The Washington Wizards aren’t expected to be major players in this year’s free agency bonanza, but they could position themselves for a run in the summer of 2011.

After shedding several salaries at last February’s NBA trade deadline, maligned superstar Gilbert Arenas’ contract is the only major deal remaining on Washington’s roster. After agreeing in principle to acquire Chicago Bulls combo guard Kirk Hinrich and drafting Kentucky point guard John Wall, the Wizards are expected to try to move Arenas as soon as possible.

However, with four years and $80 million remaining on his deal, many teams aren’t exactly lining up to trade for the 28-year-old who’s coming off a series of knee surgeries and a 50-game suspension for handling illegal firearms inside the Wizards’ locker room. But there may be one team that’s interested: the Orlando Magic.

According to Ken Berger at CBSSports.com: “A person with knowledge of the Magic’s plans said a trade for Gilbert Arenas, the one-time superstar whose reputation took a massive hit with his gun suspension last season, remains a ‘definite possibility.’

“(Orlando general manager Otis) Smith has a good relationship with Arenas, but a stumbling block could be the fact that (Orlando center Dwight) Howard has questions about whether Arenas would fit in. If Howard gets the answers he’s looking for, there could be legs to the Arenas-to-Orlando scenario.”

Arenas and Magic shooting guard Vince Carter are the headline names being discussed in a possible trade. Carter has only one year left on his deal making $17.3 million that expires at the end of next season. Carter’s contract financially matches Arenas’ 17.7 million that he is due to make next season, making Orlando a prime trading partner for Washington.

Moving Arenas would give Washington the salary cap relief new owner Ted Leonis is looking for as he continues to remake the team after a disastrous 26-56 season. But when asked how realistic a trade of Arenas would be, Leonis openly admitted trading Washington’s injury prone point guard would be a difficult maneuver.

“I would ask you to put yourself in another general manager’s shoes. He was injured for two years and suspended for a year and he’s a max player. If you were another team’s general manager, would you be trading for Gilbert Arenas right now?” Leonis asked reporters before the NBA Draft.

Washington’s deal for Hinrich will not be official until July 8 when the Wizards will be free to absorb Hinrich’s $9 million salary after the new salary cap goes into effect. Although Hinrich’s deal pays him $17 million over the next two seasons, it’s a significant advantage in savings Washington could benefit from if it’s able to move Arenas’ $80 million contract.

All-Star small forwards Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are scheduled to become free agents next summer and although Leonis has maintained that he would like to rebuild through the draft, Durant, 21, and Anthony, 26, are young enough to possibly warrant Leonis’ interest. The two forward’s local ties —both Durant and Anthony played high school basketball in Maryland— could also make Washington a prime destination for the upcoming free agents.

Trading Arenas would not only free up Washington to make a possible run in next year’s free agency class but it would follow along the team’s plans of rebuilding the franchise’s image.

“We want to change the culture of how people perceive our team,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said last Friday at Wall’s introductory press conference. “We want to change the culture of how we play.”

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO