Rumor: Wizards want to be next Thunder rather than next Suns

Bradley Beal and Chris Paul in Suns-Wizards
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The Wizards’ record this season (34-38) is better than the Suns’ record last season (34-39).

Phoenix traded for Chris Paul and is now up 2-1 in the NBA Finals, giving hope to every mediocre team trying to convince itself it’s only one piece away.

But maybe Washington won’t fall into that trap.

Tom Haberstroh on “Standig Room Only

Reading the tea leaves and from what I gather talking to other executives, I think the Washington Wizards, instead of saying, “We could be the next Phoenix Suns,” I think they’re looking at this and saying, “We can be the next Oklahoma City Thunder and try to rebuild and rebuild from scratch.”

The Thunder traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook for major assets, jumpstarting what looks like a fruitful rebuild.

The Wizards have a highly coveted player in Bradley Beal. Though he has repeatedly gone out of his way to state his loyalty to Washington, it’s not up to him. The Wizards can trade him whenever they want and would fetch a significant return.

But the Wizards can’t be the Suns or Thunder.

Players as good as Chris Paul rarely come available for such a low cost. Phoenix got Paul so cheaply only because he’s so old and expensive. That was a worthwhile risk at the time, and it has worked out beautifully. But Washington almost certainly won’t have the same opportunity, let alone the same outcome.

The Suns also had a better roster of incumbent rising young players – Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges. As good as Beal is, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija aren’t close to making that leap. Russell Westbrook (32) has been trending the wrong direction for years, and Davis Bertans really disappointed this season.

As far as the Thunder, they got more for Paul George than the Wizards would for Beal. Oklahoma City just caught the perfect storm of the Clippers desperately trying to impress Kawhi Leonard (which worked). Plus, the Thunder got plenty for Westbrook… and Jerami Grant… and eventually Steven Adams… and eventually Chris Paul. The Thunder had a way better roster to teardown. Hence, they have a much bigger head start on rebuilding than Washington would.

The Wizards sinking into a rebuild would also be a stark change of course.

Maybe they’ll pivot. Beal is eligible for a large contract extension later this offseason. If he doesn’t sign it, that could push Washington to trade him rather than allow him to unrestricted free agency in 2021. After all his loyalty talk, Beal not signing the extension would serve as a strong signal to the Wizards.

But sometimes it seems there’s wishful thinking/projection happening when the Wizards get discussed outside Washington. Many teams want to poach Beal. A lot of people view the NBA through a championship-or-bust prism, which would push the Wizards to rebuild. But Beal has expressed atypical loyalty to Washington. The Wizards might be content keeping him and remaining in the postseason conversation rather than accepting a lower floor in pursuit of a higher ceiling.

So, I’m not totally convinced Washington will try (and fail) to be Oklahoma City rather than try (and fail) to be Phoenix.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.