Tony Kornheiser, formerly (as of Tuesday) of the Washington Post, former Monday Night Football commentator, and current co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, was a guest on Dan Levy’s, On the DL podcast on Wednesday, and as usual, he made quite an impression.
In the middle of his plea to Philadelphia 76ers fans that the decision to hire former Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was indeed a good one, he inserted his opinion on current Wizards’ guard, Gilbert Arenas:
“Gilbert Arenas is the worse person on earth. He’s a coach killer and a team killer. He’s a team killer, Gilbert Arenas. That’s why…he got Eddie Jordan fired because he didn’t play.
As current NBATV and TNT reporter David Aldridge used to say when he appeared on Tony Kornheiser’s old radio show, “No Tony!”
Since I have been an avid fan of Tony Kornheiser since I was a 15-year-old high school student reading the Washington Post, I can chalk his initial statement of Arenas being the “worse person on Earth” as hyperbole. That has always been part of Kornheiser’s schtick. But the notion that Arenas is a team killer and he’s the reason Jordan got fired is more than a bit harsh.
Since Jordan was fired back in November of last year, he has commented twice publicly about his tenure with the Washington Wizards. One time on Comcast TV, and the other during his introductory press conference with the Sixers. During both of these interviews, he more than hinted at a lack of support from the Wizards’ front office.
He mentioned that he never truly had the personnel intact for the Wizards to be an excellent defensive team, despite asking the front office to assist him with that. And he also mentioned that when Arenas, Haywood and others were injured, the front office staff never adjusted their expectations from the previous years when the Wizards were healthy and in the playoffs.
When a rift like that is hinted upon not once, but twice, chances are high that this, and not Arenas’ antics, could have played a major part in Jordan’s dismissal.
Agent Zero does not get a complete pass here at all. He once checked into a game without notifying Coach Jordan first, and he would sometimes break the offensive sets Jordan called to get his own shot off, especially if he was hot. At times it seemed like Arenas communicated more via his blog than he did to Jordan or Team President Ernie Grunfeld.
And then there’s the infamous issue of Arenas rehabbing on his own and possibly doing further damage to his knee as a result. But you can arguably say that Arenas was a player who just wanted to do everything in his power to win whether it was shooting or rushing to rehab an injury.
His eccentric, brilliant and now defunct blog cannot be easily explained within the confines of this article, so I won’t even try.
The bottom line was that when Arenas was healthy, the Wizards were fixtures in the playoffs. When Arenas was injured, and everyone else was healthy, the Wizards still made the playoffs. But when Arenas, Haywood and Stevenson suffered, so did the Wizards, and ultimately so did Coach Jordan. Arenas was not at fault.
Kornheiser’s assertion that Arenas was a “team killer” can also be debated. Yes, there were times during the 2007-2008 playoffs when the Wizards’ ball movement and overall morale seemed to be better with Arenas out and injured.
And yes, there were plenty of times when it seemed like a traditional point guard would allow fellow all-stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler to truly maximize their potential.
But that only tells half the story.
What about that magical night on April 3rd, when Arenas scored 11 points and dished out 10 assists, and led the lowly Wizards over the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers.
What about all those years when Arenas was hitting game-winning shots in both the regular and post season?
What about when a healthy Arenas led the Wizards franchise to three straight playoff appearances after they went 23 years without winning a playoff series?
It seems impossible to be that successful and a team killer all at the same time.
The bottom line is that had Arenas, Haywood and to a lesser degree Stevenson, not been injured, Coach Jordan would still be the head coach (as evidenced by the contract extension he was given at the start of the year), and the Wizards would have most likely made the playoffs, and had an excellent chance to compete for the Eastern Conference title. Any rift between the front office and the head coach would be quelled due to their success.
A momentum killer? Maybe. A team and coach killer? Hardly.