Any fan of a team in last place has had the thought cross their mind at some point. It's only natural. There comes a point in any losing season where it simply doesn't make long-term sense to win any more meaningless games, so you think to yourself, "Should I root for my team to lose?"
It's an understandable dilemma for fans that might begin the mid- to late-season transition from depth charts and injury reports to mock drafts and scouting reports. Why shouldn't a fan pull for his team to get the first overall draft pick instead of a couple pointless victories that will quickly be forgotten? While you can certainly make the argument that any fan that roots against their team isn't a real fan, that's the beauty of being a fan. Fans don't have an obligation to root for their team if they play poorly. They can boo them, wear paper bags over their heads or simply refuse to show up.
Players, however, are different.
No player can identify with the fans more than Gilbert Arenas. Not just because he has spent about as much time on the court as Wizards fans since signing a six-year, $111 million contract over the summer, but because he often speaks his mind like a disgruntled caller on a sports talk radio show. There is no player in the NBA more candid and brutally honest than Arenas -- and not just when talking about himself.
He's a modern day Charles Barkley. He's the NBA's version of Manny Ramirez. The problem with those kinds of players, though, is they always put their foot in their mouth, and Arenas did just that on Thursday as he helped unveil a life-size wax figure of himself at the Madame Tussauds in Washington.
When Arenas, still recovering from his third knee operation in 19 months, was asked about his last-place Wizards, who are off to a 1-8 start, he said, "If this is one of those years where we don't make the playoffs or we finish in last place ... that's what happened to San Antonio and that's how they got Tim Duncan and look at them now ... and that's for the better."
Now there's a fine line between finding the silver lining in a bad situation and being ridiculous, and Arenas' comments fell flat in the latter department. Forget for a moment that there is no Duncan in the 2009 NBA Draft, unless you like Blake Griffin's upside. Arenas is in no position to say that the Wizards might be better off finishing in last place and out of the playoffs while he sits out, collecting a paycheck for sitting on the bench.
Do you think Wizards season ticket holders, who are paying top-dollar to watch a last-place team think they would be better off if the team continued its downward spiral? I'm sure there are better things they could do with their time and money than support a team lead by an injured, uninspired player content with being in last place.
Arenas said he doesn't want to return to the Wizards' lineup until after New Year's so he can get back in shape and learn the Wizards' new playbook. "The old me would have already been playing by now," he said. "Getting older, I start thinking smarter and everything is going well. Right now we are just playing the waiting game."
While Wizards fans wait to decide whether or not to be excited about his return or next year's draft, I can only hope that in the mean time the older, wiser Arenas realizes that a $111 million contract comes with the expectation of winning now, not finishing in last place for the chance of getting a top draft pick.