All the Lakers have to do to feel better about recent struggles is look to the Wizards.
January 26, 2010, 11:23 PM
By: John Ireland
WASHINGTON -- On the Lakers Radio Pregame show on Tuesday, Steve Mason and I debated whether or not the team's trip to the White House would be a distraction, or a motivator, when it became time to play the Wizards. Mason felt the celebration would remind the Lakers that they're the champs, and it was time to start playing like it. I worried that with all of the players' families in town for the ceremony, the team would have less time to focus of the business of basketball.
It didn't take long to find out I was wrong.
After leading by one at the end of the first quarter, the Lakers outscored Washington 30-15 in the second quarter, and never looked back. Kobe Bryant led the way with 26 points, while the bench added 38 more in the 115 to 103 win.
But what stood out about this game was the feeling surrounding each team throughout the night.
For the Lakers and their fans, all of the talk was about their Monday visit to the White House, just one of the many perks that come with being the NBA champs.
In the Wizards locker room, all of the talk was about guns, suspensions, and how the team may never be the same again. It's been that way ever since two of the Wizards, Gilbert Arenas and former Laker Javaris Crittenton, pulled guns on each other in a dispute on Christmas Eve. Both players have been suspended, and Arenas might even go to jail.
Just reading the statements that the Wizards have issued paint a bad picture for both guys. When Arenas pleaded guilty to felony gun possession, the team released the following:
"Gilbert Arenas has been a cornerstone of the Washington Wizards for six years. We are deeply saddened and disappointed in his actions that have led to the events of this afternoon. Gilbert used extremely poor judgment and is ultimately responsible for his own actions."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?
When Crittenton pleaded guilty to misdemeanor gun possession, the team issued an almost identical response:
"The charges filed today against Javaris Crittenton and his subsequent plea represent another disappointing development in what has already been a long and frustrating process for the team, the NBA and, most importantly, our fans. Javaris clearly used very bad judgment in this situation and will now face the consequences of his actions."
After spending a couple of days here, I'm convinced that both players are done with the Wizards. Currently, Arenas is suspended indefinitely, while Crittenton is out with an injury.
Crittenton never caught on in Washington, so they can just let him go. On the other hand, Arenas is the team's highest-paid player. In 2006, he signed a six-year, $111 million contract that still has three years remaining.
So what happens next?
The issue has now become whether or not the Wizards can void that contract. Every NBA contract contains the provision that the player must conform to "standards of good citizenship," and it expressly bars "engaging in acts of moral turpitude."
I'm not an attorney, but bringing guns into the workplace would appear to violate both of those conditions. Lester Munson, an ESPN attorney who frequently appears on our radio show, clearly agrees. But Munson makes another good point: the NBA has a collective bargaining agreement that states all gun punishments must be reached in accordance with the NBA Constitution.
Here's what Munson wrote about that scenario in a www.espn.com article this week:
"The constitutional provision specifically limits Commissioner David Stern's powers over gun violations. He can suspend a player for a "definite or indefinite" period, and he can fine a player as much as $50,000. But that's it. That is the beginning and the end of any punishment for a gun violation.
There is no provision for terminating the player's contract."
In other words, this isn't as easy of a situation as it might appear. In my opinion, I can't think of a judge or an arbitrator who wouldn't side with the Wizards here. Roger Cossack, another ESPN legal analyst, appeared on our show this week.
"I think if the Wizards try to terminate the contract," Cossack said, "I think they would win."
For now, the Players Association -- which is headed by Lakers' guard Derek Fisher -- wants the NBA to put a number on the Arenas suspension. They feel that by leaving his suspension as "indefinite," it could go on forever.
Here in Washington DC, it already feels like it has.
John Ireland hosts the "Mason & Ireland" show on ESPN Radio 710 in Los Angeles.