- The Season's Over -

The Beltway Blues: Tracy McGrady Has Been Bad, and Gilbert Arenas Needs to Go

April 23, 2008

Gilbert Arenas: JokerHeading into Tuesday the Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets sat as the two 0-2 teams after terrible losses and disappointing performances from stars Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady. Players their teams are supposed to lean on to produce offense when the going gets tough. Arenas and McGrady went a combined 9-32 from the field Monday, with both leaving their teammates high and dry in the second half. Their seasons will end in a few days and they will have made approximately $31 million on the season between them ($11,946,667 for Arenas and $19,014,187 for McGrady). Next year their salaries will be even higher.

There’s simply no way these two are worth it.

Yes, McGrady almost had a triple-double, and yes, he was worn down from playing big minutes, which helps explain why he hasn’t scored a field goal in the fourth quarter yet during the series. But other stars on other teams are playing big minutes, too, and they’re still producing in the fourth. Look at Tim Duncan, Deron Williams (who’s playing hurt), LeBron James, etc. I also understand that Gilbert isn’t at full strength right now. But our body of evidence isn’t just the last few weeks, it’s been building for their entire careers.

Just over three months ago both were on the sidelines with injuries and we opined that their respective teams might just be better without them. There was no question Houston and Washington were playing better, and I’m not convinced an NBA team can win with primary scorers who shoot such terrible percentages from the field and aren’t renowned as top-flight defenders. We don’t have a huge sample size this year, but when healthy Gilbert scored at a gaudy 28.5 points per clip last year. He also took 20.9 shots on an atrocious 41.8% FGs with 3.2 TOs. In his 66 games during this regular season McGrady put up 21.6 points per. He did it on 19.8 field-goal attempts and a paltry 41.9% FGs (including an embarrassing 29.2% 3PTs on 4.5 attempts) with 2.4 TOs. Perhaps worse for T-Mac was the 68.4% FTs on 5.4 attempts this season. Take a look at all the teams that have won NBA titles in the last three decades: which was the last to feature a high-volume shooter who is this incredibly inefficient? That’s not a rhetorical question, I can’t think of any offhand.

Gilbert Arenas Photo Credit: Mark Goldman/Icon SMI

The Tracy McGrady argument may be moot at this point: he’s signed through the 2009-10 season when his salary will be a whopping $23.2 million. It’s going to be next to impossible for the Rockets to unload that contract, especially for a player who has time and time again come up so small on the NBA’s biggest stage. Houston will likely be forced to work with their flawed superstar and hope that Yao Ming returns healthy next year and ready to lead the offense in crunch time. The situation is quite different in Washington, where Gilbert Arenas can opt out of his contract and become a free agent after the season. He’s almost certain to do so and Arenas is expected to command a max-type deal. If he does so the Wizards need to let him walk. They may be a better team without the loud-mouthed star, and they would certainly be better served spending that money on other players.

More on why Agent Zero needs to take a hike after the jump…

The Wizards had a pretty good season even though Washington was lacking their leading scorer from a year ago and a player they had a significant chunk of their salary cap invested in. Guys like Antonio Daniels and Brendan Haywood stepped up, Antawn Jamison elevated his usual steady play and Caron Butler emerged as a potential franchise player. After an 0-5 start to the season with Arenas, things turned around when he went down. They hustled, played decent defense and played with chemistry. Ball movement improved, shooting percentages went up and opposing point guards no longer penetrated at will. Washington has looked nothing like that improved team in the seven games since Gilbert’s return, going 3-4.

What they have looked like is a team with a confused leadership structure and pecking order. They’ve been out of sorts on offense with poor ball movement, poor shot selection and terrible turnovers. Suffice it to say the defense also hasn’t improved, and Arenas has been leading the charge. Even though he’s played in just 21:41 minutes a game in April, Gilbert is taking 11 field-goal attempts a game and hitting just 41.8% of them. He’s also turning the ball over twice a night in that time. Monday’s performance was especially bad, going 2-10 from the field with 3 TOs, 4 personal fouls and a number or ill-advised shots. Somebody need to leave Gilbert a memo: he can’t post-up the 6-9, 250 lbs. LeBron James.

