Ernie Grunfeld

Ernie Grunfeld sticking with the plan for Wizards

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The Wizards roster that was assembled over the last year was really a multi-year plan — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Nene each had multiple years on their contracts. The Wizards were locking themselves in.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that team president Ernie Grunfeld said the goal is to stick with the plan in Washington. He spoke with the media, including our man Ben Standig at CSNWashington.com, and the focus was largely “let’s see what this roster can do when healthy.”

First and foremost on the list this summer for the Wizards is to extend John Wall’s contract. But do you give him the max he wants?

“I think John had a very good year, and he showed that he makes a difference on the team. There’s no question about that, and he’s eligible for an extension. July 1 is the first day we can talk about that, and we’ll have conversations with him, his representatives, to see if we can work something out

Obviously, we’ve said all along that we’re building this team around John and with John. We want to have him here long term.

I think Wall is going to get a healthy offer from the Wizards, but not a max. Then the ball is in his court.

The Wizards have talked about re-signing free agent Martell Webster, that is a priority. But what about the other young players on the team who will be back on their rookie deals — Jan Vesley, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin?

“I think this is a big summer for all of them. They all need to improve, they all need to work hard. They all have a plan this summer, they will all be doing different things. Obviously, we did add six new players and those players got significant playing time. Consequently, those players didn’t play as much as they did the year before because we probably had better players this time at those positions and more experienced at this time. This is a big summer for the players and they have to improve. I think when they did get their opportunities, they had some productive moments, but it’s hard to play on a consistent level if you don’t have the consistent minutes.”

Look for Bradley Beal, Vesley and Singleton to play for the Wizards in Summer League.

And the other thing that seemed clear — Randy Wittman will be back as coach.

“I think Randy did a very good job for us this season. He kept the ship afloat. Kept the guys motivated. Kept them competitive on a nightly basis.”

Bottom line, Grunfeld wants to see what this lineup can do when healthy — which at the end of last season was an above .500 team, a playoff team. That’s the goal for next season.

Report: Grizzlies want to pitch Kevin Durant. Join the long line.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in New York. Durant had 32 points but the Nets upset the Thunder 116-106. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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If Kevin Durant makes his intentions known he plans to leave Oklahoma City — and that is far from certain, if anything the odds still lean toward him staying — you can expect 29 teams to line up trying to make their pitch. We are talking about a top-three NBA player, a franchise-changing force, a guy that turns a team into an instant contender.

Consider the Memphis Grizzlies in that group.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

They are working to keep Conley in summer free agency, with Memphis planning to be one more contender with two stars that will try to persuade Kevin Durant to make it a Big Three, league sources said. Durant’s the longest of long shots in summer, but the short-term trade deadline directives are unchanged: The Grizzlies are determined to use the trade deadline to better the roster for a playoff push.

The first thing that means: Despite the rumors, do not expect a Mike Conley trade. They will keep him at the deadline and make a major push to re-sign him in the summer. The Knicks and a host of other teams will be lined up to pitch Conley, and he said he will consider his options, but remember he helped recruit Marc Gasol to stay a season ago. And the Grizzlies can offer more guaranteed money than anyone.

The Grizzlies can make an interesting pitch. With him, they are legit title contenders so  Durant can chase his ring. Also, this is a small market — KD has had testy run-ins with the media playing in the smallest market in the NBA. The OKC media relations people do their best to shield him. Does he want the scrutiny that comes with New York or Los Angeles? Even Golden State? Memphis is a small market where he would be comfortable. Plus, awesome barbecue.

But the Grizzlies are just going to be in a long line to talk to Durant. If he even talks to anyone.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
Getty Images
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.