Gilbert Arenas Rebuilding Image in Memphis
Less than a month into his Memphis Grizzlies career, Gilbert Arenas is already making a solid impression as coaches and teammates haven’t hesitated to tab him as a leader of the team.
A tumultuous last few seasons have culminated in Arenas starting to get on track with a playoff-contending team in Memphis.
The highlights over the previous four seasons include Arenas playing a total of 47 games between the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons due to a left knee injury and a highly publicized suspension for bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room.
Last season, Arenas was unable to find a niche and fizzled in 49 games after being acquired by the Orlando Magic. A disappointing stint with Orlando ended in December when the team decided to amnesty the guard before the start of this season.
After sitting out the majority of the 2011-12 season, Arenas signed a one-year deal with the Grizzlies last month. Rumored possible suitors for Arenas included the Los Angeles Lakers, but in the end Arenas chose Memphis because he believes he has the backing of the entire organization.
“I felt that everybody was on the same page,” Arenas told HOOPSWORLD. “From the general manager to the coaches to the players and that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to come into a situation where half the group wanted me and the other half didn’t because it doesn’t work like that. Since I got amnestied, I was just going to make sure that I was in a place that I wanted to be.”
In talking to players and coaches on the Grizzlies, it’s clear that Arenas was right in believing everyone was on board with his signing.
Key contributors on the team like Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay had no problem anointing Arenas as a leader of the squad already – less than a month after signing with the team.
“Agent Zero, he’s been great for us,” Randolph told HOOPSWORLD. “He’s a leader on this team. He’s been through the trenches, been in the playoffs. He’s got a lot of experience and he’s been great.
“[Arenas is] definitely a leader,” Randolph elaborated when asked how Arenas could garner that role after such a short amount of time with the team. “He don’t talk a lot, but he’s just a leader with his presence and the stuff he’s been through.”
The team’s leading scorer, Gay, didn’t hesitate to speak glowingly of Arenas and even added a personal touch to his professional admiration for the player formally known as Agent Zero.
“Gil’s been great for us,” Gay told HOOPSWORLD. “He’s come in and helped out all the young guys. Me, personally, I watched him – I’m from the Maryland area – so watching him and knowing what he was capable of… I just try to soak up whatever I can. He’s been helping us and contributing any way he knows how to.”
After three straight Did Not Play – Coaches Decision’s, Arenas has responded over the last four games for Memphis. The Grizzlies are 3-1 during this span and, in the last two contests, Arenas has made 7 of 10 shots from the floor for 18 total points in 26 minutes and a plus/minus of +19.
Don’t get me wrong, his statistics with the Grizz so far this season aren’t going to wow anyone but that’s not where his key value lies.
Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins likened Arenas’ early impact to Shane Battier’s effect on the team last season. Battier provided a calming influence in the Memphis locker room over the last 23 games of last year’s regular season and was the steadying force behind the Grizzlies shocking first round upset over the San Antonio Spurs.
“[Arenas] has helped with his experience,” Hollins told HOOPSWORLD. “Last year, we had Shane Battier down the stretch and it really helped us. We needed a veteran guy who could tell these guys, ‘slow it down, this is the situation,’ and get them talking basketball and understanding the mind of basketball versus just the physical of basketball. That’s how you win.
“If everybody just looked at the physical, there’s other teams that should be winning, but the game of basketball to me is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical,” Hollins continued. “That’s why a Dallas, that’s why Boston can be on top for as long as they have when you have all of these young, exciting, high jumping teams that still are losing. That’s because you’ve got to play to win… so it’s not how many points you score, it’s when you score them and what you’re doing in other areas – moving the ball and creating stuff for your teammates – that allows you to win games.”
Starting point guard Mike Conley believes Arenas is going to be a huge part of the Grizzlies’ push to close the season.
“He’s a great leader, a great veteran.” Conley told HOOPSWORLD. “I think that our team really needed [that] and he definitely gives us a spark off the bench. All the things he brings to the team, it’s just he’s so valuable in so many different ways.”
The Grizzlies’ point man also pointed out that he relishes the opportunity to soak up information from Arenas whenever he can.
“I ask him questions every time I’m on the bench the same time as him,” Conley explained. “I ask him questions in practices. He’s always giving me information, different things, different tips. I’ve already learned [a lot] from him.”
After his teammates were busy heaping praise on the type of guy Arenas is in the locker room, the newest Grizzlies’ player told me he believes his 10+ years of experience have played the biggest role.
“My basketball past is helping me through,” Arenas told HOOPSWORLD. “Everyone from guards [to the rest of the team] look up to me because they know what I’ve done and my work ethic. Players don’t talk about the locker room thing, that’s what you media guys do to make your stories. Most of the players know what goes on and what happens.
“When you’re a new guy coming in, you have to make sure you don’t step on any toes – make sure who’s who and just always give positive reinforcement.”
While Arenas does a good job of downplaying his impact thus far, his Memphis coaches and teammates would beg to differ. Either way it doesn’t detract from the overall point.
Even though it’s been just a few weeks, Arenas has done an excellent job of ingratiating himself with this team.
After seemingly years of being more of a headache than a positive on the court, Arenas has found a stable, playoff-caliber team where he is respected and given the opportunity to contribute.
What more could a player making over $19 million this season just to NOT play for the Magic ask for?
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