Everybody seems to like the Gilbert Arenas sound bytes and the ridiculous quotes that come out of his infamous NBA.com blog. If I’m a teammate or Wizards fan I don’t find his antics too cute right now. All season long he’s been a distraction to the team despite playing in only 13 games. He was especially detrimental with his prolonged media dance while publicly musing on his possible return before finally making a “surprise” appearance on April 2nd. He played no role in getting the Wizards this far, and yet it was Gilbert who took it upon himself to provide the Cavaliers with all the locker-room motivational material they could ask for. On his blog Arenas posted the controversial line, “I think everybody wants Cleveland in that first round. They’ve been a .500 team ever since they made that trade, and everybody wants a chance at that matchup.” Brilliant. He’s always got to ruffle feathers, always got to be the center of attention. Not only is the juvenile behavior getting old, it’s hurting his team.

Gilbert has certainly had his moments with some of the most impressive scoring outbursts and dramatic late-game shots in the NBA during his tenure in DC. And I was previously a vocal supporter of Arenas, but in recent years he’s made it more important to see him in a spotlight than in a positive light. Like Stephon Marbury before him, Gilbert needs to be the center of attention wherever he goes — and his team will always be worse as a result. He took the depressing Wizards and made them fun to watch a few years ago. He gave them an elite scorer and a face of the franchise. Fans in Washington should be thankful for that, there were some good years.

It’s time to part ways.

Tags: Gilbert Arenas, Tracy McGrady

13 Comments »Posted by Andrew Thell on Apr. 23, 2008 at 9:46 am in ETB Articles, NBA

13 Responses

Maybe we can pawn McGrady off to the next team trying to implement the Memphis rebuilding plan (big expiring contracts in exchange for young and proven All Stars?)

Posted by: grungedave on April 23rd, 2008 at 9:56 am

I almost can’t bear to watch and Gilbert looks so sad.

Posted by: Carolyn on April 23rd, 2008 at 10:09 am

I agree completely about Arenas and have been saying the exact same things about him for quite some time.

However, I don’t think that the comparison with T-Mac is correct. If you look it up, Houston’s record with T-Mac during his career as a Rocket averages out to over 50 wins per 82 games, while without him they average about 24 wins per 82; Houston’s record over that period of time is much more dependent on whether T-Mac plays than whether Yao does, though that effect was not quite as dramatic this year. T-Mac has proven that he can be the lead guy on a 50-plus win team, something that Arenas has yet to do in the East despite playing with two All-Stars–and, as you note, the Wiz looked at least as good, if not better, playing virtually a whole season without him.

Posted by: David Friedman on April 23rd, 2008 at 4:23 pm

You make a good point David. But I’m not sure it’s the right criteria – should we be concerned with whether or not he can be the lead guy on a 50-plus win team, or if he can be the lead guy on a team that is a viable title contender?

I think there are a lot of players in the league that can have a huge impact on regular-season success, and struggling franchises should value them for their ability to put butts in seats. But from a critical standpoint I’m more concerned with the guys who can actually improve the team’s chances at accomplishing what should be the ultimate goal: winning an NBA championship. I have yet to be convinced that Tracy McGrady is such a player — making his exorbitant salary and nearly 20 field-goal attempts per night unjustifiable.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on April 23rd, 2008 at 4:32 pm

And which star do they get to replace him? Or how do you expect to win in the NBA without a legit star to get all the calls from the ref? I’ll be more in favor of dumping Arenas if there’s another star out there that’ll come in to replace. This is the NBA, you can’t win without stars (Pistons being the single exception).

Posted by: Bart on April 23rd, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Looking at Gil’s raw FG% obfuscates his real offensive impact because he takes (and makes) so many threes and draws so many fouls. Arenas’s True shooting percentage has been comparable to Kobe’s the past three seasons (not counting this year, which has sample size issues). Adding turnovers and assists, Kobe and Gil are basically offensive equals. Kobe’s much better defensively. But is that enough to say Gil’s not worth 65% of Kobe’s salary? I don’t think so.

Gil’s an elite guard. He’s worth $15 million or more.

Posted by: Ziller on April 23rd, 2008 at 8:33 pm

Excellent point, Ziller! Gil’s true shooting percentage was 56.5% last season. That was better than both Carmelo Anthony’s and LeBron James’s. So I guess the Nuggets should part ways with Melo and the Cavs with LeBron, since like Gilbert they shoot such a poor percentage?

Posted by: Christopher Cuppett on April 24th, 2008 at 8:24 am

You make a good point, Ziller, but there’s much more to Gilbert’s worth (or lack thereof) than simply his stats and/or ability to draw fouls, and Andrew’s argument isn’t only based on FG % or points alone. There are a lot more intangible qualities that Gilbert lacks–always has, always will–that make questioning his monetary worth a very valid discussion.

