Sources: NBA could suspend Arenas

Updated: January 6, 2010, 2:26 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The NBA has not ruled out suspending Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas before the legal process plays out fully in Arenas' gun-possession case, according to sources close to the situation.

Although it has been widely expected that league officials will abide by their usual practice -- which is to wait for penalties to be meted out through the legal system before imposing their own sanctions -- sources told ESPN.com that suspending Arenas while he awaits his legal fate remains an option under consideration by NBA commissioner David Stern depending on how long the case goes because Arenas has already admitted to possessing firearms on Wizards property.

Arenas
Arenas

Arenas laughed after Tuesday's game when he said he feared Stern more than the authorities because the commissioner was "mean." Arenas said Stern could be feeling pressure to discipline him even before authorities make a decision on whether or not to press charges.

"Most likely he's getting a lot of pressure with all the stories going around," Arenas said.

That is a key distinction between Arenas' situation and other off-court disciplinary matters, such as the September arrest of Cleveland's Delonte West on weapons charges after a motorcycle-speeding incident. Arenas has already admitted to breaking league rules on gun possession both publicly and to federal investigators.

"I don't think anything has been ruled out," one source said Tuesday.

Arenas says he knows he'll likely have to meet with Stern to explain why he had the guns, but says he hasn't been contacted by league officials.

The league's most recent collective bargaining agreement with the players' union, introduced in the summer of 2005, enacted stricter rules against firearms than the NBA previously enforced, allowing players to own registered weapons but strictly prohibiting gun possession on any team property (arena or practice facility) or at any team function, including promotional appearances.

The three-game suspension of Golden State's Chris Mills in 2002 for allegedly possessing a gun in a postgame incident involving the Portland Trail Blazers and then-Blazer Bonzi Wells is widely considered the spark for Stern's determination to push for more rigid anti-gun language in the last labor pact.

No gun-related suspension in the NBA in the 2000s has resulted in a suspension longer than the seven-game ban received by Stephen Jackson in 2007. Jackson pled guilty to one count of felony criminal recklessness after firing five shots into the air in a dispute outside an Indianapolis strip club in 2006 involving then-teammate Jamaal Tinsley, during which Jackson was hit by a car.

Yet the majority of the NBA's gun incidents over the past decade -- apart from the Mills incident and Sebastian Telfair's possession of a gun on the Trail Blazers' team plane in 2006 -- did not occur on league property. That is one reason why numerous league insiders expect Stern to ultimately hit Arenas with a heavy suspension, no matter what the scale of his legal penalties.

Pleading guilty to a felony or a felony conviction results in an automatic 10-game suspension, but league rules on personal conduct give Stern the latitude to impose a longer suspension, although the NBA Players Association would undoubtedly respond with an appeal.

Arenas didn't seem bothered by the ongoing legal process before the game. Arenas was photographed encircled by his Wizards teammates, smiling and pointing his index fingers at them as if they were guns.

Arenas, who turns 28 on Wednesday, apologized on Twitter after the game if the photo upset anyone.

"I know everybody seen the pre game pics..my teammate thought to break the tention we should do that..but this is gettn way to much," Arenas tweeted.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that prosecutors began presenting evidence to a D.C. Superior Court grand jury.

"They already know the story so I don't have to worry about that," Arenas said. "They already know the truth. They've heard the story and the testimony from everybody in the locker room."

Arenas voluntarily met with law enforcement officials Monday to explain why he had guns at the Verizon Center last month in hopes that his cooperation could reduce the severity of his penalties.

"As the person who caused this trouble in the first place, I thought it was my duty to be the first witness to come forward and meet with the prosecutors and detectives," Arenas said in a statement. "I told my attorney I wanted to get in for an interview as soon as we could arrange it, and that was [Monday].

"As I have said before, I had kept the four unloaded handguns in my house in Virginia, but then moved them over to my locker at the Verizon Center to keep them away from my young kids," Arenas continued in the statement. "I brought them without any ammunition into the District of Columbia, mistakenly believing that the recent change in the DC gun laws allowed a person to store unloaded guns in the District.

"On Monday, December 21st, I took the unloaded guns out in a misguided effort to play a joke on a teammate. Contrary to some press accounts, I never threatened or assaulted anyone with the guns and never pointed them at anyone. Joke or not, I now recognize that what I did was a mistake and was wrong. I should not have brought the guns to DC in the first place, and I now realize that there's no such thing as joking around when it comes to guns -- even if unloaded."

ESPN.com reported Jan. 1 that an argument which commenced during a card game on the team's overnight flight back to Washington from Phoenix on Dec. 19 escalated into a heated exchange between Arenas and teammate Crittenton. The Wizards had Dec. 20 off, but sources say hostilities between the two Wizards guards resumed Dec. 21 in the locker room on a practice day.

Sources say that Arenas, in response to what was said on the flight, placed the three guns on a chair near Crittenton's locker stall and invited him to pick one before practice on Dec. 21. Crittenton subsequently let Arenas know that he had his own gun, sources said.

Multiple media reports over the weekend alleged that a dispute over a gambling debt led to the conflict between Arenas and Crittenton, with the New York Post reporting from the start that Arenas and Crittenton drew guns on each during the incident. The Washington Post reported in Sunday's editions that Arenas, according to sources, was expecting Crittenton to see the guns on his chair as a joke based on the earlier back-and-forth on the plane, during which Crittenton allegedly said that he would shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee. But Crittenton, according to the Post, reacted angrily and tossed one of the guns to the floor, saying he had his own.

Arenas' lawyer, Kenneth L. Wainstein, issued Monday's statement and said that the player met with federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and detectives of the Metropolitan Police Department for more than two hours.

Sources close to the situation said Monday that authorities have not yet requested any interviews with Crittenton.

In a phone interview Saturday with ESPN.com, Crittenton's agent, Mark Bartelstein, insisted that his client's name would eventually be cleared.

"I am very sorry for the effect that my serious lapse in judgment has had on my team, my teammates, the National Basketball Association and its fans," Arenas said in the statement. "I want to apologize to everybody for letting them down with my conduct, and I promise to do better in the future."

Following Tuesday's game, Arenas apologized again.

"I feel bad for the situation where I've taken them out of my house to get away from my kids, but I bring them to my locker and put all my teammates at risk, even though they weren't loaded," Arenas said. "That's somebody's kids, too. So I'm sorry for all the parents of my teammates."

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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