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|Agent Zero will be sidelined for at least the first month of the season after yet another knee surgery.|
Here's what the Washington Wizards won't get in the first year of a new contract with Gilbert Arenas that pays him an average of $18.5 million per season: a full season from the high-scoring guard.
Arenas had a surgical procedure Wednesday to clear out loose matter in the left knee that had previously undergone surgery twice. He is not expected to return to action until December.
There was some skepticism around the league when the Wizards signed Arenas to the six-year, $111 million contract following a season in which problems with the knee limited him to only 13 regular-season games, and forced him to shut it down after four games in the playoffs. It wasn't as if teams were forming caravans of armored cars to throw money at Arenas.
But the Wizards defended their decision and are still standing by their guy, even if he can't stand and walk without crutches right now.
One member of the organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "It's disappointing, but it's not the worst thing that could happen. Amare [Stoudemire] signed his deal, then went and had microfracture surgery. I'm sure Phoenix is glad to have Amare."
The difference is the Wizards had advance warning. The Suns were caught off-guard after the paperwork was done. The good news for Phoenix is Stoudemire regained his form. After missing all but three games of the 2005-06 season, he came back to play the entire 2006-07 season, averaging 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds. Last season, he averaged 25.2 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Even when Arenas' knee wasn't right, he could still score. He averaged 19 points last season, and scored 24 in the first playoff game. But will he be able to stay on the court? And what if this becomes a long-term problem, tying up the team's salary-cap space for a perpetually injured player?
This latest trip to the doctor wasn't a major procedure. An arthroscope was inserted into the knee and it was flushed with saline to remove loose particles.
"I just had some floating debris in there that was slowing me down," Arenas told The Washington Post. "It was irritating the knee, so we decided to go in there and clean it out. This should actually allow me to come back faster."
Last season the Wizards survived without Arenas by leaning on Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, who was re-signed to a four-year, $50 million contract over the summer. Jamison did not have knee surgery, made the All-Star team and actually took a pay cut to stay with the team. But Arenas got the big raise, making him the team's financial centerpiece. And for at least the first month of the season, he won't get a chance to prove he was worth it.
The Wizards can take some solace in their success last season: They finished with a 43-39 record and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs without having Arenas' services for most of the season. Still, the Wizards' record put them closer to the playoff outsiders than the East's elite, and the conference should be more challenging this season than last, when winning half your games was enough to get you to the postseason.
When they signed Arenas, the Wizards were thinking long-term. Their core should be together and productive longer than Boston's or Detroit's. But in the near future, with Arenas making $177,000 per game this season, it's an expensive experiment. And all we'll learn during the first part of the season is whether Arenas spent his new money upgrading his wardrobe.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.