When it comes to X’s and O’s, Gilbert Arenas described Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy as a “great coach.”
However, when it came to conversing regularly with his former coach during his only season with the Magic last year, Arenas said that communication was virtually nonexistent and that he never enjoyed his brief stint with the team.
Following a one-hour practice at the Grizzlies’ practice facility Tuesday afternoon, Arenas, a 10-year veteran, said he spoke with Orlando center Dwight Howard via text message shortly after signing as a free agent with Memphis on March 20. He said he told Howard, among other things, to keep a positive disposition in the wake of what seemingly has become a stormy relationship between the six-time All-Star and his coach.
Last week, Van Gundy told reporters after a morning shootaround he is aware that Howard has asked team officials to fire him. Sources close to the situation said that wasn’t the only time Howard called for Van Gundy’s dismissal. Magic general manager Otis Smith, however, has since refuted Van Gundy’s comments, saying that Van Gundy and Howard can co-exist and that Howard never lobbied to have his coach of five years terminated.
“I try not get into what’s going on in the locker room,” Arenas said of the alleged rift between Howard and Van Gundy. “I told (Howard) to just be wise and that he has the power to make decisions.”
Arenas, meanwhile, said he felt that he basically was disregarded, particularly in practices, shootarounds, and team meetings. What’s even worse, Arenas said, is that his playing time had reduced significantly for the first time since his rookie season. He averaged a career-low 21.6 minutes per game last year.
“He basically sat me in a corner,” Arenas said of Van Gundy. “I wasn’t helping the team in a corner. I never had a personal conversation with him until after the season. I can’t judge Stan on how he played me last season. I just dealt the hand that was dealt to me.”
Still, Arenas, 30, said he was “mostly uncomfortable” during his brief tenure with the Magic. So much, in fact, that he rarely got out and toured the city.
“I always had someone to go get food for me and fill my car with gas, and I always had someone to come to me to cut my hair,” Arenas said. “Going to Orlando was a whole different life. On the court, I felt so uncomfortable. All of my best games were on the road. But once I left (the Magic), it was back to reality.”
Arenas was waived under the amnesty clause by the Magic on Dec. 9, 2011, 21 games into the season. Parting ways with the Magic, by and large, brought about a sense of relief to the three-time All-Star, who was aiming to repair his image after a tumultuous campaign two years ago.
In January 2010, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely for conduct stemming from a December 24, 2009 incident in which Arenas stored an unloaded handgun in his locker at Verizon Center, which was a violation of league rules and D. C. ordinances.
Arenas missed the remainder of the 2009-10 season, a ban that cost him $147,000 per game.
“For them, it was a business decision,” Arenas said of being waived by the Magic. “But for me, it was hope.”
When asked if he has any ill feelings toward Van Gundy, Arenas said, “X’s and O’s, he’s a great coach. Personally, he might not be the person you’ll go out and have a beer with. I can’t judge him for my lack of success there. If I’m a GM and I’m looking for structure, he’d be the first person I’d call. But personally, I’ve got to take me out of the equation.”
Although Arenas wouldn’t say specifically who he believed was the blame for the Howard-Van Gundy fallout, he said landing in Memphis has given him a renewed sense of enthusiasm.
Having played in nine games since signing with Grizzlies, Arenas is averaging six points and 15 minutes per game. His veteran leadership has provided more experience and depth to a Memphis team many believe is a serious threat to advance to the NBA Finals.
The Grizzlies, who host the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night, have won eight of their last 10 games and trail the Los Angeles Clippers by one-half game for the pivotal fourth spot in the West.
Before signing with Orlando, Arenas played seven seasons for the Washington Wizards, emerging as one of the league’s most prolific scorers.
During that stretch, he averaged 21.7 point per game and scored 8,930 points.
In 10 NBA seasons, Arenas has a career scoring average of 20.9 points per game.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.