The Wizards and a future of risk

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You know what I’d be angling for, were I an NBA GM?

A boat. Because those guys make a lot of money and I want a boat.

I’d also be angling for the Washington Wizards’ 2014 and 2015 first rounders.

Getting future firsts is difficult in the NBA. NBA front offices take a lot of flak for their decisions, but in general, they understand that you never know what can happen and you want to hold onto those things. Most teams have a pretty good sense of what the future holds. But the Wizards? They seem like they understand what the future holds, but they’re just not considerably concerned with it. As long as they win now, that’s what matters.

The Wizards’ trade of Rashard Lewis and his buyout-able contract to clear cap space to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza wasn’t a horrible move. There have been considerably worse trades made over the course of the past five years by other teams, and a few by the Wizards. A lot of it comes down to this: if you’re going to get nothing for Lewis, and then have to overpay with long-term contracts for veterans to move forward as a franchise, why not get something for Lewis and get contracts which have a shorter (but not expiring) shelf-life?

It’s a reasonable approach. It doesn’t mean that they can’t draft the best player available with the third pick. It doesn’t mean that they can’t move forward with the remaining young players that they have. It just means they didn’t give out money to veterans who would have wanted five-year deals. It does, however, mean that they are in win-now-while-building-for-the-future mode. That’s a popular approach right now. The Denver Nuggets are a great example of that. They can compete right now, make the playoffs, excel, but they’re also set to make a big move if one comes available. The Houston Rockets are right below them in that regard. So that’s kind of the approach. “Get better for the future while also getting the fanbase to appreciate you not being terrible.” That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

The problem is that the Nuggets have affixed themselves with players of high value and low-cost with younger assets on cheap deals while the Wizards have gone after veterans on big money with more miles on them. This isn’t building an exciting team that can also swing for the fences. It’s building a tolerable team that is just waiting to die. It’s a mix somewhere between the 2010 Bobcats and the 2012 Sixers.

There are any number of risks here, my biggest fears hidden in the idea that the rookie they draft this year doesn’t need heavy minutes. It’s true that rookies don’t play 40 minutes a night. There’s always room. But consider the situation. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Thomas Robinson would be entering into a situation where a coach who just made it out of the interim tag is coaching for his job, and has the option of playing a veteran who knows what he’s doing and knows how to win 30-35 minutes a night or splitting those minutes with a rookie who more than likely is going to need quite a bit of development. (If Bradley Beal falls to them, everything works out great and there are puppies and rainbows. This is a pretty likely scenario.).  In that case you’re risking limiting the kid’s confidence and hurting his development, all because you know that Trevor Ariza isn’t going to get completely lost chasing his guy off the backscreen or helping on the pick and roll recovery.

So that’s not a great scenario. But the Wizards feel like they need to win now. That they have to throw the fans a bone. And it’s true you have to get out of the cycle of losing and change the culture. But you do that by drafting quality players. I’m even fine with the Nene acquisition, that gives them the old guy to be a rock for this team. Throw in some low-minute veterans on affordable contracts.

But instead?

The Wizards are more than likely pleased that the contract for Okafor and Ariza expire just as John Wall is coming up for an extension. But consider that final year. Assuming neither player opts out (and  if they do, that’s actually worse, because now you’re already committed to the win now concept but just lost one of your valued veterans — Okafor has an Early Termination Option and Ariza a Player Option for 2013-2014), they’ll be going into that season with a 28-year-old Ariza, and a 31-year-old Okafor and Nene. If things go as planned, they won’t have a very good pick in the 2013 draft, because they’ll have improved enough to either escape the lottery or be at the very far reaches of it.

So you enter the final year of Ariza and Okafor’s deals trying to convince John Wall after having either made the playoffs and been vanquished in the first round under any conceivable matchup (does that team beat the Bulls without Derrick Rose, even?), or having won 35 games but barely missed the playoffs. You’re trying to convince John Wall to sign the extension (which he inevitably will, either during the season or in restricted free agency; guys don’t leave off their rookie years, just doesn’t happen). And so that’s when that team either has to sell out to try and make a big jump, or, if they haven’t really accomplished anything or if they get off to a bad start because of the way the team is constructed, they have to blow it up, tanking out.

So then that next year holds even more promise for a return to the high lottery as Nene turns 32 before the start of the season.

As long as you don’t trade them a player that makes them so considerably better that they improve to the point of avoiding that situation? You could wind up with quite the asset by obtaining a draft pick from Washington in either year.

These are a lot of ifs and contingencies. The Wizards could also flip Okafor with an ETO next year for a nice package or prospect. They could move some combination of players. John Wall could make the leap. But it shows you the danger of moving in this direction. The Wizards want to win now. But they need to be careful to make sure that they realize that if this thing starts to turn south, they need to bail for the friendly waters off Rebuild Island. The only sure way to develop into a respectable team long-term is through the lottery, to keep being terrible until you get the right combination of players to change things organically. The Wizards are trying to inject a techno-virus to change everything.

We’ll have to see if the patient survives the shock to the system.

Markelle Fultz’s steal, slam secures Orlando win against Washington (VIDEO)

Associated Press
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Markelle Fultz is fitting in nicely with the Orlando Magic.

The former No. 1 overall pick had a career-high 19 points and the deciding defensive play in a 125-121 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points and 17 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 25 points and nine assists, but the Magic nearly squandered an 18-point fourth quarter lead before Fultz stopped Washington’s rally.

