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Three Things to Know: 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think

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LOS ANGELES — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think. Watch the Wizards play and what is wrong grows more and more obvious. It’s not the defense — although it’s terrible, the Wizards are allowing 114.5 points per 100 possessions this season (26th in the NBA and 6.9 worse than they gave up last season). It’s not their three-point shooting, although the Wizards are hitting just 31 percent from three as a team. It wasn’t even that the Wizards got blown out by the Clippers 136-104 Sunday night.

It’s not the statistics at all.

Watch Washington in person and the team’s lack of chemistry is painfully obvious:

• When Bradley Beal slipped and went to the floor in the second half, it was Clipper Tobias Harris who helped him up because no Wizard teammate came over to. There were two other similar instances I noticed Sunday night where the Clipper player helped a Wizards player off the floor because teammates did not rush over to do so.

• When the Wizards took the court to start the game there was almost no interaction among players — Otto Porter was talking to the referee because that was the only person willing to talk to him.

• Clippers players seemed to be more concerned when Markieff Morris went down with an elbow to the face than the Wizards (Morris left the game with a concussion).

The Wizards are clearly playing for themselves and not each other, not the team.

“That was the first thing Scotty [Brooks, Wizards’ coach] said after the game,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “He said, ‘Man, your guys are just, watching them, you just feel the energy and you just feel them. They get along.”

Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal have spoken before about guys playing for themselves and their stats, not sacrificing for the team, and that theme — on the court and in the locker room — carried over into Sunday.

“Just gotta go out there and compete,” John Wall said. “We play like a team that’s 5-1 and people are just going to lay down, we got to play with a sense of urgency that we’re 1-5 now…. “When you play the game of basketball you can’t worry about how many points you got, how many steals you got, how many assists you got, it’s just competing.”

Beyond the chemistry, of all the on-court problems, nothing is going to change until the defense improves.

“Our defense is horrendous…” Austin Rivers said. “You’ve got to have personal pride. You’ve got to get mad when someone scores on you. We’re not the Warriors.”

“Just heart. Just heart and pride,” Wall said of what it will take to fix the defense. “Guard your man one-on-one, that’s really the main key. We gotta do a better job of switching — when we do do that, like we did in the first quarter, I think we played the best we have played for a while.”

The switching trend in the NBA is giving the Wizards problems on both ends.

“On offense when we get (a switch we like), we take a bad shot sometimes and bail those guys out,” Wall said. “When they put us in bad situations, we gamble too much or don’t stay on the play and get a stop… we do a good job of it in practice, but we have to bring the same competitive edge we have competing against each other in practice to playing someone else.”

Washington’s play is ugly and coach Scott Brooks could pay the price with his job if things don’t improve. He certainly is not faultless in all this.

However, the Wizards have changed coaches before. They have changed players around on the periphery then spun it as trying to fix chemistry issues (Marcin Gortat going to the Clippers is the latest along those lines). Everything changes except the core, and yet the same problem exists.

Which means maybe it’s getting to be time for the Wizards to take a fresh look at that core and if it works.

2) Does firing of Tyronn Lue mean Cavaliers realize it’s time to go all-in on the rebuild? Last July, when LeBron James decided to head west, the Cavaliers brain trust decided to pivot to… nobody is sure what exactly. They wanted to walk the very fine line of a rebuild on the fly — compete now while building for the future — and they fell off that tightrope.

This isn’t a team built to win now, not with Kevin Love leading an aging roster constructed to support LeBron — Tristan Thompson, George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver. They are not a group built to create great looks and rack up wins on their own. There’s a reason Vegas set the under/over on wins for the Cavaliers this season at 31.5.

It’s also not a rebuild in Cleveland. How many players on the Cavaliers are younger than 25? Four. Just four — Collin Sexton, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Sam Dekker. Guys we think of as young — Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood — are all 26 and closer to their prime, and they all come with questions.

