Bradley Beal, Ernie Grunfeld, Randy Wittman

NBA Preview: Washington Wizards

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Last season: It wasn’t pretty, 20-46 never is, but the Wizards made some moves to push this team in the right direction. This was as dysfunctional a locker room as there was in the league, so trading JaVale McGee and firing coach Flip Saunders made sense. The team needed to bring in professional players and an old-school coach to change the culture. That started to happen.

Key Departures: The Wizards threw in the towel on the Andray Blatche experiment and amnestied him. They stuck with him longer than they should have. Also gone was athletic but erratic backup two guard Nick Young, and not much missed Rashard Lewis. We can mention JaVale McGee here, even though that happened last season at the trade deadline (a move that was part of the culture change).

Key Additions: Washington took on money to get the stabilization they wanted, trading for solid veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. They will pay those two a combined $43 million over the next three years, so they better bring something to the table. Remember they got Nene for JaVale McGee late last season, too.

The Wizards also drafted Bradley Beal, who they picture as the future two guard playing next to John Wall. That was a smart pick.

Three keys to the Wizards’ season:

1) When will John Wall be healthy, and can he make the leap? There are two more keys discussed below, but this is THE question for the Wizards. If you’re going to be a title contender, an elite team in the NBA, you need one of the dozen or so elite players in the NBA. When drafted No. 1, it was thought Wall might be that guy. So far he hasn’t been.

Wall will be out until around Thanksgiving (maybe a little earlier) with a stress fracture in his patella. This is something he should come all the way back from. However, missing that month, that 10 or so games, could be the difference between the Wizards making the playoffs and missing out. Again.

Whenever he returns, Wall has to prove he is the promised franchise player. If he can’t, the Wizards need to treat him like a role player and not keep paying for potential. But we want to see him bust out. Wall hasn’t had a reliable jump shot, has been slowed by injuries, couldn’t seem to lead the team. He has to push the tempo and make plays in transition, he needs to hit jump shots consistently, and he needs to really be more of a force in the half court offense and work better off picks. He has to step up his game. The time is now.

For a couple seasons he has been good. The Wizards need great.

2) Their defense should be good, will they get enough offense? With Nene in the paint, Okafor lurking around there too and now Trevor Ariza on the perimeter, plus old-school Randy Wittman as coach, you can bet the Wizards will play pretty good defense.

The question is where do the points come from and do they have the shooters to stretch the floor when Wall drives. Wall has to get and create points, and he should get help inside from Nene and Okafor. But the Wizards need Ariza to bury corner threes consistently and they need the rookie Beal to be a sharpshooter. Do that and they will get enough points to win some games. If they remain a bottom 10 offense it’s going to be a long, long season.

3) How much does the culture change mean? Gone are McGee, Blatche, Young and before them Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton. Let’s just say that the Wizards locker room was not the most professional in the league before and preparation was not their forte. Wall could not lead that group. Now they have a team of real professionals, guys like Okafor and Ariza.

It matters, in part because with the contracts now on the books these are their guys — this roster is basically their team for a couple years.

What Wizards’ fans should fear: If Wall does not pan out to be a superstar No. 1 pick you can build a franchise around, you still need to go get one of those guys. But they will have a team with veterans who can play and so they are not going to fall to the bottom of the lottery. What is scary is moving into the league’s middle ground, where the Wizards consistently finish between 7 and 10 in the conference, never get a game-changing lottery pick but are never real threats to contend either. The Wizards could slip into that realm.

How it likely works out: The Wizards are going to be better. How much better really falls to Wall, and how good you think the Wizards will be this year really depends on how good you think Wall can be. If he can leap up into the tier of top point guards in the league, the Wizards become a playoff team and a tough out. If not, if he just improves a little, they likely miss out.

I think they are going to be a good defensive team, not great but good, and the nights the points come they can be dangerous. I’m not totally sold on Wall. But they are going to be solid.

Prediction: 35-47 and like the 9 or 10 seed in the East, hanging around the playoff hunt but just missing out. Their playoff chances are really damaged by not having Wall for the first month of the season. They do not have a lot of margin for error. They are going to be better, they are going to be more entertaining, but if they are going to surprise us it’s on Wall when he gets back.

