Commentary

Happier new year: Q&A with Arenas

Originally Published: December 27, 2010
By Michael Wallace | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For Gilbert Arenas, the transition from tragic to Magic has been 12 months in the making. And his journey from NBA purgatory in Washington to a potential centerpiece of a revival in Orlando has been both controversial and compelling.

Arenas enters his second week of newfound freedom with the Orlando Magic, the only team in the league willing to take a chance on trading for the talented but once-troubled veteran guard who was the linchpin in one of the most infamous -- and potentially tragic -- incidents in NBA history.

[+] EnlargeGilbert Arenas
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty ImagesOne year after calamity, Gilbert Arenas seems to be back on track.

Exactly a year has passed since Arenas and former Washington Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton brought guns to the team's locker room amid an alleged dispute over a gambling debt. Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge last spring and was sentenced to one month in a halfway house.

Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the league's Jan. 6 decision to suspend both players for what would be the remainder of the 2009-10 season. It will be a bittersweet commemorative for Arenas, who will celebrate his 29th birthday that day.

Arenas was dealt Dec. 18 to Orlando in one of two major trades the Magic pulled off to jumpstart their season. The initial results have been promising. Arenas helped the Magic emerge from a stretch of eight losses in nine games to notch consecutive victories last week against San Antonio and Boston.

As he embraces a fresh start and new role in Orlando, Arenas spoke with ESPN.com for a wide-ranging interview in which he talked for the first time in months about the gun incident, his long-anticipated departure from Washington, the transition to Orlando and goals to regain his All-Star form.

Q: Caron Butler, one of your former All-Star teammates in Washington, said last week that he saw you smiling, relaxed and just comfortable in your own skin for the first time since before all the drama that stemmed from the gun incident in the Wizards' locker room last year. Does that accurately describe your demeanor in the aftermath of this trade?

A: Yeah. A weight has been lifted. A big, big, big weight (exhales). It's just, you know, just the things I've seen in the last year and half really got me depressed. So just being in another city, it was just time. Being there [in Washington] eight years, it was just time. It was just one of those things.

Q: A lot of time has passed since the fallout of the incident, since you were sentenced to serve time in a halfway house, since your release and return to the public eye. How often do you still reflect on the darkest moments of that ordeal?

A: I reflect back on it and, put it like this, I've seen worse in our locker room.

Q: Worse than guns being drawn by teammates in a locker room?

A: A lot worse than that.

Q: A lot worse like what?

A: I can't really go there. It was just, you know, it's like -- it was funny then, and it's funny now. [Former Wizards center] Brendan Haywood had said something after [late Wizards owner] Abe Pollin died. He said, 'There goes your protection.' It was funny. And now, it's funny to think about it. He was, 'There goes your protection,' and, 'He can't protect you no more.' And that's how it felt, going through the whole thing. I don't know.

[+] EnlargeGilbert Arenas
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireGilbert Arenas says he wanted his October beard to serve as cover for something.

Q: Coming into the season, after serving your time, both legally and with the suspension, you still seemed to carry a heavy burden. You grew out the beard, looked like Grady from "Sanford and Son." How badly did you need this fresh start?

A: I thought I was going to get traded over the summer. And when I realized it wasn't going to happen, I just grew the beard out. Just to cover something. Just to cover my face. Just cover it up. As much as [the Wizards were publicly saying] they wanted me back, well, they didn't want me back. It was one of those things where -- they were starting something new, I was that guy who was the pink elephant in the room nobody wanted to talk about.

Q: You mentioned depression a few moments ago. But seriously, did you seek counseling at all?

A: No. I'm pretty upbeat. I try not to think about all of the negative. I always try to find something funny in any situation. And I just try not to think about it. When I do think about it, it's like, well, it could have played out a little bit better. It could have played out a little bit worse. And I'm just grateful that I'm still playing. And that's how I look at it.

Q: A year ago today, a year removed from the infamous moment in the locker room in Washington, do you remember what the atmosphere was like, what the mood was like?

A: It was December 21st. The funny part about it is, the atmosphere was no different than it usually is. It wasn't as big as everyone [made it] seem. It was like three minutes, and then everybody was back to normal. Everybody was joking about it. And then, nine days later, it becomes ... (drifts to silence).

Q: You say you're past it all now. Everyone has moved on. Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood ended up in Dallas. Antawn Jamison is in Cleveland. You're now in Orlando. Do you guys still keep in touch?

A: I still catch up with some of those guys after every game. Especially [Wizards guard] Nick Young. Because I loved his talents from when he was little. I talk to him after games. He makes jokes about stuff. He was telling me about Rashard Lewis (traded to Washington in deal for Arenas). Nick was like, 'I don't know if he's going to make it two weeks here. He feels like the world just ended.' And I'm like, 'Man, I feel like the world just started for me over here. I can see why he's mad.'

Q: Now that you're in Orlando, are you back to where you were? Put a percentage on where you are physically. You were an All-Star a few years ago. How close are you to that level again?

A: In the summer, because I was working out and playing so much and was a lot stronger, I would have said at least 99 percent. I was at least there this summer. But going into training camp, I was hurting this ankle, hurting that ankle, and then it just slowed me down. I had to stop. I couldn't work out. Then I hurt my groin. And then I hurt my ankle again. This was all before the season started. Then I missed a couple of games. It all hit real quick. So now I'm trying to get back to it. I was in practice knowing that no one can out-shoot me. I just can't turn it over into games right now. I just haven't been playing extended stretches.

Q: Will playing with a dominant big man like Dwight Howard rekindle that All-Star expectation level for you?

A: Yes, yes, yes. I've always wanted to play with a big man like that. He opens the floor up for everybody. So it makes it easier for everyone. So he's going to get everyone at least close enough to being considered an All-Star, because playing with him, you're going to win games.

Q: How long will it take for you to get completely comfortable in Orlando?

A: Probably a week or two. And I know everyone is expecting us to come in and just save everything really quick. But we've got to get adapted to the way the team is playing, get used to the city, get familiar and just settle in. But we've still got to go out there and compete. Got to get it moving.

Q: Do you look back on anything that played out over the last 12 months with any regret?

A: Nope. No need to. Look around me. I've got a fresh start. I've got too much to look forward to.