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Wizards face financial check on their commitment, don’t blink

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There’s a simple plan for getting good in the NBA:

1. Be bad

2. Spend

The Wizards executed step two this summer.

More quietly and less deliberately, Washington achieved the result Sam Hinkie’s Process aimed for. Between 2009 and 2013, the Wizards lost their way into picks Nos. 5, 1, 6, 3 and 3.

They didn’t always get it right. They traded the No. 5 pick in 2009 for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, who each spent one forgettable season in Washington before departing. They drafted Jan Vesely No. 6 in 2011.

But those failures only ensured Washington would get more bites at the apple with high draft picks. The Wizards emerged from their downturn with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

That trio led Washington to its best season best season (49-33, reaching Game 7 of the second round) in nearly four decades. Now, the Wizards are covering the costs of continuing the run.

After signing Beal to a max contract last summer, Washington matched a max offer sheet for Porter (from the Nets) and inked Wall to a super-max extension this summer. Those three are guaranteed a whopping $418,157,188. The Wizards are on track to pay the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history.

And the spending didn’t end at just their top players.

Washington also traded the No. 52 pick for Tim Frazier, who’s cheap for a backup point guard at $2 million but costlier than the second-round pick would have been. Though we’ve said it about others before, Frazier could shore up those minutes behind Wall.

The Wizards spent a portion of the mid-level exception to give Jodie Meeks a two-year, $6,744,500 contract with a player option. I didn’t love that deal nearly as much. The 30-year-old Meeks has missed 147 games the last three years. But, if healthy, the sharpshooter should help.

More importantly, signing Meeks rather than a minimum player signals Wizards owner Ted Leonsis’ commitment to winning.

The spending hit its limit when Washington restricted free agent Bojan Bogdanovic got $12 million guaranteed in a two-year, $21 million deal with the Pacers. Still, the Wizards are headed toward a payroll unprecedented for them.

They aren’t guaranteed to pay the luxury tax, which is assessed the last day of the regular season. They could try some funny business to dodge the tax, like dumping Jason Smith and not carrying a full roster throughout the season. Daniel Ochefu and Sheldon Mac are guaranteed just $50,000.

But Washington’s most direct path under the tax line is trading Marcin Gortat or Ian Mahinmi. The well-paid centers are redundant, to the point Gortat indicated an expectation he’d be traded. Smith can easily serve as the full-time backup center, and Markieff Morris can also play the position. Porter slides to power forward in some of the team’s most effective lineups.

Gortat and Mahinmi probably hold negative trade value, though. The 33-year-old Gortat has declined the last few years and is still owed $26,347,827 over the final two years of his contract. Mahinmi, 30, missed 51 games last season. His injury risk is considerable for someone with three years and $48,055,846 left on his deal.

If the Wizards knew which center they could rely on, they might bear the significant cost of unloading the other. But they can’t know. Gortat and Mahinmi are insurance for each other.

The worst thing Washington could do is trade the wrong one and wind up with no effective centers when it matters most – which is a far more favorable dilemma than what the Wizards could’ve faced. They could’ve used being strapped with Gortat and Mahinmi as reason for letting Porter – a young player who’s awesome in his role – walk.

Instead, they head toward the season with all three – stronger on the court because of it.

Washington has changed how the franchise is discussed, winning three playoff series in the last four years and going .500 the other season. Wall (26), Beal (24) and Porter (24) are young enough to keep advancing the conversation.

The Wizards dipped their toes into the Paul George waters this summer. Though they didn’t get him, they emerged unscathed and looking a little more credible for stars.

Washington probably won’t have cap room any time soon, but flexibility is inherent in winning, which lifts players’ values. A lengthened run – fortified by this summer’s spending – could also pay off years from now.

The roster didn’t change much, but keeping that chemistry proved costly. Credit Leonsis for committing.

Offseason grade: B-

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.