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NBA Season Preview: Washington Wizards

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Last season: 23-59, the fourth lowest win total in the entire league.

Head Coach: Flip Saunders, who may or may not be the best fit for this talented but undisciplined group of young players.

Key Departures: None yet, although Nick Young, who improved offensively last season, is a restricted free agent. Michael Lee of the Washington Post does a nice job breaking down Young’s status in limbo as he waits for some of the other free agent dominoes around the league to fall into place.

Key Additions: The biggest addition could be by someone already on the roster. By all accounts of what we saw during those pickup and charity games over the summer, John Wall is poised to have a breakout season. Injuries limited him last year, but he seems to be 100 percent healthy and as explosive as ever.
Best case scenario: Wall makes the leap, the team stays healthy, Saunders gets some control over the young goofballs on the team (looking at you, JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche), and Young re-signs. A lot has to happen, but if things fall into place, the Wizards, like most of last year’s bottom-feeders in the East, could have a shot at the postseason.

For that to happen: Flip Saunders has to get some control over his young players, and get his guys to buy in to a team concept of playing smart basketball on both ends of the floor. You may remember McGee throwing the entire players’ union under the bus during the lockout, saying on camera and in front of rolling tape recorders that some guys were “ready to fold.” That obviously has nothing to do with how he plays the game, but it speaks to his maturity level, which will need to increase.

If you need on-the-court evidence, look no further than this free throw line dunk attempt in garbage time, with his team trailing by 25 points — which he airballed, by the way.

Andray Blatche may not intentionally be as unaware as his teammate, but his lack of focus showed more than once last season, when he airballed wide open attempts at the rim. This is not a talent issue, it’s one of focus, and that will be the Wizards’ biggest challenge under Saunders this season.

More likely the Wizards will: Improve marginally, but only due to the consistent and improved play from Wall that everyone expects to see.

Prediction: 24-42, out of the playoffs. There’s some wiggle room here, as we wait to see how the Nick Young situation — whether or not he leaves and whether or not the team replaces him, and with whom — shakes itself out.

Nuggets retiring Dikembe Mutombo’s number at first home game

Center Dikembe Mutombo of the Denver Nuggets goes up for two over center David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs during the Nuggets game versus the Spurs at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.
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If the Hawks can retire Dikembe Mutombo’s number after four and a half seasons in Atlanta, the Nuggets can retire it after five in Denver.

Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post:

Mutombo will join the list of people who’ve had a number retired by multiple teams:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lakers, Bucks)
  • Charles Barkley (76ers, Suns)
  • Wilt Chamberlain (Warriors, Lakers, 76ers)
  • Clyde Drexler (Trail Blazers, Rockets)
  • Julius Erving (Nets, 76ers)
  • Michael Jordan (Bulls, Heat)
  • Bob Lanier (Pistons, Bucks)
  • Moses Malone (Rockets, 76ers)
  • Pete Maravich (Jazz, Pelicans)
  • Earl Monroe (Knicks, Wizards)
  • Oscar Robertson (Bucks, Kings)
  • Jerry Sloan (Bulls, Jazz)
  • Nate Thurmond (Cavaliers, Warriors)

Shaquille O’Neal, who had his number retired by the Lakers, will also make the list this season, when the Heat will put his number in the rafters.

Mutombo spent his best years with the Hawks, but he was pretty darn good with the Nuggets, who drafted him No. 4 overall in 1991. He won a Defensive Player of the Year award and went to three All-Star games with Denver. Playing for the Nuggets, he also produced the most iconic image of his career: lying on the floor and clutching the ball in jubilation after Denver became the first No. 8 seed to upset the No. 1 seed (Seattle SuperSonics in 1994):

Draymond Green says he doesn’t want to chase 74 wins: “It’s brutal.”

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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If the Warriors have been consistent about one thing in the run-up to the coming season it is this: They are not going for a record number of wins again.

From the GM on down they have worked to tamp down expectations about their regular season, saying there is no goal of chasing their 73-win total of last season. This is how Draymond Green put it on media day, via Sam Amick of the USA Today.

