What the Wizards should do when the lockout ends…

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We’re trying to be optimistic about the lockout here at PBT, and as part of that we are looking at what all 30 NBA teams should do when the lockout ends. And we’re sticking with when, not if, it ends. To see the full Western Conference list, click here.

Last season in Washington D.C.: For a team with a lot of young, talented players, the Wizards were just flat out bad. They won only 23 games, they were 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, 24th in offense. Defensively they blocked shots and not much else. On offense the Wizards didn’t take a lot of threes and didn’t make a lot when they did (they shot 33.2 percent from deep, 28th in the league). John Wall was slowed by injuries most of the year and seemed to be finding his way in his rookie NBA season. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were consistently inconsistent.

Since we last saw the Wizards: They got new uniforms and logos, which are actually throwbacks to an older, Bullet look. The Wizards are a very patriotic red, white and blue now. It’s better than the blue at least.

They also had a nice draft, but it adds more questions and youth to a team with plenty. They drafted Jan Vesely (he of the girlfriend you remember from draft night), who is big and talented and raw. They also picked up forward Chris Singleton and guard Shelvin Mack, both of whom likely will make the team but we’ll see how much run they get.

When the lockout ends, the Wizards need to… Sign Nick Young to keep him in house, grow up and start to play some defense. Then run more.

Nick Young is entering the last year of his rookie deal, the Wizards extended a qualifying offer, now they need to keep him around. He’s not an All-Star, but he is developing into a quality two in the league who a number of teams other teams covet. The Wizards are a team that needs points, and while Young could use to be more efficient getting them, he can get the points.

The Wizards already have about 14 guys that will be on the roster (if all three rookies and a couple other guys are brought back with Young), but what they could use is a veteran point guard to back up Wall and be a steadying influence on this team. Earl Boykins could work. Over at SB Nation Mike Prada likes two-guard Reggie Williams most recently of the Warriors, to provide scoring punch off the bench, and that works for me, too. But they need a veteran who can show guys how to be professionals and win.

Aside that, there will be growing pains for a young Wizards team, hopefully for them just fewer of them. They need to learn from the mistakes of last season and take steps forward. It’s going to be gradual, like what we’ve seen over the past several seasons in Oklahoma City. The thing is, OKC gets very consistent play from its stars, the Wizards do not. Washington has to, especially from Blatche and McGee, two wildly talented guys who cannot put it together night in and night out.

Also, what they really need to do more is run. They ran some last season — ninth fastest pace in the NBA, which was a big step up from previous years — but that is not enough with this roster.

Watching John Wall in person at the Impact Training Series, I was reminded just how insanely fast he is with the ball in his hands. Wall is healthy now — he had nagging injuries all last season — and much more explosivethan he was when he last put on a Wizards uniform. He’s blowing by defenders that are just getting back and turning around. Add in Vesely — a big that really moves well up and down the court and can finish — plus Young, Blatche and McGee and you have a lot of guys who can close out in transition. Washington’s secondary break with bigs trailing the play should be deadly, and they should run drag screens all game long (where the trailing big sets a high screen for Wall or whoever has the ball, before the defense sets). This team should be a beast in transition.

But here’s the thing — transition offense starts with good defense. Not just making steals (although that’s nice) but getting the stop, the rebound and throwing a smart outlet pass to start everything. Keep taking the ball out of the basket and your running game can stall out. With the blocking machines that are McGee and Blatche in the paint, the Wizards have a good presence in the key. But Washington’s help rotations, defensive decisions and individual defense was just bad last season. That is the end where the Wizards need to improve if they are serious about improving as a squad.

The Wizards commitment to defense will determine just how big a step the team takes next season.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.