AP Photo/Nick Wass

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

6 Comments

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-

Luka Doncic greets Mexico City fans in Spanish, a tough act for Blake Griffin to follow (video)

Leave a comment

The Pistons had a rough time in Mexico.

Andre Drummond suffered an allergic reaction to avocado. Detroit lost to the Mavericks. And Blake Griffin had to follow Luka Doncic in addressing Mexico City fans.

A Slovenian, Doncic spent several years playing for Real Madrid in Spain. We knew that prepared him for the NBA. We didn’t know it prepared him this well.

‘Seinfeld’ predicted last night’s Cavaliers-Spurs game 28 years ago (video)

Leave a comment

On a 1991 episode of “Seinfeld,” Jerry woke up in the middle of the night with a joke idea for his stand-up routine. He scribbled it down on paper by his bed. But when he woke the next morning, he couldn’t read what he had written.

George suffered what he thought was a heart attack. On Kramer’s advice, George visited a holistic healer.

The storylines converged when Jerry, accompanying his friend to mock alternative medicine, asked the healer to read his note. The healer read it, laughed and said:

“Cleveland 117, San Antonio 109”

The score of last night’s Cavaliers-Spurs game?

Cleveland 117, San Antonio 109

Bucks easing into life after Malcolm Brogdon

Bucks
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

George Hill has become a trusted voice within the Bucks. The savvy veteran is in his 12th season. He began his career with the Spurs when they were still the gold-standard franchise, started for the championship-contending Pacers, helped the Jazz become a breakout team, played for the Kings, joined the Cavaliers as they made a run to the NBA Finals, stayed in Cleveland for the Cavs’ post-LeBron James freefall then came to Milwaukee. In other words, Hill has been (basketball) hell and back. He knows the game, knows the league.

Among his biggest talking points: role acceptance.

“I think that’s the difference between good teams and bad teams,” Hill said. “Good teams have guys that accept that role and excel in that role. That’s what good organizations do. And the bad teams have the ones that are just trying to chase their own stats.”

That sounds nice for someone where Hill is in his career. But what about young players still trying to establish themselves?

“You can make a lot of money being a great role guy,” Hill said. “You can last a lot longer in this league being a great role guy, a great teammate, a guy that everyone wants to play with and a guy that teams want you because they know you know how to win and you can fit with any type of style of play.”

A shining example of Hill’s worldview? Malcolm Brogdon.

Brogdon was mere months removed from winning Rookie of the Year when Milwaukee supplanted him at point guard – his preferred position – by trading for Eric Bledsoe. So, Brogdon shifted to shooting guard. He learned to keep the ball moving quickly rather than stunting the offense for his own looks. He sharpened his defense. He kept working hard.

The Pacers rewarded Brogdon with a four-year, $85 million contract and a leading role. Brogdon is flourishing in Indiana, building a case as an All-Star.

Meanwhile, the Bucks are trying to move on without him.

Milwaukee letting Brogdon leave in restricted free agency was the most consequential choice an NBA team made last summer. The Bucks are competing for a championship. They’re one season from Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s super-max decision. And they let a player as good as Brogdon depart?

There are reasons good (getting a first-rounder and second-rounder in a sign-and-trade with Indiana, maintaining flexibility without being tied to a long-term contract for someone with concerning injury issues, opening the door for cost-efficient replacements) and bad (avoiding the luxury tax) for the move. But it’s dangerous to willingly take a step back at such a critical juncture.

Except Milwaukee looks like it has hardly missed a beat.

The Bucks are 22-3. Their overall net rating season (+12.9) is higher than their net rating with Brogdon – who spent considerable time with other starters – on the floor last season (+10.7).

Maybe Milwaukee knew the guards – Wesley Matthews, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown – that could be added/empowered without Brogdon justified letting Brogdon walk. After all, the Bucks also have Bledsoe, Hill, Khris Middleton and Kyle Korver to bolster the lineup.