Mr. Cuppett, I think lumping Carmelo (his Nuggets have lost 18 of 22 playoff games) in there with McGrady and Arenas might work, actually, despite your sarcasm. But LeBron? I think everybody knows there’s a big difference between him and that trio.

Posted by: Brian Spencer on April 24th, 2008 at 9:23 am

What an intellectually lazy case against Gilbert. As Ziller correctly points out, Gil is in of the most efficient high-volume scorers in the league.

There’s also a statistical case to be made that his defense had improved considerably this year before he re-injured himself (though he clearly wasn’t fully healthy to begin with).

Yes, he talks too much. Hopefully he’ll grow up. He’s certainly young enough to have room to improve in that department. But any argument against the quality of his play is simply foolish.

Read more actual insight here: http://realgm.com/src_goaltending/133/20080117/are_the_wizards_better_without_gilbert_arenas/

Posted by: Ben on April 24th, 2008 at 10:59 am

On the outside looking in, your points on Gilbert seem to make sense. But when you look a little deeper you will see that your argument is flawed. Look at game 1, Gil had 20+ in 28 minutes and if Jamison and Caron would have made open shots that he was giving them the Wiz would have won that game going away.

Secondly, Jamison and Butler need to step up their games as well. Look at their performances in this playoffs. It has been horrible. I don’t mind if you put the entire Wizards team under the bus, but don’t put Gil there alone.

Posted by: E-luv on April 24th, 2008 at 11:32 am

i’ve been saying this for years…people are so concerned with stats and regular season buzzer beaters that they miss the point…this team is not winnig with gil…he only cares about himself and his stats…they have no chance of every contending with gil as their franchise player..

Posted by: tone on April 24th, 2008 at 12:46 pm

I think it’s interesting that Gilbert was injured this game and played his fewest minutes of the series — and the Wizards won by 36 points.

They had 20 assists and shot 52.1% FGs, this after Washington failed to eclipse 16 assists or shoot better than 40.2% FGs in either of the previous games. Every Washington player who played 20 minutes made at least half of their field-goal attempts.

Antonio Daniels had 6 assists, three times what he had in the previous two games combined and equal to Gilbert’s combined total from those games. The Cavaliers point guards Delonte West and Daniel Gibson were held to 9 total points and 3 total assists. That pair combined for 43 points and 16 assists in the first two games.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on April 24th, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Stats are a useful tool but it is important to watch the games and understand how players play. Arenas is an erratic shoot first point guard. The analogy that I like to use is if he shoots 6-9 on threes one game and 1-9 on threes the next game that is a good percentage (.389) but his team will almost certainly lose the latter game, so the best you get out of this deal is a .500 squad. Arenas is not providing enough other value to make up for his 1-9 games. The Wizards’ record since he arrived is the stat to look at. He’s been there for several years. How long should management wait for that “perfect storm” when everyone is healthy in the vain hope that the team might win 50 games? Except for a very brief–and far too celebrated–portion of the 2006-07 season, Arenas’ Wizards have never played at a plus-50 win pace.

Arenas is in no way, shape or form as good as Kobe, offensively or defensively. That is not even a subject for serious discussion.

Arenas is a talented player but he is not an “elite guard,” unless you are using a far more liberal definition of “elite” than I am. Kobe, Paul, Nash, T-Mac, Deron Williams are elite guards. Wade, too, when he is healthy. I’d throw in Iverson, though that might be controversial in some quarters. These are guys who have led teams to 50-plus wins or won multiple playoff series or won scoring titles or won assists titles.

Economically, Arenas is “worth” whatever at least one team is willing to pay him and that could be affected by a lot of considerations other than just his playing skill (marketing, ticket sales, salary cap room, etc.). He may be worth more than some players who are currently making $15 million. However, it is my opinion that it would be a mistake to pay him that kind of money if the team’s primary goal is to win a title. Arenas would be a good sidekick to a franchise level player on a championship contending team but it is far from certain that he would accept such a role. I have a very hard time picturing Arenas being the lead player on a team that wins four playoff series in one season. He’s going to outduel LeBron or the Celtics’ Big Three or the Pistons’ ensemble quintet? I don’t just mean this year but any time in the foreseeable future; I just don’t see it.

Posted by: David Friedman on April 29th, 2008 at 8:18 pm

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