Wizards keep playoff goal intact by trading injured Okafor for a healthy Gortat

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WASHINGTON — Sometimes trades instinctively bring out the head scratcher in all of us. The Wizards acquiring center Marcin Gortat isn’t one of those times.

Washington hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2008. Unlike teams that bailed on the upcoming season to ensure a lottery finish, the Wizards have shaped their John Wall-led roster with the goal of a postseason return.

Emeka Okafor’s herniated disk in his neck threatened to derail those plans.

Fearing the defensive presence might return later than sooner, the playoff-pushing organization addressed the matter sooner than later.

Following Saturday’s practice, management, coaches and players discussed the necessary move, which included not just a swap of expiring contracts, but the Wizards shipping a protected 2014 first round pick.

Wizards team President Ernie Grunfeld: “Obviously if Emeka didn’t have the [injury], probably wouldn’t have been as imperative for us to get another big man in there. We don’t know what his status will be. Obviously, Emeka was very frustrated by his situation and there is really no timeframe for him.”

Wall: “It’s tough to see a guy like Mek go that was a great professional for us and what he did for our team, especially helping me in learning things, but it was kind of tough not knowing if he would play this year.”

Head coach Randy Wittman: “We’re not just trading a player for a player, with Mek not being on the floor yet this year. That’s the beauty about the situation. We had no idea when, or if, Emek, was going to be back. So, this gives us a free body that we didn’t have.”

Not just a free body, but a big body, a 6-foot-11, 240-pounder efficient in the pick-and-roll and better offensively than the man he replaces. Nor Okafor’s equal on defense, but Gortat is a big body willing to bang and defend those in the middle so power forward Nene and his perennial aching body doesn’t have to.

“Now we have a true center. Look at my face,” said the grinning Brazilian big man, who has not been shy about stating his positional preference. “[Gortat] is going to help us a lot. He’s a veteran … high IQ big man. He knows how to play. We feel sad for Emeka, he was a great teammate, but we need the position. [The organization] did an amazing job. They surprised me.”

Considering the team’s playoffs-or-bust mentality, considering the young frontcourt options — namely Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely — provided no assurance they could step up into larger roles, nobody should be surprised. Considering the trade laid out on a Venn diagram would show a tiny not-so-sweet spot, nobody should be scratching their head.

The first round pick is protected through the 12th selection. If the Wizards make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the pick heads to Phoenix without complaint. If the Wizards miss the playoffs, they keep the pick as long as they don’t end up with the 13th or 14th selection. Barring bad luck with ping-pong balls, that’s a safe bet considering there are more strong teams than available postseason berths out West.

The Wizards will enter next offseason with a hole at center — and potentially around $16 million in cap space now that they have reportedly declined options on Vesely and Chris Singleton. Make the playoffs and the Wizards become more attractive to high-end free agents as a rising franchise headlined by the electric backcourt combo of Wall and Bradley Beal. Miss the playoffs and the Wizards have both a first round selection and cap space to address needs.

“That could become available to us if that’s a direction we want to go,” Grunfeld said of potentially adding a max contract free agent. “But we’ll worry about that next summer.”

They could also re-sign Gortat, who averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season for Phoenix in what some considered a down effort. If the “Polish Machine” helps makes the Wizards a better team — he should offensively — and the money works out, why not.

As for guards Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee, Grunfeld will only worry about the other ex-Suns acquired in the deal for another day or so. Washington must trim three players by Monday to reach the league-maximum of 15. Grunfeld said he hasn’t made a final decision, but nobody is expecting that trio to stay with the Wizards.

The idea of making the playoffs this season, that notion has staying power. Without making the trade, maybe not.

“It hasn’t changed any,” Wittman said of the team’s postseason goals. “We talked about that. This wouldn’t make it change any. We still expect to fight for a spot in May. That’s our objective here.”

Kobe, LeBron, other NBA players react to President Trump’s stunning speech

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When President Donald Trump doubled-down on his support of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who conducted a racist rally in Charlottesville, making a false moral equivalency with protestors of racism, it had television news anchors stunned, drew condemnation from both sides of the political aisle, and left most Americans queasy.

