Back in the summer of 2007, Gilbert Arenas was a pretty big deal. He’d just played in three straight All-Star games, been top five in the league in scoring the past two years and was widely hailed as the first blog superstar the NBA had ever seen. Things were good, to say the least. People loved the guy, mostly because he was a happy-go-lucky kind of fellow who just liked having fun and being very good at basketball. After years of players who sometimes alienated fans, Arenas was what the NBA and the Washington Wizards needed.

Then his knee exploded eight games in to the 2007-08 season. Then, after a brief return prior to the 2008 playoffs, Arenas didn’t play until March of the 2008-09 season. Then, when he finally returned at full strength last year, after 32 games he was suspended for the season for bringing guns in to the Wizards’ locker room. It’s been a long and strange three years for Gil, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. There’s the sullen demeanor, the big beard and the refusal to smile for pictures, and as FanHouse’s Chris Tomasson found out, Gil’s already ceding control of the team to rookie point guard John Wall.

Arenas’ contract with the Wizards runs through 2013-14. But Arenas, after playing his first competitive game Tuesday night since being suspended for the season last January for bringing guns into the locker room, sure spoke like someone who figures to be long gone by then.

“Teach John (Wall) the ins and outs of the game and then eventually go on and move on, and I’m on my way,” Arenas said after playing with the point guard and No. 1 draft pick Wall for the first time in a 97-94 preseason win over Dallas at the American Airlines Center.

OK, fair enough — Gilbert Arenas will probably be gone by the time his contract expires. The Wizards have an amazing young guard ready to go and he makes a fraction of Arenas’ gargantuan contract. Once Washington won the lottery, the metaphorical writing was on the metaphorical wall for Gilbert Arenas. Yeah, it’s weird to see him in such a submissive role, but it makes sense.

The sad thing is that it seems like the Arenas that everyone loved is gone.

Here’s his response to whether or not he’s enjoying playing basketball again:

“It was as same as the ones I played with no fans,” Arenas said of Tuesday’s game. “Five people on the court. Ten people on the court. Referees.

“I lost all feeling a long time ago. Basketball is basketball. It doesn’t matter what floor I’m on.”

“I lost all feeling” is a pretty big bummer coming from one of the most entertaining and fun-loving players of the past decade. He seems like a totally different guy, which is kind of grow-a-huge-beard-and-never-smile depressing for Arenas fans. Part of what made him so enjoyable was that he was obviously enjoying playing in the NBA. Now, not so much.

After what Gil’s gone through the past three years, it’s understandable. Maybe he’ll be the same player, but I’ve always assumed part of Arenas’ success was because he didn’t care about other people’s perceptions. I mean, I just can’t see this Arenas pulling up for a deep, buzzer-beating three and yelling “Hibachi!” as the ball splashes through the net. That sucks.