By J.A. Adande
The lone felony charge against Gilbert Arenas didn't bring resolution to the biggest NBA issue of the new calendar year, but it has brought clarity. Now we know the operational terms, as even a character as quirky as Arenas understands the gravity of the word "felony."
It also could pave the way toward an easier road to termination of Arenas' contract, which has four years and approximately $80 million remaining after this season. The uniform player contract allows teams to void contracts if a player shall "at any time, fail, refuse, or neglect to conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship, good moral character (defined here to mean not engaging in acts of moral turpitude, whether or not such acts would constitute a crime), and good sportsmanship..." That is a both all-encompassing and vague definition. Good sportsmanship? Theoretically LeBron James could have been cut by the Cleveland Cavaliers for walking off the court without shaking the hands of the victorious Orlando Magic in last year's Eastern Conference Finals under a liberal definition of the term. As far as criminal behavior, there have been countless misdemeanors that have received only minor suspensions from the league, including a seven-game suspension for Stephen Jackson for firing a gun outside an Indianapolis strip club in 2006.
A felony charge leaves no gray area. Nor is there much room for feelings. In the Wizards organization there is genuine concern for Gilbert Arenas the person, still a likable guy despite his horrendous decision, now facing the ultra-serious prospect of up to five years in prison. But if the case were to conclude with a guilty plea or felony conviction and a prison sentence it's unimaginable that they would want to keep his salary cap-clogging contract on their books. There's also a sense Stern will use this as a strong example of the penalties for violating his ban of guns on team property. One Wizards source has feared Stern's punishment more than the court's all along.
The fact that Arenas, who already has a misdemeanor weapons possession case on his record, could blatantly disregard the NBA and the District of Columbia's gun regulations then act so cavalier in public afterward, brought on the league-imposed indefinite suspension and could set the stage for termination.
A players union source vowed to fight any attempt to terminate the contract, but there are indications the rank and file would not feel the need to rally around this cause. If Arenas were to have his contract reinstated by an arbitrator it would only add to the owners' determination to strengthen their abilities to void contracts in the next collective bargaining agreement. Would the Arenas case, in which he was clearly in the wrong in many eyes, be worth winning at the expense of weakening the players' position down the road?