While working on the Tim Donaghy story yesterday, I had a chance to speak with Gilbert Arenas.
Arenas is a great guy to speak with about ref matters because few players in the league spend as much time as he does evaluating how individual refs call games. I can personally recall several situations when Gil was sitting in the lockeroom before a game, went over the list of that night's refs and made a comment like "Oh, gotta go hard to the hole tonight, this guy gives and ones" etc.
Gilbert estimated that of the NBA's 60 refs, he has a feel for the tendencies of about 30 of them. However, he said nothing about Tim Donaghy ever really stood out. The only time Gilbert thought twice about Donaghy was after a game at Denver last December 18. The was the night after Gilbert dropped 60 in a win over the Lakers in Los Angeles. The thing I remember about that night was speaking with Gilbert before the game and him commenting that he didn't think he'd be getting any calls after going to the free throw line 27 times the night before.
As you may remember, both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant made a point of discussing Gil's free throw attempts when asked about his historic 60. It was Gil's belief that their quotes along with the box score from that game would influence the refs working the Wiz/Nuggets game.
The Nuggets played without Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith that night and the Wizards went into the game favored by three. The over/under was 212.5. The Wiz came out sluggish and Denver built a 30-point second quarter lead but the Wiz made a big second half run and drew within 93-91with 5:36 to play.
While Arenas didn't attempt a single free throw that night (he did throw up 12 three-point attempts), the Nuggets went to the line 28 times in the fourth quarter alone and iced a 117-108 win. According to the game's play by play at www.nba.com
, 21 of Denver's fourth quarter free throw attempts came AFTER the Wiz cut the lead to 93-91. Interesting. Donaghy worked that game along with Leroy Richardson and Derrick Stafford.
"We were making a comeback but then they just started calling fouls and sending them to the line," Arenas said. "I was like, OK, I guess we ain't winning this game. Other than that game, I never really thought about the guy. He was just another ref to me. Then again, if he was cheating, he probably would try to blend in as much as possible."
Teams typically don't learn who is calling a given game until an hour or so before tip (an exception would be if the refs are staying at or near the same hotel as the visiting team and are spotted. I've seen refs the night before or on the morning of games at my hotel several times). Once the names are made available, Arenas said he goes over the list to get a feel for how that game is going to be called.
"I look at the list and say, ok, this guy calls it tight, this one doesn't, this guy might be more likely to call hand checking. You know which refs are nice and which ones are more likely to give out a tech. Some refs are more likely to give you an (and one) while others may not, so know on those nights you know that it's going to be all about the jump shot baby.... I study the refs the way some people study the players. If you look at them closely, you can pick up tendencies."
One of my greatest concerns about the upcoming season is that in light of the Donaghy scandal, every single game is going to be viewed through the lense of who called the game and any shaky calls are going to be viewed as possibles sign of dirty reffing. As a reporter working on nasty deadlines, I don't want to be thinking about betting lines when writing a game story but now, I have to at least be aware of such things and you'd better believe that I'm going to make a point of knowing the refs better.
Gilbert said he doesn't think it will be healthy to have players thinking that they were done wrong even more than they have in the past.
"It's a problem because let's be honest: players always think they're being cheated, always," Arenas said. "I know I've said it myself: "Man, these refs are cheating." Did I believe it? No. But it's something you say when you're frustrated about the way a game was called. Now, after this, you're going to have guys saying that stuff all of the time and that's not good for the league because people are going to believe it and then, it's not basketball anymore."
By the way, Gil had a classic take on Joey Crawford, the ref who was booted out of the league after tossing Tim Duncan for laughing at him last season. "When I saw that, I was kind of relieved because I always thought he (Crawford) just hated me. But if you're gonna toss Tim Duncan, you must hate everybody. I like refs like that. If you know he hates everybody the same, at least you know you're being treated equally."
A couple of other Gilbert/Wiz matters:
-He said his surgically repaired knee is feeling "just fine" but that he's still trying to get back into his "comfort zone." Said Gilbert: "The knee is great. It's just a matter of getting that feel back. It's going to come." He's been playing some games over at Barry Farms and also has been playing in some pick-up games down at the Verizon Center and expects to be able to go full tilt when camp opens.
-Gilbert said there is no doubt in his mind that the Wiz will soon sign restricted free agent Andray Blatche. "Oh he'll be here. He has to. We're going to be killin' him all year." Anyone who has read this blog and Dan Steinberg's excellent blog has a feel for how that lockeroom works during the season. Let me just say that Dre Day is going to be hearing it from his teammates/comedians.
On a serious note, I've spoken with several of the vets in that lockeroom and they genuinely like Andray and want to see him reach his potential. Gilbert is probably his biggest fan. As I said in a previous blog entry, Andray is not a thug and he is not a knucklehead who goes out looking to cause trouble. I've always thought he was a good guy - still a kid in a lot of ways really - and I've enjoyed dealing with him. The question is whether or not he'll take the necessary steps to be a great player in this league. We'll find out.
-As I wrote in today's Post, the Wiz have signed Donell Taylor to a non-guaranteed contract for the upcoming season. I wasn't sure that Donell fit into Ernie's plans this season but given the team's cap situation and the fact that Aaron Miles took that deal in Europe, it makes sense. Donell knows Eddie's system, practices and plays hard at all times and the team needs depth at the PG spot behind Gilbert and Antonio Daniels.
We know that Donell has the quickness and length to be a solid defender in this league. The question I've always had is whether he'd be a real PG, some kind of combo guard or whether he'd develop a consistent J and make himself into a true SG. Right now, he's kind of in between but there is no question that he has the athleticism to play in this league.
The Miami Heat liked Donell but filled one spot with Smush Parker. The other team interested was Charlotte. Basically, it could come down to Donell fighting it out with Mike Hall, Brian Chase and Roger Mason (maybe) for one of those last spots. Not sure what the team has in mind for Mason and/or Calvin Booth. That could be decided by what Andray signs for. I've heard that Mason has also drawn interest from New Jersey. He also has the option of signing for good money over in Europe.
-If you haven't checked out the HBO series on the Kansas City Chiefs training camp, do so. It's been weird watching it myself because I covered the Chiefs for five seasons as a beat writer and the show has provided an entirely new perspective on how training camp and the preseason plays out. Really good stuff.