Bradley Beal, Ernie Grunfeld, Randy Wittman

NBA Preview: Washington Wizards


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: Phil Jackson would have taken Okafor over Porzingis. Duh.

New York Knicks Draft Picks Press Conference
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Of course he would have — 29 other GMs would have as well.

Jackson also seriously would have considered trading the No. 4 pick if the right package of picks — including Brooklyn’s unprotected pick from this season — were part of the package. Again, that’s not a surprise or even a poor decision.

But in New York, which has fallen in love with the guy they used that No. 4 pick on in Kristaps Porzingis, that idea has become news, especially in the wake of No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor‘s recent run of off-the-court issues. Here is the report, via the New York Post.

According to an NBA source, as much as Jackson’s top adviser, Clarence Gaines Jr., wanted Jackson to take Porzingis even if the Knicks had the No. 1 pick, that wasn’t the way the Zen Master would have gone if it was a choice between the two big men.

Okafor was Jackson’s man.

“He had to draft Okafor — too much a sure thing,’’ the source said.

Again, 29 other GMs would have done the same thing at that time. Now, maybe it changes, but at the time anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

It’s not that some of those GMs (and certainly some of their scouts) didn’t think Porzingis could develop into an excellent NBA player, but he was considered a higher risk pick than Okafor, who is averaging 17.5 points a game for the Sixers and looks like a franchise cornerstone player. Maybe Porzingis had a higher ceiling, but Okafor had a way higher floor. If your job is on the line with a draft pick, you think about the floor.

Has Okafor had some incidents off the court? Obviously. He’s a 19-year-old making decisions that put in situations where bad things happen. That’s correctable. We all made stupid decisions when we were 19, just most of us grew out of them. (Well, if you ask my wife whether I did or not…) He likely will to, his handlers are already making significant steps.

Zach Lowe at Grantland said that the Knicks did consider trading the pick, but the deal never came close to fruition.

The Celtics were hell-bent on moving up to draft Justise Winslow, and offered the Hornets four first-round picks — including one of Brooklyn’s unprotected picks — for Charlotte’s No. 9 pick. But that was Boston’s fall-back plan, sources say. Boston initially chased Charlotte’s pick with the idea of sending it to the Knicks, along with Boston’s No. 15 pick, to vault all the way into New York’s draft slot — where they would take Winslow. Charlotte refused Boston’s pitches, and the scenario died. The Knicks downplay their interest in Boston’s offer, though it’s fascinating to consider how the draft might have played out — and which fan base would be chanting “POR-ZIN-GIS!” today — had the Celtics swooped in for Winslow at No. 4

“We listened,” Mills says. “But we were never close.”

Now, looking back at it, Knicks fans wouldn’t trade any of it.


Pistons’ Reggie Jackson fined $25,000 for what he told OKC heckler

Reggie Jackson, Shane Larkin
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Reggie Jackson, now the starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons, returned to face the team that drafted him last weekend, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The reception was chilly, to put it kindly. Both from the players and the fans.

Jackson responded to one of the heckling fans with an indecent suggestion (if you want to see the incident, you can, but it’s NSFW) and that has earned him a $25,000 fine from the league. The punishment was sent down by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, the league has a pretty clear policy that fans pay the freight and can say nearly anything to players (it is up to the discretion of security at the arena, teams can ask to have fans removed if needed), and the players have to take it. Answer them with better play on the court.

Jackson has had a good season for the Pistons averaging 19.1 points and 6.7 assists a game, showing a real chemistry with Andre Drummond. He is part of the reason the Pistons look like a potential playoff team this season and are on the rise in the East. But the Thunder got the best of him that night (Jackson shot 4-of-16 and was -19), and so did a fan.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton

Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum

It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.