Gilbert's Arena

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Maxico's Reasons for Optimism

(Note: My boy Maxico talked me down off the ledge after Game 6, so I thought I'd give him a forum to do the same for my readers. Enjoy!)

Who am I? I’m the one on the phone with Coach ten minutes after Game Six telling him, “Flush the entire bottle of Quaaludes down the toilet before you get any ideas!” Don’t get me wrong; I was devastated like the rest of you. Just like many of Gilbert’s Arena’s loyal readership, I shared the following regimen of self-therapy:

> Got ridiculously drunk.

> Watched Sean Taylor’s Greatest Hits about 27 times.

> Sold my car to finance a hit on Damon Jones.

Yeah, it sucks. We all wanted to see Gilbert Arenas play the role of God, show America that he can go toe-to-toe with LeBron, and lead his team to a series victory all the while. If we were lucky, maybe we could steal a victory or two from Detroit and garner some legitimate national attention. But instead, the enduring images of the Zards this summer will be of two missed free-throws, and "Mr. 14 Seconds" wide open in the corner.

If you read Mike Wise the day immediately following the game, you might start telling yourself that this loss destroyed the team’s psyche, we missed out on a one-time-only opportunity, and this team is still hundreds of miles from greatness. Let’s not be so reactionary. I (and hopefully I’m not alone) think a lot of positives came out of this series:

1) Gilbert Arenas DID go toe-to-toe with LeBron James. They had a fantastic scoring duel, and Arenas cemented his spot as a top 15, maybe top 10, player in the NBA. Sure LeBron’s points/gm eclipsed Gil’s, but Arenas still outscored Dirk, still outscored VC, still outscored Kobe. He hit THE most amazing shot to end regulation in franchise history (If there actually was a more meaningful/miraculous shot than the game sixer, please let me know. You just don’t see so many Bullets games on ESPN Classic!).

I guess it’s too bad that he had to miss those free-throws. Now that’s what fans and the media will remember about him from this series. And as we all know, when Gilbert’s talent is questioned, his confidence crumbles and he regresses as a player. Oh wait….IT’S THE EXACT OPPOSITE!

So what do we know? Gilbert’s a franchise player who is insanely driven to improve his game, despite the fact that he can already score with anyone in the league, and now the chip on his shoulder is (somehow) even bigger. If that doesn’t give you some assurance going into next year, maybe this will:

2) The emergence of Caron Butler. Did you hear that Caron sleeps with a nightlight? It’s not because he’s afraid of the dark; it’s because the dark is afraid of him. Seriously though, how excited are you that this guy is on our team? He scores, he brings energy, he intimidates, he fights for every ball. Coach has touched on this, but late in the season when Tough Juice was out, the Zards looked lost. When he’s on the floor, we play with a whole different swagger. He has surpassed Jamison as the 2nd most important player on the team, and next year look for him to put up All-Star type numbers. In a lot of ways he’s the perfect complement to Arenas. Whereas Gilbert whines to the refs, Caron pushes opposing players to the ground. When Caron’s having an off-shooting night, he doesn’t jack up a shot every time the ball touches his hands hoping to find a rhythm; he turns into the scrappy rebounder who still gets his on put-backs and free-throws.

Our young core is Gilbertology and Tough Juice. If all goes as planned, they’ll be our core for the next half decade, and that may be just a tad more exciting than the prospect of Googs and Calbert Cheaney. Still not convinced?

3) We have a competent GM and coach. Former Bull’s vice president of basketball operations Jerry Krause once infamously said, “Players don’t win championships. Organizations do.” Although that's a pretty ridiculous thing to say when Michael Jordan is on your team, the impact that the front-office can make in NBA basketball definitely is uncanny. Look at the nearly seamless track-records of success in cities like Detroit, Sacramento, and San Antonio over the past few years. All of those teams have seen dozens of players come and go in the turbulent waters of free-agency and salary caps. What is the constant? Men who know what they’re doing are making shrewd personnel decisions, and they always seem to right the ship. Conversely, if Wes Unseld is running the show, it means that any coup he will pull off (Chris Webber!), he will undoubtedly squander (Mitch Richmond. Otis Thorpe.). For the first time since I don’t even know when (the late 1970's maybe?) we have a front office that has a plan and has the know-how to pull it off. I’m not claiming to be Dr. Jack Ramsey, but it’s abundantly evident that before we can be elite in this league we need an athletic big man. Do you think that Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan don’t know this? I’ll leave the off-season blue print for Coach to outline (Coach sez: "Coming later this week!"), but I am supremely confident that the Zards brain trust will once again take advantage of the Mitch Kupchacks of the world this summer.

This is just the beginning of a long run of success. I’m not saying dynasty, I’m not even saying Eastern Conference Champions, but for years to come we will have playoff-caliber basketball inside the Beltway. And after the debacle that was 1988-2004, this prospect is definitely something to be excited about. And if you still are unable to rouse yourself from the depression of a devastating first round playoff loss, I advise you to go to this site immediately.



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