Are­nas Vows Next Sea­son He’ll Be ‘Bet­ter Than Ever’

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Ivan Carter

All-star guard Gil­bert Are­nas says he plans to spend this sum­mer re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing his sur­gi­cally re­paired left knee, not lob­by­ing for ma­jor changes to the Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards’ ros­ter.

Are­nas, who met with re­porters be­fore last night’s Game 3 against the Cleve­land Cav­a­liers at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, said he plans to come back “bet­ter than ever” next sea­son. He has been out since tear­ing menis­cus in his left knee against Char­lotte on April 4 and un­der­went surgery the fol­low­ing day.

“I have a long sum­mer, I’m not go­ing on vacation this sum­mer,” said Are­nas, who will be fea­tured on the cover of the pop­u­lar video game “NBA Live” when it is re­leased in Oc­to­ber. “We’ll stay here and make sure this knee is 100 per­cent. I’m go­ing to come back stronger than I was last year. Faster. I have to work at it.”

Are­nas said he hopes the Wiz­ards keep their core group to­gether.

With Are­nas rack­ing up huge scor­ing games and hit­ting game-win­ning shots, Caron But­ler play­ing at an all-star level and Antawn Jamison adding scor­ing and re­bound­ing, the team went 22-9 in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary and rose to the top of the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

Are­nas and But­ler joined Coach Ed­die Jor­dan in rep­re­sent­ing the Wiz­ards at Al­lS­tar Week­end in Las Ve­gas in Fe­bru­ary and Wash­ing­ton came out of the all-star break look­ing like a team that could win be­tween 45 to 50 games and make a deep play­off run.

Those hopes were dam­aged by in­juries to Jamison and But­ler and re­ally took a hit when But­ler went out for the sea­son with a bro­ken bone in his right hand on April 1 and when Are­nas went down a few days later.

“At the end of the day, I still want to give this team one more shot when we’re healthy,” Are­nas said, “be­cause we were one of the top teams in this league for a while there and we showed that we can be a dan­ger­ous team.”

Are­nas has two sea­sons re­main­ing on his con­tract but could opt out fol­low­ing the 2007-08 sea­son if he and the team do not agree to an ex­ten­sion. Are­nas has re­peat­edly stressed a de­sire to com­pete for a cham­pi­onship and has said he fears fall­ing into a po­si­tion sim­i­lar to those ex­pe­ri­enced by peren­nial all-stars Allen Iver­son and Kevin Gar­nett in re­cent years — great play­ers with big con­tracts who got stuck on non­con­tend­ing teams.

“I have one more year to see how ev­ery­thing pans out, so go­ing into next sum­mer it is go­ing to be: Ei­ther this team is go­ing where I think it can go, or is it my time to move on?” Are­nas said. “In De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, we were one of the best in this league but you al­ways need to im­prove. It’s hard to say what play­ers need to go and what play­ers need to stay be­cause over the course of the year you fall in love with all of them, so that’s the big man up­stairs’ de­ci­sion. I can’t make that de­ci­sion. Whoever comes on that floor with me, I’m go­ing to go to bat­tle.”

Are­nas said he won’t of­fer opin­ions to Pres­i­dent of Bas­ket­ball Op­er­a­tions Ernie Grunfeld, who kick-started the fran­chise’s resur­gence shortly af­ter tak­ing over in the sum­mer of 2003 by sign­ing Are­nas.

“No, I’m a player and I think that’s where play­ers get mixed up some­times,” Are­nas said. “ In this league, there are play­ers, there are [gen­eral man­agers] and there are coaches. Whoever steps on that floor, that’s who I roll with.”

Are­nas said doc­tors have told him that he could be cleared to re­sume full bas­ket­ball ac­tiv­ity by Au­gust. He is lean­ing to­ward not train­ing with the U.S. men’s na­tional team as it at­tempts to qual­ify for the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics.

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