ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Washington Wizards

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Last season: The Wizards were pretty good when healthy, so they were pretty terrible.

John Wall, Nene and Bradley Beal all battled injuries, and Washington finished 29-53. But looking closer, the Wizards actually weren’t half bad when their good players were healthy.

  • With Wall: 24-25
  • With Wall and Nene: 22-19
  • With Wall, Nene and Beal: 15-7

Signature highlight from last season: At home last season, the Wizards beat the Eastern Conference’s top six teams and four of the Western Conference’s top five teams (Spurs excepted). That impressive show for the home fans included Washington’s play of the year:

Key player changes: The Wizards drafted Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr., adding two players who could crack the rotation this season. They also signed Al Harrington and Eric Maynor to fortify their depth. Otherwise, Washington stood pat.

Keys to the Wizards’ season: 

1) Has John Wall taken the next step? Quietly, Wall shot well from the perimeter late last season, perhaps filling the biggest hole in his game. But it’s also possible that was too small a sample to mean real improvement. The Wizards gave Wall a max contract, because they believe he can at least be the best player on a playoff team, and so do I. But Wall is so dynamic, his ceiling is superstar. If he reaches that level, expectations will ramp up in a hurry for the Wizards.

2) How healthy will Washington be? John Wall (33 games), Bradley Beal (26 games), Trevor Ariza (26 games) and Nene (21 games) all missed a substantial number of games last season. This year, Emeka Okafor is already hurt and so is Chris Singleton. Ariza and Nene have a history of injury , and they’re at the age when bodies sometimes breakdown. Wall and Beal are more likely to play a full season, but between the bunch, Washington is probably relying on too many players whose odds of being injured are higher than the average NBAer. 

3) Will the Wizards make the playoffs? Obviously a lot of smaller questions will determine this large one, but a postseason berth would be huge in Washington. The Wizards have sacrificed long-term upside to build a team capable of winning as soon as possible. A sixth straight season ending before the playoffs could mean big changes, from general manager Ernie Grunfeld to coach Randy Wittman and on down.

Why you should watch the Wizards: John Wall, for my money, is the NBA’s fastest player end-to-end with the ball in his hands. Watching him whir can be jaw-dropping, and shooters like Bradley Beal and Martell Webster ensure Wall has space to operate.

For those into ruin porn, Jan Vesely has a great combination. He plays with energy and without skills, increasing the odds something crazy happens when he nears the ball.

Prediction: 44-38. John Wall has gotten better in each of his three seasons, and he’s my pick for 2013-14 Most Improved Player. The Wizards have surrounded him with a well-balanced team, meaning they’ll get the most out of their talent, because everyone can play to their strengths rather than having to compensate elsewhere. If they stay relatively healthy, the Wizards should make the playoffs. Unlike last year, I think they’re deep enough to suffer slightly worse-than-average injury and still reach the postseason – and with Okafor already out, they might have to prove it.

Report: Cavaliers to officially make Koby Altman GM. Nice timing.

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“Congratulations, Koby. Here’s your new corner office with a view, meet your new executive assistant, and finally here are the keys to the Cavaliers franchise… oh, and by the way, Kyrie Irving wants to be traded. And LeBron James is a free agent next year. Good luck with all that, we’ll leave you to it.”

Since Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert inexplicably let go of David Griffin as the team’s general manager, assistant GM Kobe Altman has stepped into the lead role for the franchise. Now Gilbert is going to remove the interim tag from Altman’s title, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN was first.

Now that he has the job, all he has to do is find a new home for Irving, who has demanded a trade… or he doesn’t have to. Irving may be traded this summer, but he has two years left on his deal so Altman could just bring him back with LeBron and Kevin Love and make another run at it. Or he could sit back and listen to trade offers from a lot of teams, and if he sees one he likes pounce — Irving (unlike Carmelo Anthony) doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so he can go anywhere. Altman has leverage.

