Monday, June 30, 2008

The Gilbert Conundrum

I've tried to avoid this topic for quite some time, but with NBA free agency beginning tomorrow, it's about time I talked a little Gilbert on this blog.

Word coming out of the Verizon Center as I type this is the team is close to signing Antawn Jamison to a four-year $50 million deal that would keep him in a Wizards jersey until the age of 36. If the Wiz waited any longer, they would be forced to wait until July 9th to sign Antawn because of league rules. This would have allowed him to be exposed to the open market.

I'm happy with the signing since there really isn't anyone available better than Jamison. And he is coming off a really solid season, where he was the rock for an injury-riddled team.

The real question for me is what to do with Gilbert Arenas. Forget that he's an icon in DC, I have a giant mancrush on him, and it's hard to imagine the team without him. The man wants $120+ over six years even though he's coming off two serious knee surgeries. He has yet to prove he's back to being the player that lit up the league a couple years ago. Now, the Wizards will make the argument that the last time they had the Arenas, Butler, Jamison trio 100 percent healthy, they had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

That being said, the Wizards are kind of in a pickle here, since there's really no one on the market until 2010 (when LeBron, Bosh and DWade are free agents) that replace the explosiveness or the appeal of a player like Gilbert. If I was certain Arenas were close to 100 percent I would have no problem giving him $100+, but the fact is no one, including Gilbert, knows what type of player he's going to be a year from now or five years from now.

If Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards management sign him to this deal, and he gets injured again, this could be disastrous and would have ramifications a long way down the line. But let's get serious here: the Wizards are more than likely (in my opinion 85 percent sure) going to sign Gilbert. Rumor has it, Grunfeld is going to offer $100 million over six seasons, and Gilbert will probably take it since no other team is going to offer that much. If another gets in the bidding, I'm guessing the Wizards will match to the max.

But I've got a solution to all this that could (and I think would) work in any negotiations with Gilbert. I've been enamored for some time with Monta Ellis of the Warriors, who is a restricted free agent this season. It's likely no team can offer him more than the mid level exception, making it highly likely he's going to be back in Golden State. But what if the Wizards were to offer him a little more than he's probably worth (like they're already planning on doing with Gilbert) and try to steal him away from the Warriors (kind of like they did with Gilbert five years ago).

Ellis, while certainly not at the level of Gilbert just yet, is only 21 years old and has gotten significantly better every season. He's also got a clean bill of health and is one of the few players in the NBA that can legitimately be called a one-man fast break. It would probably leave a void at point guard for the Wizards because Ellis is not the quintessential playmaker, but neither was Gilbert when he first got here. What I'm trying to say is the Wiz have an alternative to lock up someone for cheap who I think has the potential to be better than Gilbert and has a clean bill of health.

If the Wiz offered him a good chunk of change, the Warriors would be hard pressed to match. One sticking point is that once word got out about an Ellis offer, it's pretty much certain Gilbert will look elsewhere because of the whole "you guys don't respect me" issue. That means if the Warriors do match, the Wizards are in a huge bind with no Ellis and no Gilbert.

Couple all of that with potentially signing Jamison to a two-year deal instead of the four-year deal that is being reported, and you've got a Wizards lineup of Ellis, Butler, Haywood, Stevenson, etc with something close to $20 million in cap space to go after LeBron, DWade or Bosh in 2010.

Like I said, it's just something that has been swishing through my head for awhile. I probably just wasted all this typing because I'm almost certain you're going to see a lineup of Arenas, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison, and Haywood for at least the next two or three seasons. Plus, my theory is really risky, but something to consider if Gilbert decides to sign elsewhere.

The important thing to remember is that none of this will matter if Agent Zero returns to his prior form. I know I'll be watching.

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