“That collection of wings,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said with a chuckle, “it’s really good. I don’t know how I can play them all.”

Matthews has replaced Brogdon in the starting lineup. Matthews brings a ruggedness that perfectly fits the Bucks’ NBA-best defense. Shooting 39% on 3-pointers, he also provides essential floor spacing.

It seems clear Brogdon’s exit ushered in Matthews’ entrance. Matthews signed a 1+1 minimum-salary contract last offseason, returning to the state where he grew up and played collegiately at Marquette.

“I’ve been eying Milwaukee for a couple years now,” Mathews said, “and it was just the timing was right, the fit, the style of play.”

Did Brogdon leaving and vacating a role factor?

“That’s part of saying the timing is right,” Matthews said. “They probably wouldn’t have called if Malcolm didn’t leave.”

What if they kept Brogdon and still called, wanting Matthews for depth?

“Fit was the key part,” Matthews said. “So, it probably would have been a different situation.”

The Bucks’ other notable minimum salary signing last summer, Kyle Korver, said Brogdon leaving a role open didn’t really factor into his decision.

Ditto for Hill, who re-signed for three years, $28,771,806 with $20 million guaranteed

“It was pretty much a no-brainer,” Hill said. “The camaraderie we have, from the top guy in Giannis all the way down to the bottom teammates, were amazing. The time that we had here, the success that we had, made it fun to be here.”

Brogdon’s departure also opened the door for a few incumbent players – DiVincenzo, Connaughton and Brown – to step up.

DiVincenzo has especially taken advantage. Though he was happy for Brogdon, DiVincenzo also recognized opportunity for himself after barely playing as a rookie.

“The Bucks drafted me for a reason,” said DiVincenzo, last year’s No. 17 pick. “I don’t think they drafted me just to sit on the bench. I think they drafted me to develop and put trust in me.”

DiVincenzo has already played more this season than last season, and he should be a Most Improved Player-ballot candidate. His defense has been tenacious. He’s growing into his role offensively as someone who can shoot, dribble and pass.

In the shuffle, Brown and Connaughton are actually receiving fewer minutes per game than last season. That can’t be easy in contract years. But they appear to be following Hill’s lead.

“It’s great!” Brown said of Milwaukee’s guard depth. “I love it. It’s competition all-around. Practices are great.”

For his part, Connaughton said he prides himself on always being ready regardless of his role. When he gave up professional baseball to play in the NBA, he made a conscious decision to enjoy every aspect of the process. So, sitting doesn’t bother him – especially with the Bucks winning. On all teams, it’s more difficult for anyone to gripe about playing time when winning.

Of course, it always comes back to Antetokounmpo. Without Brogdon’s playmaking, Antetokounmpo has taken on an even larger burden. Antetokounmpo is creating more of his own and his teammates’ shots, combining the differing skill sets he employed in previous years. That’s why he’s favored to win Most Valuable Player again.

Everything the Bucks are doing now is encouraging. The real tests will come in the playoffs and, relatedly, when Antetokounmpo has that super-max offer in front of him.

Antetokounmpo said he wanted Brogdon to remain Milwaukee. Kind words about a friend or a message to management? The answer will become clearer in the offseason.

First, the Bucks will look to build on last year’s run to the Eastern Conference finals. They’ll do it, for better or worse, without Brogdon.

“Yes, we wish we could have kept Malcolm,” Hill said. “It would have been great. But we know it’s a business, and we still thought that we have enough pieces to take a shot at it.”

Andre Drummond suffers allergic reaction to avocado with Pistons playing in Mexico

Andre Drummond
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA sent the wrong team to Mexico.

There to face the Mavericks last night, Pistons center Andre Drummond couldn’t even enjoy a local treat.

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Drummond toughed it out and played.

His reward? Getting dunked on by a mean-mugging Kristaps Porzingis in a 122-111 Detroit loss.