ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Washington Wizards

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Last season: The Wizards went 44-38, their best record since 2004-05. The playoffs were even sweeter. Washington upset the Bulls in the 4-5 matchup and took the Pacers to six games, making it the furthest the Wizards had gone in the postseason since 1979.

John Wall became an All-Star for the first time, and Bradley Beal appeared to be coming into his own during the playoffs.

The Wizards have been trying to win as much as possible as soon as possible for a couple seasons now. Finally, they did it at a satisfactory level.

Signature highlight from last season: Wall has raised his on-court awareness to a whole other level. Where he once attacked with reckless abandon, he’s now setting up Nene for game-winning dunks:

Offseason moves:

Keys to the Wizards season:

Bradley Beal maintaining his place among elite shooting guards:

Beal averaged 19.3 points per game in 11 postseason games. The only other players who averaged at least 17 points per game in as many postseason games:

  • Kevin Durant
  • LeBron James
  • Russell Westbrook
  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • Blake Griffin
  • Damian Lillard
  • Paul George
  • Joe Johnson
  • Chris Paul
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Tony Parker

Ten of those 11 were All-Stars, and the exception – Russell Westbrook – is a mainstay in the All-Star Game but had been battling injury early this season.

Simply, Beal played like a star in last year’s playoffs. Considering how weak shooting guards are league wide, he’s already in contention to be the best at that position behind James Harden.

But how soon will Beal, just 21, cement his place at or near the top? Was his playoff production a breakthrough or just his best during a small sample?

This season looms large in determining where Beal’s career is headed and how quickly he can get there.

Paul Pierce replacing Trevor Ariza: Trevor Ariza had more win shares than John Wall last season.

That probably reveals a flaw in the stat more than anything, but that Ariza was even so close should make you take a second look at just how good he was. His 3-point shooting gave Washington efficient points and spread the floor for his teammates, and Ariza was Washington’s top wing stopper on the other end.

I expect – though it’s far from a guarantee – the Wizards to take a step back on both sides of the court at small forward with Pierce replacing Ariza, who joined the Rockets.

However, Pierce is a proven winner, 16-year vet and NBA champion. Perhaps, he can teach the young Wizards about competing deep into the playoffs and offset his declining skills. Pierce replacing Ariza is not just about on-court production. It’s about leadership (to be fair, an area Ariza impressed last season). It’s about everything.

For Washington to step forward, it will be hard to absorb a step back at small forward, but that’s definitely possible.

Randy Wittman coaching at this level: Nobody in NBA history has coached as many games and had as bad a winning percentage as Randy Wittman, who holds a 191-329 career record.

Wittman’s reputation as a bad coach is so cemented, he oversaw his team make a 15-win improvement from the year prior without receiving a Coach of the Year vote – a rare distinction.

Is Wittman overlooked? Maybe.

Has Wittman improved? Probably.

Can Wittman guide a team with expectations through the regular season and deep into the playoffs? Um…

Washington’s starters are all signed through 2015-16. If the Wizards don’t build on their momentum and are looking for a way to upgrade, all eyes will turn to the head coach who’s still trying to prove himself.

Nene staying healthy: Since acquiring Nene, the Wizards have gone 63-62 with him and 21-43 without him.

Nene is a good player, but more than that, he’s a vital cog in what Washington does on both ends of the floor. He provides stability, allowing everyone else to fit into the roles that suit them best. When Nene is out, everyone else must compensate by working outside their comfort zones.

I don’t know whether there’s one “right” way to keep Nene healthy, but it’s important. Whatever the Wizards can do – from managing his training to managing his minutes – they should.

Why you should watch: I’d argue nobody in the NBA is faster with the ball, end to end, than John Wall. An enhanced understanding of how to change speeds has made him more effective, but he still turns on the jets from time to time.

Beal could be becoming a star before our eyes, and Nene and Marcin Gortat provide some old-school, two-big, bruising fun inside.

This is one of the East’s most complete teams.

Plus, don’t you want to preview Kevin Durant’s next team?

Prediction: 47-35. Wall predicted the Finals, but that’s overly optimistic in a conference that also features the Cavaliers and Bulls. The Wizards should improve from last season, but the top of the East is better.

There’s no reason Washington can’t emerge as the East’s third-best team, but that’s a deep scrum. If the Wizards get there – after selling some of their long-term upside in order to compete sooner – that should be viewed as a successful season.

Ultimately, I have them falling just short, finishing behind Cleveland, Chicago and Toronto in the pecking order. But Washington is right there.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.