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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-

Tacko Fall’s agent confident if Celtics don’t keep him on roster another team will

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Tacko Fall was arguably the most popular player at Las Vegas Summer League (especially since Zion Williamson only played nine minutes). Fans chanted for him to get in games and then chanted “M-V-P” once he was in. Fall averaged 7.2 points a game on 77 percent shooting at Summer League and every play he made became a viral highlight.

But that was Summer League.

Now things are getting real and Fall is trying to make the Celtics’ roster. Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics, which is essentially a training camp invite.

It’s a longshot Fall makes the Celtics’ regular season roster for two reasons. First, Fall needs a lot more development to be NBA ready, both physically and in terms of understanding and reacting to the game and how fast it moves. That was evident in Las Vegas. Second, the Celtics have Enes Kanter starting at center with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams behind him, it’s unlikely they keep a fourth traditional center on the roster. Both of Boston’s two-way contracts are already filled.

If the Celtics cut Fall and he signs with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Fall gets a $50,000 bonus.

However, Fall’s agent Justin Haynes says if Boston cuts Fall he believes another team will sign him, something Haynes told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

“If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” said Haynes, Fall’s agent. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”

I could see another team giving Fall one of their two-way contracts, but he needs a lot more development and time on the court. He needs time in the G-League. Maybe a team gives him a roster spot and develops him there, but that seems unlikely. Fall has the potential to be an NBA player, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get there.

Work that this year likely will take place in the G-League.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”