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Grading the Washington Wizards offseason

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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 fine line between a young team building chemistry while growing and a team that has stalled.

The Wizards appeared to cross that threshold last season.

For just the second time in seven years, Washington’s record didn’t improve from the previous year. Also for the just the second time in five years, the Wizards didn’t reach the second round.

The last time both happened, they fired coach Randy Wittman. They didn’t dump Scott Brooks this year. With his contract, he’s entrenched.

But they did shake up the roster with a few moves that carry the potential to help Washington escape this muck or backfire in spectacular fashion. For a team that has become so uninspiring, the risk should be welcome.

Trade Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers? Sure. Perimeter talent comes at a premium. Bigs are more easily replaceable.

Sign Dwight Howard? Sure. For all his foibles, Howard remains an elite rebounder, high-quality interior defender and helpful pick-and-roller. The taxpayer mid-level exception is a bargain for a starter of his caliber.

Sign Jeff Green? Sure. He’s coming off a career year, as he finally better understands how he can – and more importantly, can’t – contribute to winning. A minimum salary suits him.

Howard and Rivers particularly certainly add personalities to a locker room with John Wall and Bradley Beal. But Wall and Gortat already clashed. How much worse could it be with Howard? Rivers will get along better with teammates when his dad isn’t coach, and he has become more self-aware. (The same can’t necessarily be said about Howard.)

These are manageable issues relative to what Washington could have faced.

Credit Wizards owner Ted Leonsis for hanging above the luxury-tax line. After paying the tax for the first time in franchise history last season and not getting even a single playoff-series victory, he could have rushed to trim salary. Trading the No. 15 pick – instead used on Troy Brown Jr. – to unload a bad contract would have been quite typical for this franchise.

This doesn’t mean Leonsis will keep spending big forever. Next summer looks like a possible breaking point if Washington doesn’t produce this season.

Starting power forward Markieff Morris and promising but inconsistent forward Kelly Oubre Jr. will become free agents. Wall’s super-max extension will kick in. Otto Porter, Beal and Ian Mahinmi will remain on massive deals.

Unless they’re far more willing to spend than understood, the Wizards would be wise to get out ahead of an even more daunting luxury-tax crunch. Just letting Morris and/or Oubre walk would be disappointing.

But there’s still time for a preemptive solution. It didn’t have to happen this offseason.

I’m not certain the Wizards will be better this year. But in a summer they appeared likely to take a step back, they gave themselves a real chance to be better. This was the right time to invite variance, and Washington did it shrewdly.

Offseason grade: B-

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.

Knicks reportedly remain open to trading Julius Randle

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Back at the trade deadline in February, the Knicks and Hornets discussed a Julius Randle trade, it just never came together. New York continued to stumble through the season, with the combination of Randle and RJ Barrett — two ball-dominant, inefficient scorers who don’t space the floor — never meshing.

Now officially onto their offseason (the Knicks are not one of the 22 teams headed to the NBA restart in Orlando), New York and new team president Leon Rose remain open to trading Randle, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post in a Q&A.

Undoubtedly the Knicks are open to [trading Randle]. His contract for next season ($18.9 million) is manageable but the downside is he will count $4 million on the 2021 cap if they don’t exercise his team option after next season. The 2021 free-agent class is golden. Randle had his moments as a double-double force and is still early in his prime. But Randle’s defense is below average and it’s been reported here his knack of over-dribbling frustrated some teammates, including RJ Barrett. And a bigger disappointment was Randle lost his magic from the 3-point line (27.7 percent). As David Fizdale noted recently, the Knicks could use a 3-point shooting stretch 4. Someone like, say Kristaps Porzingis.

Quality little dig with Porzingis at the end.

The challenge in trading Randle becomes finding a dance partner. Randle has talent and is a floor raiser for a struggling team — he averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds a game — but he’s not a consistent All-Star level talent teams are going to build around. Going back to the trade deadline, Randle would have made Charlotte better in the short term, but long term the Hornets are better off going into the draft lottery and adding talent rather than trying to make a late push for the eighth seed.

What role Randle plays for the Knicks next year will depend on the coach Rose hires — likely Tom Thibodeau — and what direction the organization goes in terms of building with youth vs. going after veterans. Rose has a lot of other things higher up on his to-do list than a Randle trade at this point.