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.

Not so fast: Austin Rivers reportedly will not sign in Memphis, other teams interested

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Austin Rivers is a below-average guard (his 7.1 PER this season is well below his 10.4 career average, and that was already troublingly low) and certainly was not the most popular guy in the Clippers’ locker room, but for a team in desperate need of guard depth, they could do worse. Especially for a minimum contract the rest of this season.

Which is why the rumors of Rivers to Memphis after he clears waivers from the Suns made some sense (Rivers was traded to Phoenix from Washington in the Trevor Ariza deal). Mike Conley is a borderline All-Star but behind him the Grizzlies are giving Shelvin Mack, MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden, and others regular run. Maybe Rivers could help.

But…

Rivers will not be signing in Memphis, reports the well connected Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian.

Contrary to today’s reports, a source with knowledge of the negotiation tells The Daily Memphian that while the Grizzlies considered the matter, the team is not signing Rivers. Unlike on Friday night, when early reporting seemed to reveal some internal confusion among the NBA teams involved in a proposed transaction, this seems merely to be a case of a premature report.

Even The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who first broke the news, has backed off.

There is not a huge demand for Rivers’ services, but some team in need of depth will role the dice.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse fined $15k for criticizing refs on behalf of Kawhi Leonard

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After the Raptors lost to the Nuggets on Sunday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse said:

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said in a two-part rant that will earn him a fine from the league office. “So he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.

“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Predictably…

NBA release:

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

This obviously doesn’t come close to putting the Raptors over the top for Leonard in free agency next summer. Los Angeles teams are still favored. But this bodes well for Toronto re-signing Leonard.

Not only did Nurse endear himself to Leonard, the coach might even help Leonard get a more favorable whistle going forward. If that happens, it’ll make the Raptors more likely to win and therefore more likely to keep Leonard.

Dave Joerger: Luka Doncic praise not veiled shot at Kings’ front office or Marvin Bagley, who’s the next Kevin Durant

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Kings coach Dave Joerger said of Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic:

“Perhaps there was an idea that there was a ceiling on him – I don’t see it, unfortunately for us,” Joerger said. “He’s great for them and he’s great for our league.”

It was easy to read into that statement. Sacramento drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2, passing on Doncic, who went No. 3. One of Bagley’s key supporters has been Kings assistant general manager Brandon Williams, and Williams and Joerger have been feuding.

Now, Joerger is fighting the inferences.

Joerger, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“All we’re trying to do is say something positive about another team’s player,” Joerger said. “There’s no veiled shots at anybody. De’Aaron (Fox) gushed about him and Bogi (Bogdan Bogdanovic) gushed about him and his ability and wishing him the best. It’s unfortunate that we had to play him and so is the rest of the league because the guy is playing really well right now.”

“It was out of love and positivity and people are trying to turn it something between Vlade (Divac) and I. Vlade and I are like this. Three years we’ve been working together and we love it. I love him.”

“When we drafted Marvin at two, we were high-fiving like crazy. We got the right guy for us and where we’re going to be. This isn’t going to be a story in three days and it will definitely be buried five years from now when we have the next (Kevin) Durant, (Russell) Westbrook, because that’s how good they are going to be. They are both going to be in the All-Star game and we’re going to be deep in the playoffs and I’m excited about that. I like where we are and love we’re going.”

Talk about an overcorrection. Durant and Westbrook have each won MVP. When those two reached their primes and stayed healthy, the Thunder made the Western Conference finals every year. Fox is having a breakout season and is on the star track, and Bagley looks solid for a rookie. But that’s an insanely high bar.

It might even be Joerger protesting too much, to the point he adds only more belief to the idea his initial statement contained subtext.

Maybe that’s unfair to Joerger. Coaches frequently praise opposing young players with “unfortunately for us” – meaning “unfortunately for us” we must play against him for many years. This could have been totally innocent.

But I can’t help but notice Joerger mentioned Divac, who quickly gave the coach a vote of confidence when hot-seat talk emerged, and not Williams. Joerger also made a point guard-small forward comparison, even though Fox and Bagley are a point guard and power forward/center – unless you recall Divac saying Bagley could play small forward. Another veiled shot at the front office?

I really don’t think so. But Sacramento’s years of dysfunction make people see rifts and subtle jabs where none might exist. That’s just something the Kings will have to deal with until they sustain success.

Report: Austin Rivers signing with Grizzlies

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The Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies are trapped in a transaction triangle.

After a three-way trade between the teams fell through due to Brooks confusion, Washington and Phoenix completed a simplified version of the deal. The Suns sent Trevor Ariza to the Wizards for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers, whom Phoenix is waiving.

Rivers’ landing spot? Memphis of course.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Don’t expect Rivers to be a major difference maker in Memphis. He’s a solid defender who had been a decent 3-point shooter the last couple seasons but not at all so far this year. When not spotting up, he’s often overly ambitious – but occasionally impressive – as a driver.

Rivers will add depth at shooting guard, where the Grizzlies have Garrett Temple, Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks and Shelvin Mack.

Memphis must waive one player now. It could be MarShon Brooks. We know how the Grizzlies (and Suns) view him.

This signing leads to a conspiracy theory I don’t believe, but find interesting: The Grizzlies agreed to the trade with Dillon Brooks… learned the full parameters of the deal… realized they’d rather just sign Rivers outright than deal Dillon Brooks, Selden and a second-rounder for Kelly Oubre… claimed they meant MarShon Brooks all along… let the Wizards ship Rivers to the Suns, who’d waive him… signed Rivers.

When undermining the original three-team deal, the Grizzlies would have had to know Washington and Phoenix would complete their own trade with Rivers getting waived. Perhaps, Memphis surmised that while the teams negotiated, but the timing – and complexity – makes that unlikely. But still fun to consider.