OAKLAND, Calif. Golden State Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas won the NBA's Most Improved Player award Thursday not that he thought there was much to improve.
I didn't think I got a whole lot better this year,'' said Arenas, who flashed his usual broad grin while accepting the award from Warriors great Chris Mullin at the team's training complex. I just got more playing time and more experience. I got a chill when they told me I'd won it. It's an honor.
I've always had confidence that I'll be up there with the Jason Kidds and Gary Paytons. I just need to keep working hard.''
Arenas, the Warriors' high-scoring point guard, claimed a spot among the league's fastest, most exciting players in just his second pro season. He got 41 of 118 first-place votes, finishing with 288 points.
Utah's Matt Harpring, who emerged as a dependable scorer in his first season with the Jazz, was second with 234 points. Troy Murphy, Arenas' teammate and a fellow member of the Warriors' spectacular 2001 draft class, finished third with 144.
San Antonio's Tony Parker was fourth with 143, while 14 players received at least one first-place vote from a panel of writers and broadcasters.
Arenas said the award was another example of the danger in taking him lightly.
He wasn't heavily recruited out of high school in Los Angeles, but he became a starter at Arizona. On what he claims was a whim, Arenas left school after his sophomore year, but he went undrafted in the first round which disappointed and angered him.
As long as I'm in this league, I'll still be thinking about the 30 guys that got drafted ahead of me,'' Arenas said. You just make it into a motivation. That's one of the reasons I work so hard.''
The Warriors chose him with the first pick of the second round, and he spent the first two months of his rookie season on the bench or the injured list before earning the confidence of his coaches.
Arenas came on strong late last season, starting Golden State's final 27 games. He started all 82 games this season under first-year coach Eric Musselman, who placed extraordinary responsibility in his hands.
Arenas responded with career bests of 18.3 points, 6.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds as Golden State made the NBA's biggest single-season improvement in its win total, from 21 to 38.
In just two seasons with the Warriors, Arenas has become one of the team's most popular players, both because of his exciting game and his infectious personality. He's a bit quirky as well: In Golden State's win over the New York Knicks earlier in the season, Arenas decided not to shoot until the fourth quarter to demonstrate his passing skills.
Last March, Mullin had just finished a workout at the Warriors' training complex when he spotted Arenas practicing trampoline dunks with Golden State's mascot. A day later, Arenas scored a career-best 41 points against the Washington Wizards.
He always knew he was that type of player, and he didn't mind telling you about it,'' Mullin said. He was asked to do a lot this year, and he responded.''
Arenas also got national attention for being the Most Valuable Player in the rookie-sophomore game at the NBA's All-Star weekend.
Sadly for the Warriors, Arenas may have improved too much. Because he was a second-round pick, he is a free agent this summer and due to a series of salary-cap quirks, Golden State can't offer him nearly as much money as several other teams can.
Denver is known to be interested in Arenas, but he has said he will entertain every offer, perhaps going to play for an immediate championship contender.
The Warriors' only hope is to appeal to Arenas' loyalty to a team that quickly promoted him and the rest of its 2001 draft class Murphy and Jason Richardson to key roles in their rebuilding process.
Arenas plans to take a few more weeks off though he's also playing pickup games in running shoes twice a week at a gym in the Oakland hills before starting to think about where he'll play next season. The Warriors have made many private and public appeals to him, but Arenas says he won't be rushed.
I'll relax my mind and write down what I want to accomplish,'' Arenas said. We're proud of what we did this season. We knew people would notice, because the Warriors were so bad all these years. We were just getting our names out, and this award helps it. We were all just grateful we were here on a team that's on the uprising.''
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