LOS ANGELES -- Gilbert Arenas never follows convention, so did you really expect him to take an orthodox approach to his upcoming free agency? Sunday night, Arenas fired the opening shot in negotiations with the Washington Wizards by offering to take a pay cut.
The premise put to him was that it would be hard to expect the Wizards to re-sign Arenas and fellow free agent Antawn Jamison while sticking to their stated goal of staying below the NBA's luxury tax threshold.
"Just sign Antawn first and then I'll take the pay cut, to keep the team intact," Arenas said.
Reporter: You'll take a pay cut?
"It depends how much [Jamison] wants," Arenas said.
"We've been together six out of my seven years. I told him, whatever he wants, give it to him, and I'll take the pay cut.
"I know what he does, I know he's part of my success. We have this 1-2 combination that we use, and it's effective in this league. We know we make each other better. Someone has to sacrifice. This might be one of his last contracts, so I'll have to sacrifice and hopefully I'll get another one at the end of the day."
Later, Arenas implied he also would be willing to take a lower salary to play for a contending team.
"Going to a team like the Lakers, Dallas, any championship team, I'd have to take a pay cut to go there," Arenas said. "The pay cut is, if I leave I have to take a pay cut, if Antawn comes back, I'd have to take a pay cut."
Jamison's response to Arenas' statements?
"Typical Gilbert," Jamison said. "He wants to make sure that we keep everybody together. He's letting everybody know he's willing to make a sacrifice to do that. You've never known him to be a selfish guy. He's different -- don't get me wrong on that
"He wants me to come back, and I want him to come back, as well. We talked about it throughout the season. I told him I don't plan on going anywhere. He said he was going to make sure he wasn't the reason I couldn't come back."
A Wizards source, when told of Arenas' willingness to play in Washington for less money, said: "That's a nice gesture, but the onus is on us to take care of all of our players. We're going to do everything at our disposal to make sure we take care of our franchise players."
The source said the Wizards are authorized to go within $1 of the luxury tax threshold. This season, the luxury tax level is $67,865,000. Any team going above it must pay a 100 percent tax for every dollar above that amount and also is ineligible to share in the luxury tax revenue that is divided among teams that remain below the threshold. Next season's luxury tax threshold is expected to be about $70 million.
Arenas, 26, says he will opt out of the remaining year on his contract, which was due to pay him $12.8 million next season. Jamison, who will turn 32 in June, is in the final year of a contract that paid him a team-high $16.4 million this season. Both will be eligible to sign contracts as long as six years.
Jamison is probably looking at a pay cut, as well, even if he hasn't expressed a desire for one. It's likely that no team will have more than $12 million in salary-cap space to use for an incoming free agent, so Jamison won't have any leverage to drive up his price in Washington.
Ordinarily, Arenas would get yelled at by his agent for hurting his bargaining position. But this is Arenas, so we're not talking ordinary. He will represent himself in negotiations. It also doesn't help that he has played in only eight games this season. He had surgery on his left knee last April and hasn't played since having microfracture surgery on the same knee in November. It's starting to look as though Arenas won't make it back on the court this season in time to be ready for the playoffs. Although he said the knee feels fine, he has not received clearance from the team's medical staff to play, and he has concerns about getting back up to NBA game speed in time to help the team in the playoffs.
There's even some concern among the Wizards that Arenas' return could disrupt the hardworking, team-oriented identity Washington has adopted in his absence.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan tried to avoid the topic of Arenas as much as he could.
"He's not playing tonight; he hasn't played; and I'm not going to comment on when he's coming back and when he's going to play," Jordan said before the game against the Lakers. "We're really focusing on the guys we have in the locker room and to win a game tonight.
Later, he said, "I really don't want to talk about Gilbert. I really don't. It's just going to be more distraction in my mind, and I'm not that good, to be talking about Gilbert, he's not playing and what he can bring and all that stuff. When he plays, we'll talk about it."
Arenas, of course, was willing to speak on all manner of topics.
On whether he needs to come back now to show the Wizards and other potential teams what he still can do:
"I have all summer to work back on my game. I'm a scorer. I score in volumes. I'm a shooter. You don't lose your shooting touch.
People who usually have microfracture are usually big players who get off the floor. I don't jump, I don't get off the floor.
"At the end of the day, I'm still the top point guard out there in free-agency market. If I played this year or if I didn't, the most important thing is I want to be healthy. If I go out there and average 30, if I go out there and average 15, it really doesn't matter. I still have all summer to get my game back."
On when he will play again:
"We'll see when I get back home, see if they clear me or not. [The Wizards finish their trip in Utah on Monday.] After tonight, there's only going to be nine games left. If they do clear me, I don't know what they expect from me.
"I'm not in really basketball shape. Don't have no rhythm to the game. We'll see what the decision is once we get back to D.C.
On the minimum number of games it takes to get back to game speed.
"Twenty. I'm far away from that. I just have to go as hard as I can, just to exaggerate game speed just to try to catch a rhythm.
"I want to play. The knee is healthy enough. I've just got to wait for the doctor to give me the OK. It aches a little bit, but I did have two surgeries on it. I don't expect it to be free of pain until the summer when I'm actually resting it.
On how he would blend in with the team when he returns -- in a new role as a reserve:
"Most people, they're coming in as a starter. I'm not coming in as a starter. I'm coming in off the bench. They have a good rhythm right now; I'll just come off the bench and play my way into the game."
On why he was eager to come back on this road trip, which, from the way he made it sound, featured a bunch of sparring opponent point guards.
"That's why I was hurried to get back against Detroit. Chauncey Billups is really not a scoring guard. After Chauncey, we're going to Portland, against Steve Blake, he's not a scoring guard. Then you go to Earl Watson, he's not a scoring guard. Then you go to Sacramento against Anthony Johnson, who's not a scoring guard. I could have used all that as practice. Then you come here against Derek Fisher, who's not a scoring guard. That's what I was going to use as practice, but they didn't give me the opportunity. Now when I get back home, I'm going to teams that are trying to make the playoffs or teams that are going to be playing."
On writing a successful blog:
"Be honest, be funny, entertaining. Have drama. Drama sells."
On Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's banning bloggers from the locker room in American Airlines Center.
"It's his arena. Let him do what he wants."
J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He 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.