Report: Kings also ready to trade Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison, foreground, is hugged by teammate DeMarcus Cousins in the closing moments of the Kings 109-106 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. At right is Kings guard Arron Afflalo. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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A driving force behind the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins: Sacramento keeps its first-round pick in the loaded 2017 draft only if it lands in the top 10 (though the 76ers hold swap rights). Otherwise, the Kings’ pick conveys to the Bulls.

Sacramento, only a half game better than the NBA’s 10th-worst team, figures to drop into the keep-pick zone without Cousins, the team’s best player.

But the Kings can intensify a fall through the standings by trading supporting players like Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Kings excised Cousins, and there are strong indications they are not done dealing, either. Sacramento is determined to restock the franchise with assets, and will be targeting rookie-deal players and draft picks in the coming days, sources told The Vertical. Free agents-to-be Ben McLemore and Darren Collison are available, sources said, as is Arron Afflalo, a solid bench scorer with a manageable contract.

Collison is the Kings’ starting point guard, and he’d be solid for a team seeking a rental. He’s making $5,229,454 in the final year of his contract. Trading a starter would certainly help Sacramento keep its pick in the top 10.

Afflalo ($1.5 million of $12.5 million guaranteed next year) and McLemore (who can be made a restricted free agent next summer) are producing far less. It’s less likely other teams covet them. At least keeping these two guards probably won’t lift the Kings too high in the standings.

Paul Pierce uses two phones at dunk contest, says props shouldn’t be allowed

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Paul Pierce — NBA veteran and emoji enthusiast — used not one but two smartphones to record the action during Saturday night’s underwhelming dunk contest. Why was Pierce doing this? Perhaps he wanted to have an extra copy of it because he doesn’t trust “the cloud”. Or maybe he’s doing some work as a social media manager on the sly. You know, getting a jump on that retirement thing.

Or maybe this is just something that Pierce really likes to do:

Whatever he’s doing, I’m not sure if he looks like a boss or like a goober doing it. I feel this accurately sums up Paul Pierce’s aesthetic.

Meanwhile, after Glenn Robinson III won the 2017 NBA Dunk Contest, Pierce had some thoughts that he expressed via Twitter.

Pierce may have a point. Jeremy Evans dunking over a painting of himself in 2013 immediately felt pretty ridiculous. But eliminating props entirely? I’m not so sure about that. How would they sell Kias then?

DeMarcus Cousins projects to miss out on at least $29.87 million due to trade

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings speaks with the media during media availability for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DeMarcus Cousins was all smiles the moment he appeared to find out about his trade, or at least trade rumors of going, from the Kings to the Pelicans.

But once he examines the deal closer, he might not like every aspect.

Cousins stands to miss out on a lot of money — about $30 million or more — due to this trade.

Because he made All-NBA teams the last two seasons, he was eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension this summer. As a matter of fact, he reportedly planned to do just that with Sacramento reportedly planning to offer it. That extension projected to be worth $209,090,000 over five years ($41,818,000 annually).

But, once officially dealt, Cousins will no longer be eligible for that super-max extension. It’s reserved for players still with their original team or who changed teams only via trade during their first four years.

This is Cousins’ seventh season, dropping his max starting salary in 2018 from 35% of the salary cap as a designated veteran player to 30%. That projects to be $179,220,000 over five years ($35,844,000 annually) if he re-signs.

It’d be even less if he leaves New Orleans, a projected $132,870,000 over four years ($33,217,500 annually).

Notice how small that difference is now between his incumbent team and other suitors. By rule, the Pelicans won’t hold nearly the same advantage in keeping him as the Kings would have. In other words, New Orleans faces greater risk of Cousins walking.

And there’s no guarantee Cousins gets the max. You saw how little the Pelicans traded for him. That speaks to his value around the league.

Just over a month ago, Cousins appeared content to take $209 million or so and stay in Sacramento. Now, his financial future is far more uncertain. But this much we know: His max possible salary on his next contract just got lowered.

Is this the moment DeMarcus Cousins found out he was traded? (video)

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings attends practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins was set to answer questions after the All-Star game, when a Kings public-relations official said, “All-Star questions first, please. All-Star-game questions.”

“What other questions we got?” Cousins asked, seemingly unaware of his trade to the Pelicans.

The PR person whispered in Cousins’ ear.

“Oh, really?” Cousins asked.

More whispering.

“It’s whatever,” Cousins said.

Then, asked about his All-Star experience, Cousins smiled big and said, “It was amazing, man. I enjoyed the city of New Orleans. I love it here in New Orleans.”