NBA Season Preview: Washington Wizards

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Last season: 23-59, the fourth lowest win total in the entire league.

Head Coach: Flip Saunders, who may or may not be the best fit for this talented but undisciplined group of young players.

Key Departures: None yet, although Nick Young, who improved offensively last season, is a restricted free agent. Michael Lee of the Washington Post does a nice job breaking down Young’s status in limbo as he waits for some of the other free agent dominoes around the league to fall into place.

Key Additions: The biggest addition could be by someone already on the roster. By all accounts of what we saw during those pickup and charity games over the summer, John Wall is poised to have a breakout season. Injuries limited him last year, but he seems to be 100 percent healthy and as explosive as ever.
Best case scenario: Wall makes the leap, the team stays healthy, Saunders gets some control over the young goofballs on the team (looking at you, JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche), and Young re-signs. A lot has to happen, but if things fall into place, the Wizards, like most of last year’s bottom-feeders in the East, could have a shot at the postseason.

For that to happen: Flip Saunders has to get some control over his young players, and get his guys to buy in to a team concept of playing smart basketball on both ends of the floor. You may remember McGee throwing the entire players’ union under the bus during the lockout, saying on camera and in front of rolling tape recorders that some guys were “ready to fold.” That obviously has nothing to do with how he plays the game, but it speaks to his maturity level, which will need to increase.

If you need on-the-court evidence, look no further than this free throw line dunk attempt in garbage time, with his team trailing by 25 points — which he airballed, by the way.

Andray Blatche may not intentionally be as unaware as his teammate, but his lack of focus showed more than once last season, when he airballed wide open attempts at the rim. This is not a talent issue, it’s one of focus, and that will be the Wizards’ biggest challenge under Saunders this season.

More likely the Wizards will: Improve marginally, but only due to the consistent and improved play from Wall that everyone expects to see.

Prediction: 24-42, out of the playoffs. There’s some wiggle room here, as we wait to see how the Nick Young situation — whether or not he leaves and whether or not the team replaces him, and with whom — shakes itself out.

Report: Heat offered Kelly Olynyk with Josh Richardson, first-rounder for Jimmy Butler

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Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said they “wasted some time” trying to convince Jimmy Butler to stay.

Not only did they fail to persuade Butler… not only did they lose while dealing with the turmoil… they also passed on probably their best trade offer for the disgruntled star.

Before the season, the Heat offered Josh Richardson and protected first-round pick. But to satisfy the NBA’s salary-cap rules, Miami also had to include another player. Reportedly, that was Dion Waiters, who has a negative-value contract and would have dented Minnesota’s return.

But apparently the Timberwolves could have gotten Kelly Olynyk instead.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I’m told that Minnesota’s talks with the Heat largely collapsed when Thibodeau asked for a $5 million cash infusion from Miami as part of a deal that would have sent Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and a future first-rounder to the Wolves for Butler.

I’m not sure why this framed as Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau asking for $5 million. That money would have gone to Taylor. Why would Thibodeau care other than to appease his boss? However the money indirectly affected Thibodeau was only commensurate with how much it directly affected Taylor.

I’m also not sure why Minnesota pressed for the cash. This deal appears excellent without it, considering the circumstances.

Richardson looks like a breakout star, and he’s locked into a team-friendly contract for for more seasons. Olynyk – due $39,203,655 over the next three years – isn’t cheap, but he’s a good player. I picked him second for Sixth Man of the Year last season, and he’s still producing well this season. He’s far more valuable than Waiters, at least.

Perhaps, unreported elements of the Heat offer would have tilted it. We don’t know the protections on the first-round pick, for example. Maybe other players were included.

But this sure seems better than the package – headlined by Robert Covington and Dario Saric – the Timberwolves got from the 76ers for Butler.

Kobe Bryant nicknamed himself ‘Black Mamba’ to cope with aftermath of rape allegation

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In 2003, Kobe Bryant had sex with a woman – who, per Bryant’s own later statement – did not view the encounter as consensual.

Charges against him were dropped after the accuser refused to testify. He settled a civil suit with her.

Kent Babb of The Washington Post:

In the case’s aftermath, a landmark sexual assault scandal during the emerging 24-hour news cycle, Bryant’s jersey sales plummeted and McDonald’s and Coca-Cola cut ties.

“They didn’t want the gritty s—,” he says now. “And most people still don’t.”

Creating an alternate persona, he says now, was the only way he could mentally move beyond the events of Colorado.

“I don’t know what would’ve happened had I not figured it out,” he says. “Because the whole process for me was trying to figure out how to cope with this. I wasn’t going to be passive and let this thing just swallow me up. You’ve got a responsibility: family, baby, organization, whole city, yourself — how do you figure out how to overcome this? Or just deal with it and not drown from this thing? And so it was this constant quest: to figure out how do you do that, how do you do that, how do you do that? So I was bound to figure something out because I was so obsessively concerned about it.”

“During the Colorado situation, I said: ‘You know what? I’m just going to be me. I’m just going to be me.’ F— it. If I don’t like a question from a reporter, I’m going to say it,” he says. “If they ask me a question about this thing, I’m just going to tell them the truth.”

His fist strikes the desk.