Altman respected around the league, but he took over a team up against the cap and tax, a team that needed to find a way to get more athletic to compete with the Warriors. Instead, the Cavs re-signed Kyle Korver (age 35), signed Jose Calderon (age 36), and re-signed Richard Jefferson (age 37). The Cavs have essentially treaded water this offseason, while Warriors, Celtics, and Rockets all got better. That’s not all on Altman, he was thrown into the job and with the team well into the tax his options were limited. He was handed a near impossible task.

Now Altman gets to own that task. Enjoy.

Report: LeBron James being hands off, letting Cavaliers front office handle Irving trade

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Okay, Koby Altman — the Cavs interim general manager about to have the first part of that title removed — and Dan Gilbert, the ball is in your court.

Kyrie Irving has told the Cleveland Cavaliers he wants to be traded, and he’s given them a list of preferred landing spots. Normally in this kind of situation, the team’s biggest star would not only be informed but consulted and asked his opinion, however this time around LeBron James is going to be hands off, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

LeBron James intends to let the Cleveland Cavaliers front office and owner Dan Gilbert take the lead in dealing with Kyrie Irving’s trade demands, sources told ESPN.

As the Cavs consider their options, sources said James has expressed to the team that he is focused on his offseason workout regimen and is planning to report to training camp with the intention of leading his teammates to a fourth consecutive Finals — no matter who those teammates are.

Despite the perception — and some reality, the team did try to make him happy — LeBron has not wanted to play GM of the Cavaliers in recent years. He has wanted to be more hands off, but has let his feelings be known at times. Part of that was he grew to trust David Griffin to make decisions. With Griffin out of the way, a lot of things feel different in Cleveland.

Consider this part of the crumbling of the foundation in Cleveland. LeBron is acting like an employee, one who shows up to do his job and that’s it — which is what he is, but stars can take on a larger role in the franchise. LeBron has, and does still to a degree, but he has scaled it back after his experiences over the years. Things feel like they are closing in on the Cavaliers, the only question is how fast?

Report: Cavaliers unhappy Kyrie Irving news leaked because it hurts trade value

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The news Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland came as a bolt of lightning to a finally slowed NBA offseason. Speculation about the future of LeBron James had been rampant, but discussions of Kyrie Irving’s future were usually tied to LeBron (if he left the Cavs, Irving would go, too).

Cleveland wanted to keep it under wraps, because it’s easier to do business that way. Now the word is out — including that he prefers to be traded to San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or New York — and the Cavaliers are not happy, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

It means that there will be a lot more leaks — teams that want to look like they are trying to do something but have no real interest/assets will make a call then leak it so it looks like they are trying. It will mean a lot of distracting headlines.

However, unlike Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks, the Cavaliers have leverage here. Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause so the Cavaliers can take the best offer. Irving is an All-Star level point guard, one of the five to eight best in the NBA (depending on how much you knock him for his defensive lapses, and who you classify as a point guard). He also has two seasons left on his contract, so teams that trade for him have a chance to win him over to stay.

That said, leaked info or not, they are not getting equal value back. It doesn’t work that way with stars generally. That said, everyone knowing he wants out doesn’t help the Cavaliers cause here.

Kyrie Irving’s reported preferred trade destinations: Knicks, Heat, Spurs, Timberwolves

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers.

He even apparently provided a list of teams he prefers to join.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

That’s quite an eclectic mix.

The Knicks play in a major market near Irving’s native New Jersey, but they’re lousy. The Heat have a merely good team, excellent basketball culture, beautiful weather and a state with no income tax. The Spurs also offer a great basketball culture and no state income tax – plus Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard. The Timberwolves are an up-and-comer with multiple players – Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler (a friend) – on Irving’s timeline (though one would likely have to be traded for him) and a coach in Tom Thibodeau who worked with Irving through USA Basketball.

But Irving doesn’t possess a no-trade clause. Cleveland can trade him anywhere – or not at all.

Teams that Irving greenlights might offer more than teams he doesn’t, believing he’d be more likely to re-sign when his contract expires. But his free agency is still two years away. It doesn’t seem that will play a huge factor.

For Irving to work his way to a team he prefers, it will take a little luck in which team offers the Cavs the best package – or impressive finagling by his agent.