Anyone looking for further evidence that Washington is not a
basketball town can find it in abundance in the muted reaction to
Wizards star Gilbert Arenas's reinjury of his surgically repaired left
knee last week, an injury that will keep him out at least three months
but more likely means his season--and by extension the Wizards'--is
pretty much a lost cause. In a city that paid real attention to hoops,
Sports Topic A would be the question: Did Wizards coach Eddie Jordan
recklessly endanger his star's health by playing him far too many
minutes? (Answer: Yes.) Instead, the Arenas injury has generally been
treated in the DC media as a fluke, another spot of bad luck for a team
that is no stranger to misfortune. (At least this has been the case in
print and broadcast TV; anyone who's followed local talk radio on the
subject is invited to give an account in comments.)
In fact, it was easy to foresee this might happen. Arenas was clearly still hurting. He had the knee drained twice in the course of a couple weeks and iced it more or less constantly. Moreover, the Wizards' early schedule was extremely punishing, with several back-to-backs and stretches of three games in four nights. An opposing star, Jason Kidd, even publicly urged Arenas to get a second medical opinion and be careful about playing too many minutes. Yet despite all this, Jordan played his star guard just shy of 40 minutes a game. Though he was visibly hobbled, Arenas played 40 minutes in a 20-point blowout to the Celtics and 37 minutes in a 26-point loss to the Nuggets on the second day of a back-to-back. For a while, he was actually leading the entire league in minutes-per-game. Can anyone be surprised that he re-tore the surgically repaired meniscus in his knee?
Through it all, coach Jordan was scrupulously blase. After Kidd recommended to Arenas that he play less, Jordan explained, "I expect [Arenas] to start and we'll see about the minutes.... And with his injury, whether it's in his mind or in his knee for real, he does stiffen up [when he sits] so we keep him on the floor." In his mind? Is Eddie really that confused about what part of Arenas's anatomy was being regularly drained of fluids?
There's plenty of blame to go around: Gilbert's off-season rehabilitation regimen was unorthodox and probably over-ambitious. The team doctors--who seem to have a years-long habit of underestimating injuries--might have stepped in at some point. Even GM Ernie Grunfeld could have told Jordan to cut down Arenas's playing time. But allocating minutes is the coach's job, and the decision by Jordan--who was on the hot seat as far as having his contract extended by the team and who must have been desperate to get that first elusive win--to play his injured star such heavy minutes was inexcusably stupid and negligent.
The irony is that by contributing to the loss of Arenas's--and likely the team's--season, Jordan may have saved his own job. If the Wizards falter badly for the rest of the season, he has the most compelling excuse imaginable: What team wouldn't fail if they lost their best player? If they somehow limp into the playoffs, Jordan will be praised as a miracle-worker. Great job, Eddie. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.