“Like me or don’t like me for me.”

With that in mind, some within Bryant’s circle suggest he has convinced himself that Colorado either never happened or that, if he continues flooding his résumé with accomplishments, the public will neither remember nor care.

If that’s Bryant’s approach, he has been successful.

He played 12 more seasons after his case, making the All-Star team each year. He won won an Oscar. He regained many of his sponsorships and remains an effective endorser in retirement.

Bryant is beloved in most circles. His “Black Mamba” nickname is generally untainted, despite its origin.

The question: Why?

In the #MeToo era, others have been castigated for far less. Bryant admitted to what I’d call a reasonable definition of rape! Yet, he isn’t shunned.

I don’t know how Bryant has internally reconciled what happened in Colorado. Calling it the “gritty s—” doesn’t indicate the proper level of introspection. Neither does lamenting how difficult the situation was for him, as if he’s the victim. There was a woman hurt in all this, including receiving death threats after she came forward.

But Bryant hasn’t directly addressed the situation publicly since his statement admitting to sex she didn’t view as consensual. The portion of Babb’s article quoted above is as close as he has gotten. Per Babb, Bryant also refused to answer more specific questions.

So, why have so many people willingly glossed over Bryant’s past?

I’m open to Bryant redeeming himself. What happened in Colorado needn’t solely define him.

But it’s part of his story. If his accomplishments in basketball and entertainment – not his explanation of what happened in Colorado and how he’s grown from it – allow the public to move on, that’d be a shame.

It is a shame.

Report: Bucks’ John Henson out at least 12 weeks

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A year ago, John Henson and the Bucks were ready to move on from each other.

But Milwaukee kept him, and he started at center for last season’s playoff team. The Bucks signed Brook Lopez to start over him this year, but Henson has thrived as a backup. He has provided strong defense and even developed into a willing 3-point shooter to fit Mike Budenholzer’s system.

But, now Milwaukee will lose Henson for a while.

Bucks release:

Bucks center John Henson will be sidelined with a torn left wrist ligament. Henson initially aggravated his wrist at Portland on Nov. 6. He was able to play in the next three games before reporting additional discomfort in Wednesday night’s game vs. Memphis.

Yesterday, Henson was evaluated by Bucks orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Carole Vetter of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network. The evaluation confirmed the injury and surgery will be scheduled in the near future. His status will be updated following surgery.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a significant blow for Milwaukee, which has started 10-4 and has the NBA’s best scoring margin by a considerable margin.

Thon Maker will likely slide into the rotation. Christian Wood could get a chance behind Lopez, too. Ersan Ilyasova might play more at center.

The Bucks have a decent number of options.

But for a team rolling, any disruption to the status quo is unwelcomed.

Carmelo Anthony’s Rockets tenure ends as an oddity

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Carmelo Anthony played 20-39 minutes in each of Houston’s first 10 games.

Then, the Rockets determined he couldn’t play for them at all.

It’s a steep drop from major contributor to exile. There was apparently no middle ground for Anthony and Houston, which finally acknowledged the forward is finished with the team.

Anthony averaged 29.4 minutes per game with Houston. The last time someone received so much playing time and lasted fewer than 15 games with a team before getting waived during a season? Dennis Rodman with the Mavericks in 2000.

Rodman, then 38, signed with Dallas in February. He got ejected from two games and suspended for another. He twice challenged then-NBA commissioner David Stern to a fight, even saying the two should be naked for the brawl. Then, Rodman accused Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of being too chummy with his players. Dallas went 3-9 with Rodman playing 32.4 minutes per game before waiving him in March. The Mavericks (40-42) missed the playoffs by four games.

At least it wasn’t that bad for Anthony and the Rockets.

But Anthony’s tenure in Houston still shows fragility.

Anthony is barely a year removed from literally laughing at the idea of coming off the bench. He struggled with accepting a buyout because of how it’d look. He still has outdated ideas about who he is as a player.

Though Anthony accepted a reserve role with the Rockets, he still received major minutes and took plenty of shots. Houston didn’t waste time trying to coax him into a narrower role. The Rockets just paid deference to Anthony’s future-Hall of Fame status, maybe internally considered his friendship with Chris Paul and cut bait.

Anthony just isn’t good enough anymore. He’s a defensive liability with poor all-around production. Even his scoring has become substandard. There’s nothing to hang his hat on.

Anthony now joins the list of former stars who seemingly got jobs based on prior accomplishments then quickly proved they could no longer hack it. But even by that standard, Houston moved on historically quickly.

Here’s everyone who made at least five-time All-Star teams then lasted fewer than 30 games in a stint with a team:

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Where Anthony goes from here is unclear. It’s easier to find teams that don’t want him than do. Tracy McGrady called on him to retire.

If Anthony finds a new team, Houston could waive him or trade him there. If not, it’d be more cost-efficient for the Rockets to trade him – with a sweetener like cash or draft considerations – than waive him, which would lock in a luxury-taxable cap hit.

The bad news for Anthony: Most of the stints in the above chart came during the player’s final season.

Houston gave him a heck of a shot with no shortage of playing time. Then promptly gave up on him. It’s hard to get past the absurdity of that.

But the Rockets will try.