Ernie Grunfeld sticking with the plan for Wizards

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The Wizards roster that was assembled over the last year was really a multi-year plan — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Nene each had multiple years on their contracts. The Wizards were locking themselves in.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that team president Ernie Grunfeld said the goal is to stick with the plan in Washington. He spoke with the media, including our man Ben Standig at CSNWashington.com, and the focus was largely “let’s see what this roster can do when healthy.”

First and foremost on the list this summer for the Wizards is to extend John Wall’s contract. But do you give him the max he wants?

“I think John had a very good year, and he showed that he makes a difference on the team. There’s no question about that, and he’s eligible for an extension. July 1 is the first day we can talk about that, and we’ll have conversations with him, his representatives, to see if we can work something out

Obviously, we’ve said all along that we’re building this team around John and with John. We want to have him here long term.

I think Wall is going to get a healthy offer from the Wizards, but not a max. Then the ball is in his court.

The Wizards have talked about re-signing free agent Martell Webster, that is a priority. But what about the other young players on the team who will be back on their rookie deals — Jan Vesley, Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin?

“I think this is a big summer for all of them. They all need to improve, they all need to work hard. They all have a plan this summer, they will all be doing different things. Obviously, we did add six new players and those players got significant playing time. Consequently, those players didn’t play as much as they did the year before because we probably had better players this time at those positions and more experienced at this time. This is a big summer for the players and they have to improve. I think when they did get their opportunities, they had some productive moments, but it’s hard to play on a consistent level if you don’t have the consistent minutes.”

Look for Bradley Beal, Vesley and Singleton to play for the Wizards in Summer League.

And the other thing that seemed clear — Randy Wittman will be back as coach.

“I think Randy did a very good job for us this season. He kept the ship afloat. Kept the guys motivated. Kept them competitive on a nightly basis.”

Bottom line, Grunfeld wants to see what this lineup can do when healthy — which at the end of last season was an above .500 team, a playoff team. That’s the goal for next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo suspended, ramifications on Western Conference playoff race

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Giannis Antetokounmpo headbutted Moritz Wagner.

OF COURSE Antetokounmpo was getting suspended for that.

NBA release:

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has been suspended one game without pay for headbutting Washington Wizards center Moritz Wagner during a stoppage in play, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Antetokounmpo will serve his suspension Thursday when Milwaukee faces the Memphis Grizzlies

This is a huge game for the Grizzlies. If they win, they’ll make the play-in. Lose, and they’d need both the Suns (to the Mavericks) and Spurs (to the Jazz) to lose in order to advance.

Obviously, Antetokounmpo is a force. But Milwaukee has nice depth and has been quite good without him. On the other hand, Bucks have also already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and might take it easy tomorrow, regardless. On the other other hand, Milwaukee – with a chance to reach the NBA Finals – might be one of the teams trying to get the top-seeded Lakers the toughest-possible first-round matchup in the West.

That’s not Memphis, which has limped to the finish. The Grizzlies are just 1-6 in seeding games. Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow are all injured.

Memphis has a chance against the Bucks tomorrow. Antetokounmpo’s unavailability only increases it. But it’s not as if this suspension suddenly gives the Grizzlies a shoe-in victory.

As has been the case all along, they’ll have to earn their way into the playoffs.

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
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The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
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The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

NBA COVID-19
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It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.