- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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WASHINGTON -- Ernie Grunfeld's eyes were red, hinting he hadn't slept much the previous few nights.
But the Wizards president's smile was stress-free, revealing his emotions on a day when he traded his former franchise player. Gilbert Arenas was gone, moved in a fast-developing blockbuster to the Magic for another former All-Star in Rashard Lewis, and Grunfeld couldn't hide the relief.
"The opportunity presented itself this week and opportunities don't come along that often in the NBA," Grunfeld said before the Wizards took against the Heat on Saturday night.
"We looked at it, we studied it and we felt like it was the right time to make this move in the best interest of the team short term and long term."
The truth is, Grunfeld couldn't have made the deal fast enough.
No one else in the league had much interest in Arenas with his history of problems, both in the locker room and with his knee, and the potentially crippling amount of time and money left on his contract. If it wasn't the Magic, there's a possibility Arenas might not have been able to be traded for years.
Those are years the Wizards want to devote to their new franchise player, No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall. The Wizards weren't hiding that emotion either, especially with questions over Arenas' influence on young players over the years.
"The critics who thought [Arenas] would hinder John's development, that is not going to be brought up anymore," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "He won't ever have to defer to Gilbert and it will facilitate his learning process."
The two biggest moves Grunfeld has made in his eight years as the boss in Washington until now have been contracts he's given to Arenas. One was a $65 million deal in 2003 that turned into a home run. Arenas turned into one of the league's biggest stars, twice averaging more than 28 points a game and was on the All-NBA team for three consecutive seasons.
The other was the extension of that contract in 2008 for a total of $111 million, which for reasons both within and outside Arenas' and the team's control, turned into a disaster.
The critics who thought [Arenas] would hinder John's development, that is not going to be brought up anymore.
”-- Wizards coach Flip Saunders
Arenas was praised for the second deal because he took less than the maximum salary. A month after that second signature, though, Arenas was having surgery on his knee and the problems began that finally culminated in Saturday's trade.
From the time of Arenas' suspension last season for bringing guns into the Wizards' locker room it was clear, despite what the team said publicly, that the Wizards dreamed of the day they might be able to get out of what turned out to be a massive mistake.
"At the time we signed Gilbert, he was one of the top 10 players in the game," Grunfeld said. "He was averaging 28, 29 points a game. And a lot of teams were lining up to get him. ... Looking back on it, we did what we thought at the time was best for the organization. You can't foresee what's going to happen in the future as far as injuries are concerned."
Time will tell, but getting the team off the last three seasons and roughly $60 million owed to Arenas might turn out to be an equally huge maneuver in the future.
"It's a bold move," Grunfeld said of the Magic taking on Arenas. "You never really know how long things are going to take, but people in this league want talented players and Gilbert is a talented player."
Magic president Otis Smith has a long-standing relationship with Arenas dating to when both were with the Golden State Warriors. Smith may indeed have the market cornered on Arenas knowledge, and Arenas may prove doubters wrong that he's still capable of playing like an All-Star.
Arenas is averaging just 17.3 points a game on 39 percent shooting this season, decent numbers for a lead guard but not to the level that Arenas played at before his knee injuries. Certainly not worth what he's being paid.
The Magic are willing to take on the challenge, hoping the change of scenery and situation will re-ignite Arenas. The Wizards are glad to allow their division rival to try.
The team was so convinced it couldn't move Arenas anytime soon that new owner Ted Leonsis repeatedly supported Arenas publicly in an effort to motivate him over the past six months. He compared him to his jewel on the Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin, even though the thought was laughable when looking at Arenas' recent history.
He shot down rumors he was trying to trade Arenas because, well, he was trying but having no success. The Wizards thought they'd have to settle in for the long haul and hoped to make the best of the uncomfortable situation with two franchise point guards, one past and one present.
So getting he chance to move Arenas now had to overwhelm the Wizards, no matter what the future may hold.
Arenas has $43 million due between 2012-14 and Lewis, depending on incentives in his deal, could have as little as $10 million. In addition to clearing the decks for Wall, that was the main reason the Wizards did the deal and no one was pretending otherwise.
"This fits into our rebuilding," Grunfeld said. "It helps us both short and long term."
During his 15-minute news conference on the trade Grunfeld wasn't asked a single question about Lewis. The name might not have been mentioned had Grunfeld not brought up the two-time All-Star who also has been struggling and not living up to his $100 million contract, signed in 2007, recently.
That is because this isn't about Lewis, even though he actually will earn more than Arenas this season and next. This is about two parties moving on and both probably being thrilled it happened now.
"We spent a lot of time together," Grunfeld said. "He did a lot for this organization but I think it was time for a change."
13hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann