WASHINGTON - In their fondest dreams, new Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld and new coach Eddie Jordan would like to have their rebuilding process go smoothly, with lots of patience exercised by the team and fans alike
That may be their hope, but it's not necessarily shared by free-agent point guard acquisition Gilbert Arenas, who wants the Wizards to be transformed with the same speed with which he attacks the basket.
"This is going to be very exciting," Arenas said yesterday in his first meeting with the local media since signing last month with a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 1996-97. "I can prove it, and I'm going to do it. We're going to make the playoffs. I'm going to work hard. My team is going to work hard. ... We're going to do whatever it takes."
Grunfeld and Jordan, sitting next to Arenas at MCI Center, jumped back a bit at the audacity of the 21-year-old guard's claim, but had to admit that if you're handing out $64 million to a player over the next six years, it's better to have one who wants to succeed than not.
"Gilbert has something to prove," Grunfeld said, "and I think he's going to prove that he is a quality, quality player, and that he's going to help us achieve our goal, which is to get to the playoffs year after year after year as we grow, and hopefully someday compete for an NBA championship."
Arenas, who signed with Washington on Aug. 8 after two seasons with Golden State, averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists last year, and is the Wizards' first impact free-agent signing of the post-Michael Jordan era.
But unlike the previous collection of free agents the franchise has signed, Arenas, the reigning Most Improved Player in the NBA, is a young star on the rise, rather than an older veteran looking to play out his days, a la Bernard King, Moses Malone, Gus Williams or Michael Jordan.
"As they say on the playgrounds of D.C., Gilbert Arenas is a smooth dude," Eddie Jordan said. "I've watched him play out here while we're working out and he is very, very exciting."
Indeed, in his goal to get the Wizards to the postseason, Arenas, a lifelong Californian, has already made himself well-known to the MCI Center security staff, playing on the main court at all hours of the night.
In fact, while en route to Washington last week, Arenas read a magazine that predicted the Wizards would be the worst team in the NBA. Arenas said he got so mad that he came straight to MCI at 3 a.m. and worked out for two hours before going back to his temporary digs, then returning at 8 a.m. for another workout.
"I work hard," Arenas said. "I do whatever it takes to get better. ... I don't know what a vacation is. Once one player sees how hard you're working, the rest of the team will follow. It might start off slow, but we're going to finish good."
Yr Tm G FG FT A Pts.
'02 GS 47 .453 .775 3.7 10.9
'03 GS 82 .431 .791 6.3 18.3
Tot. 129 .437 .787 5.3 15.6