Last season Steve Kerr and some of the staff were hesitant to chase the Jordan-era Bulls 72-win record, but it was a push from the players — Draymond Green being at the front of that parade — who wanted it. They pushed, and Kerr let them. They got 73. Was that lack of rest down the stretch the reason they were down 3-1 to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, then blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals against Cleveland? Certainly not, there were plenty of other bigger factors (hello LeBron James), but it may have played some role. Clearly, the team thinks it did, based on their words and actions.

However, the Warriors still want the No. 1 seed in the West and will make that a goal. The question is, with an excellent regular season team in San Antonio — one that had a better point differential than the Warriors last season, then they added Pau Gasol — how many wins will it take to get the top seed in the West? 65? More? How hard will the Warriors and Spurs push to get home court throughout?

The Warriors aren’t going for the record, but the top of the West is still going to be an interesting place.

Mike D’Antoni declares James Harden the Rockets’ point guard (‘points guard’)

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James Harden is no longer the NBA’s best shooting guard.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Harden – who averaged 29.0 points and 7.5 assists per game last season – is now Houston’s point guard, though D’Antoni added it wouldn’t be a big adjustment.

D’Antoni, via ClutchFans:

With James, we’ll make a cheap joke. He’ll be a points guard.

We just renamed it. You guys got something to write about.

Harden already controlled the ball a ton, taking primary playmaking and distributing responsibilities last season. This just gets the ball into his hands quicker and should allow the Rockets to play faster, a key component of D’Antoni’s offense.

Of course, D’Antoni’s offense functioned best when Steve Nash – more of a pure passer – ran it with the Suns. Harden won’t duplicate that. His passing ability is more predicated on taking advantage of his scoring threat. But Harden – who, like Nash, is an excellent ball-handler – could make the offense hum in his own way.

Even though D’Antoni is trying to downplay the position switch, it’s a notable shift. Harden fully commanding the offense is a grand experiment with major upside (and potential for a rocky downside).

This will also allow Houston to use Patrick Beverley (historically a point guard) or Eric Gordon (historically a shooting guard) in the backcourt with Harden, allowing a more flexible rotation.

LeBron James says he’ll stand for national anthem

Minnesota Timberwolves v Cleveland Cavaliers
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LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul made a statement denouncing the mistreatment of black and brown bodies and retaliatory violence.

Then, Colin Kaepernick took the civil discourse to another level by sitting and then kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutalizing black Americans.

Will LeBron – the most powerful player in the NBA – follow Kaepernick’s method of demonstration?

LeBron, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“I think you guys know when I’m passionate about something I’ll speak up on it, so me standing for the national anthem is something I will do, that’s who I am, that’s what I believe in,” James said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and don’t agree with what Colin Kaepernick is doing. You have the right to voice your opinion, stand for your opinion and he’s doing it in the most peaceful way I’ve ever seen someone do something.”

“You see these videos that continue to come out, it’s a scary-ass situation that if my son calls me and said if he got pulled over, that I’m not that confident that things are gonna go well and my son is going to return home,” James said. “My son just started the sixth grade.”

“I don’t have the answer,” said James, who has a track record for speaking out when notable cases of police violence toward blacks occurs. “None of us have the answer, but the more times we can talk about it, the more times we can conversate about it. Because I’m not up here saying all police are bad because they’re not. I’m not up here saying that all kids are great and all adults are great, because they’re not.

“But at the same time all lives do matter. It’s not black or white, it’s  not that. It’s everyone, so, it’s just tough being a parent right now when you have a pre-teen.”

To many – seemingly including LeBron – the national anthem (at least the verses we sing) represents what America aspires to be. Kaepernick and those who’ve followed his lead can’t overlook what America is.

Neither approach is wrong.

What’s important: We continue the conversation about police overreach and racism in America. The first step in fixing the problems are acknowledging that they exist.

Kaepernick has brought an incredible amount of attention to the issue. His protest is working.

LeBron will add to the cause in his own way, but Kaepernick kneeling opened the floodgates. Because of Kaepernick, LeBron was asked about this today, and his fears about his son interacting with police will be heard.