Proving to be a warrior, Arenas mulls leaving Golden State

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

March 30, 2003|By MILTON KENT

Chilling in front of a teammate's locker before a recent home game, Golden State Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas looked the part of a man in complete control of his basketball destiny, which he is.

Barring something unforeseen, Arenas is poised after this season to take advantage of a quirk in the NBA's salary cap system that could get him a big payday a lot sooner than most second-year players.

For now, Arenas is playing it cool and calm, just waiting for whatever comes.

"I don't really think about it," said Arenas. "There's nothing to think about. The contract is this summer. Now, it's basketball season and those thoughts are not coming through my head."

Arenas, who would be a senior leader on a talent-laden Arizona team, left Tucson after his sophomore year, helping get the Wildcats to the 2001 championship game. Arenas left thinking he would be a lottery pick, or at least chosen in the first round.

As it happened, Arenas slipped to the second round, the 31st pick overall, which, in hindsight, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Because Arenas wasn't taken in the first round, he was not subject to the rookie wage scale that can bind a player to a team for as much as five years, and for no more than about $4 million a year in the first three seasons.

Arenas signed a two-year deal and can become a restricted free agent after this season, meaning the Warriors would have the right to match an offer from another team and retain him.

But there's a rub for Golden State, which will be over the cap. The Warriors can only match an offer with a first-year salary up to the league average, which is expected for next season to come in somewhere between $4.5 million and $5 million, with a total value over six years around $35 million.

That's nice money, to be sure, but Arenas, who has made consecutive impressive performances in the league's Rookie Challenge games at All-Star Weekend, could be offered $50 million over six years by a team like the Denver Nuggets, who will have a ton of cap space.

The Washington Wizards could be interested, given their interest in a big point guard who can score, as Arenas did all over them last Sunday, to the tune of a career-high 41 points.

If the Wizards decide to let Jerry Stackhouse leave when he opts out of his contract this summer, as expected, Arenas could slide in to play point, with Larry Hughes moving over to the shooting guard slot, where he is better suited.

Arenas could roll the dice and stay in Golden State, signing a one-year deal for next year to become a "Larry Bird" free agent - a player with at least three seasons with the same team who is eligible to re-sign for a maximum contract - after next year.

Seattle forward Rashard Lewis, also taken in the second round of the draft, was faced with the same decision after the 1999-2000 season. Lewis turned down a six-year, $41 million offer from Toronto to sign for a third of that with Seattle for three years, with an opt-out clause after two seasons. He eventually got a seven-year, $60 million contract from the SuperSonics.

"I'm sure a lot of teams will be looking at him after the season because he's a great point guard and he's been playing well," Lewis told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But if he's happy [with the Warriors], I would try to sign a short-term deal and then try to capitalize after that."

Arenas is saying all the right things, that he wants to stay with Golden State, which has assembled a fine collection of young talent that could make a playoff run next season.

"When it comes down to it, basketball is basketball and you have to figure out what you want to do in life," said Arenas. "You want to be on a great team and you want to win championships. It would be like everyone wants to go into an arena to see you and your team. You want it to be like that someday."

Quiz

John Stockton, the oldest active player in the league, turned 41 last Wednesday. Six other players have played in the NBA at the age of 41 or older. How many of them can you name?

Sorry, Shaq

Sacramento Kings management has moved to put out a brush fire in the already heated rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers by sending a letter of apology to Shaquille O'Neal over a March 20 incident at Arco Arena.

O'Neal scored his 20,000th point in a Kings-Lakers game, and the ball he scored the point with was taken out of the game to be presented to the center.

The ball briefly disappeared and when it returned, Sacramento officials found that the ball had a profanity written on its surface. After watching a scouting video of the game, the Kings have determined that one of a group of fans who was sitting behind the scorer's table wrote the remark during a fourth-quarter timeout.

O'Neal, who has called the Kings "the Queens," and said that Sacramento guard Mike Bibby did not deserve a berth on the 2004 Olympic team, was sent a letter of congratulations and apology from Sacramento co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof and from general manager Geoff Petrie.

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