arenas is still days away, at least. At the earliest, he's in signed in maybe a week? Ten days? The guy hasn't played since the end of last season, so he'll be knocking off a ton of rust while the Lakers attempt to integrate him into the rotation. Any quick injection of scoring punch is highly unlikely.

He's a high-usage, high-volume player. It's pointless to bring in Arenas without legitimately featuring him in one form or another. There's an investment involved. If Arenas doesn't work out, the swaths of playing time and already scarce practice reps devoted to him won't have gone to the guys remaining when the experiment ends, stunting whatever growth the Lakers can muster over the course of the year. The circumstances for developing continuity this year are already difficult.

Leading me to ...

3. There's a very solid chance Arenas isn't very good. While the memory of Arenas as an explosive scorer is still somewhat fresh, particularly for Lakers fans, the reality is more complicated. Multiple knee injuries, combined with suspension, have kept him sidelined for all but 117 of the last 328 games for which he's been eligible. When he has played, Arenas hasn't played well. Certainly last year was a disaster. He averaged 17.3 points in 21 games with the Wizards, but shot under 40 percent from the floor, and only 32.4 percent from 3-point range. Orlando would have loved those numbers. In 49 games with the Magic, Arenas' FG% dropped to 34.4, and 27.5 percent from distance.

It's worth noting he played off the bench with Orlando, in a supporting role similar to what he'd play in L.A.

Moreover, ESPN Stats and Information notes Arenas was the NBA's fifth-worst player in isolation last year (min. 75 plays), averaging .64 points per play. Moreover, less than 15 percent of his 734 shots came from inside five feet, meaning Arenas had trouble getting to the rack. When he got there, his 48.6 percent conversion rate was the NBA's third worst.

Maybe that was a blip, and Arenas is ready to return to a form somewhere in between last season and his prime ... but I doubt it. In a compressed season where players are dropping like flies, 29 other teams haven't taken a chance on him, either. This means something.

You'll notice, I haven't even mentioned this sort of thing. Or the sideshow he's bring to town, including endless Gilbert questions asked daily to his new teammates and Mike Brown, and constant speculation about his maturity, focus and ability to handle a supporting role.

The skill set deficit on this team was apparent in training camp, and certainly during the first couple weeks of the season. I might have taken a chance on Arenas then, but at this point I wonder if the Gilbert window may have closed. It's not that the Lakers don't need help, because they do. That much is obvious, and if this is the only step they're willing to take while Dwight Howard is still on the market, the equation changes and it's probably worth seeing if lightning finds its way into the bottle.

Increasingly, though, I find Arenas to be an unappealing direction to turn.

In the end, some team will probably step up and sign him, at which point it'll become clear whether my instincts about the quality of his play were right, or if I owe Arenas an apology. I doubt either scenario plays out with him in a Lakers uniform.