Fultz made all six shots from the field in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers, and finished 8 for 10 from the field. However, it was his defensive play that decided the game.

With Orlando leading 119-116, Fultz stole a pass and was fouled as he dunked the ball with 36.1 seconds left. His free throw finished the 3-point play and gave Orlando a six-point cushion that stood up for the team’s fourth win in its last five games.

“That was definitely fun,” said Fultz, who was drafted No. 1 by Philadelphia 76ers in 2017 before being traded to Orlando midway through last season. “You live for moments like that when the game is on the line and you’re out competing to see what everybody is made of. I love it that I got a chance to make a big-time play and I finished it off.”

Orlando needed it to withstand a couple of fourth-quarter rallies by Washington and its 3-point shooting team. The Wizards made 10 of 15 3-pointers in the final period and scored 44 points, but couldn’t play enough defense to overtake Orlando.

Bradley Beal scored 34 points and had eight assists for Washington, which absorbed its fourth loss in five games. The Wizards got 21 points from C.J. Miles and 15 from Davis Bertans.

“We are 10 games in (to the season) now so we have to dial back the amount of excuses we have,” Beal said. “We compete hard enough to win every game. We are top five on offense, so we know that’s not the problem. We just have to get stops.”

 

Sixers rout Cavaliers 114-95 behind 12-of-14 shooting night from Tobias Harris

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Tobias Harris scored 27 points, Joel Embiid had 14 and the Philadelphia 76ers routed the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-95 on Sunday.

Cleveland nearly pulled off an upset in Philadelphia on Tuesday before falling 98-97, but the 76ers ended quickly ended any hope of a repeat.

Philadelphia went ahead midway through the first quarter and steadily built the lead, shooting 67% in the half. The lead reached 75-44 early in the third quarter.

Harris was 12 of 14 from the field, missing only one of 12 2-point attempts. Ben Simmons had 10 points and 11 assists, and the 76ers had six players score in double figures.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love took a hard fall after being flattened by Furkan Korkmaz while shooting in the lane in the first quarter. Love got up after being on the floor for a couple of moments and gave the thumbs-up sign to the crowd, remaining in the game.

Love scored 12 points in 25 minutes. Collin Sexton had 17 points for Cleveland, which has lost three straight and opened a stretch of five games in seven days.

The Cavaliers were ahead of the 76ers by five points late in Tuesday’s game, but couldn’t hold the lead. Love missed an open 3-pointer on the final possession.

Philadelphia shredded Cleveland’s defense this time with 33 assists on 46 baskets. The 76ers followed an 11-0 run with a 14-3 spurt to take a 60-31 lead on Harris’ dunk with four minutes to play in the second quarter.

Philadelphia had dropped five of seven going into the game, including consecutive losses in Orlando and Oklahoma City, but finished its road trip on a high note.

Marcus Smart’s potential game-winner sits on rim, rolls off, gives Kings win

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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Boston came in on a 10-game winning streak where they had played well on both ends of the court, but they also got some lucky rolls of the basketball.

Not Sunday.

With Boston down one, Marcus Smart put up a floater as time expired in Sacramento, it looked like the shot would fall, and…

Give the Kings credit, at a rough start they have gone 5-2 in November, and that despite injuries to Marvin Bagley Jr. and De'Aaron Fox. Buddy Hield had 35 points to lead the Kings, including going 7-of-12 from three.

The Celtics had a balanced attack with six players in double figures, but their offense was not as sharp as it has been. This was the first game it looked like they missed Gordon Hayward, who is out with a fractured hand.

Report: Last summer the Lakers, among others, were hoping Suns would buy out Aron Baynes

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Aron Baynes has been critical to the Suns racing out to a 7-4 start with the fourth-best net rating in the NBA. When Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games (after testing positive for a diuretic, a banned substance), Baynes has stepped up and been exactly what the Suns needed. He is scoring 15 points per game, shooting 46.5 percent from three (which is opening up the floor for guys like Devin Booker), and providing a big body defensive presence in the paint.

You can see why the Lakers and other teams were hoping Baynes would hit the market this summer. From Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Suns center Aron Baynes has emerged as a cornerstone piece for Phoenix early this season, supplying defense, leadership and, yes, shot-making. Phoenix acquired Baynes on draft night, and in the weeks to come contenders such as the Lakers hoped Baynes would reach a buyout with the Suns to hit the open market, sources said. Suns general manager James Jones and new head coach Monty Williams wanted Baynes — and are now receiving the rewards for the offseason move. Through 11 games, Baynes is averaging 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 46.8 percent 3-point shooting (two 3s made per game). Baynes will enter free agency next July, and as one team executive said, “He is positioning himself for well over $10 million per year.”

Smart move by Phoenix’s management to hold on to Baynes as an Ayton insurance policy (one they ended up needing). Plus, when trying to change a team’s culture (as Jones and Williams are working to do in Phoenix), you can’t have enough hardworking professionals in the locker room. Baynes brings that.

The Lakers thought they would have DeMarcus Cousins in the paint, but he tore his ACL over the summer. The tag team of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee has worked surprisingly well for Los Angeles to start the season.

In what will be a down free-agent market next summer, Baynes is going to be in demand. His payday is coming.