Count NBA players among those disgusted by the president’s comments.

That includes Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

(Note: As part of that press conference, Trump said he owns one of the largest wineries in the nation right near Charlottesville.)

On Monday and earlier Tuesday — before the president’s latest salvo of stupidity but after the “unite the right” rally to “protect” a statue of a man who fought to keep slavery in place, where violence the protesters courted broke out and left one woman, Heather Heyer, dead — the Bucks’ Jabari Parker took part in an anti-racism rally, and LeBron had said this about Charlotte and moving the country forward.

Chris Paul had this to say before the latest press conference.

Maybe the only good thing to come of all this, you can now own a T-shirt of vintage Team USA Vince Carter dunking over Trump.

Report: Grizzlies about to hire Tayshaun Prince for front office job

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Tayshaun Prince spent 14 years in the NBA as a long, defensive minded wing, one of the early “3&D” guys but one who, in his prime, could be more than that. He won a ring in Detroit in 2004 and was a four-time NBA All-Defense selection.

Now he’s stepping into the front office.

The Grizzlies, one of his former teams, is about to hire him, reports Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Retired forward Tayshaun Prince will soon be named special assistant to Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, according to several NBA sources…

Prince is widely considered a big influence in NBA locker rooms and operated as a calming voice with Grizzlies players.

The Grizzlies believe Prince will bring a unique voice to front office decisions.

Prince came to the Grizzlies in the Rudy Gay trade and made a real impression there — and elsewhere — as a locker room leader and rational voice. He was in the NBA until last season.

This could and should be a good hire for a Grizzlies team transitioning out of the “grit n’ grind” era (albeit slowly, they could still bring Tony Allen back). The best GMs don’t go it alone but get information and perspectives from a lot of sources, and a high IQ former player would be a good one.

Watch LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony ball in a summer pickup game

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While a lot of you goobers have just been sitting here pining for the release of the 2017-18 NBA schedule, this is what I’ve been waiting for.

In videos posted to social media this week, trainer Chris Brickley — the guy Phil Jackson made answer just three questions in an interview for the New York Knicks — showed us what players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony look like in summer pickup games.

It’s not a full NBA game of course, but it is a game of basketball featuring NBA players. Give me that any day in mid-August.

Via Instagram:

Sweat Now, Shine Later‼️ @carmeloanthony // @academy.basketball // 📸 @victory

A post shared by Chris Brickley (@cbrickley603) on

I love summer but my Twitter feed is all NFL preseason as of late. There’s nothing that makes you miss the NBA regular season more than that.

Training camp can’t get here soon enough.

Jabari Parker at anti-racism rally: “We all came here to build, not to destroy”

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Events at a racist rally in Charlottesville, VA made national headlines this week after significant violence broke out and one woman, Heather Heyer, was killed after a car ran her over. The “Unite the Right” rally and subsequent coverage illustrated the continued rise of the alt-right and neo-Nazism in America, and the NBA has not turned a blind eye to the news. Stars like LeBron James have spoken out about the need to join together and find individual responsibility on a daily basis for bettering our world.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is one of the NBA players that have also taken to public discourse on the subject. During an anti-racism rally in Salt Lake City on Monday, Parker spoke to the crowd about his own struggles and diverse background.

Parker said he would be doing a disservice to his own people if he didn’t come to the rally to support their cause.

In part, here’s what Parker had to say, via the Salt Lake Tribune:

“Good evening, everybody. I know a lot of you guys already know me, but I play in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I just want to give you guys a brief background on me. My mom, she’s from Tonga. My dad is [inaudible]. My best friend is Jewish. My uncle is gay. I could go on and on. I came from welfare, government cheese.

“I would be doing a disservice for my people if I didn’t come here today. So I’m here to speak for diversity. I’m diverse. It’s in my DNA. I love my culture. I love you.

It’s great to see more NBA players step out like this and support against the rise of mobilized political racism, white supremacy, and anti-American neo-Nazism. Big kudos to Parker, hopefully his example will help lead the way for his contemporaries.