Sunday Lue paid the price for a 0-6 start and a sense among the front office in Cleveland they needed to go another direction, a coach better suited to a young team (even if the Cavs are not yet htat).

That start, however, was not about Lue. It’s about a team in limbo. The Cavaliers need to pick a path. Rebuilding would make the most sense.

Play Colin Sexton more and live with the at times painful learning process. He’s got real potential, but he’s still adjusting to the speed of the NBA and settles for far too many long twos.

More importantly, it’s time to start working to trade the veterans and getting pieces for a rebuild back (picks and prospects). There will a market at the deadline for Kyle Korver — a shooter on a fair contract, $7.6 million this season and with a $3.4 million buyout for next season. George Hill is overpaid this season ($19 million) but he is a solid point guard when healthy and come the deadline there could be teams willing to take the hit this season knowing he has a $1 million buyout next season. J.R. Smith, at $14.7 million this season (with a $3.9 million buyout next season) will be harder to move because, without LeBron, teams are not sure how much he will help them.

Love is the big piece to move, but with his new contract it’s a lot harder. That is probably a next summer move — but it’s one they need to start moving toward.

3) Oklahoma City gets first win of the season. When you’re busting out of a slump, you don’t care where and how it happens. So what if the Phoenix Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back? Who cares if they didn’t have Devin Booker?

What matters is Paul George and Russell Westbrook scored 23 points a piece and the Thunder got their first win of the season, 117-110.

Westbrook was doing Westbrook things all night.

Also, don’t sleep on Nerlens Noel, who had 20 points and 15 boards.

NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern: ‘Dell Demps is a lousy general manager … and he may lose Anthony Davis’

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David Stern’s blamed the Rockets and Lakers for the fallout from the vetoed Chris Paul-Lakers trade. Stern blamed former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak specifically for the deal falling through.

And now Stern is blaming Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.

A refresher on events: In 2011, Stern was serving as both NBA commissioner and owner representative of the New Orleans franchise (then called the Hornets). George Shinn had sold the Hornets back to the league, which was in the process of re-selling the franchise. Chris Paul requested a trade from New Orleans, and Demps agreed to send him to the Lakers in a three-way trade with the Rockets. The Hornets would have gotten Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. But Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, not commissioner, he says – vetoed the deal. It’s standard for owners to exercise final say on deals of that magnitude, but Stern’s dual roles opened many questions about his true agenda. The Hornets then traded Paul to the Clippers for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a first-round pick (eventually used on Austin Rivers).

It depends how much hindsight and supposition you want to apply, but Stern probably got New Orleans a better deal. Dragic developed into a star, and Martin and Scola remained quality contributors for a while, but Odom fell way off, and the Hornets would have likely been middling-to-bad with the initial trade. Younger players like Gordon and Aminu and Kama’s large expiring contract gave New Orleans far more flexibility. And though Gordon battled numerous injuries there, Aminu didn’t blossom until he left and Rivers was a disappointing top-10 pick (who also hit his groove after leaving), New Orleans got something else in the trade – a clear rebuilding direction. New Orleans was bad the following season and got the No. 1 pick, Anthony Davis.

Still, the episode casts a shadow over Stern’s legacy – from people who don’t understand Stern’s unique place as commissioner/owner and from people who do understand but are suspicious of Stern’s unknowable motives in keeping Paul from the Lakers.

So, Stern is still fighting perception.

Stern, via Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:

“I didn’t do a great job of explaining it at the time. There was a trade that [New Orleans GM] Dell Demps wanted us to approve and I said heck no, but he had told [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey and [then Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak he had authority to do it and he didn’t. I said no. We just settled a lockout and you want me to approve a basketball trade?”

“[Demps] had agreed to [trade Paul to the Lakers for] Kevin Martin and Luis Scola or something, and I said we can do better than that…. And the next trade was [to the Clippers for] Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu and what we thought was a really great draft pick, the 10th pick, which turned out to be Austin Rivers. At least those three and someone else [center Chris Kaman]. But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.”

This is wild! Forget for a moment whether Stern was right or wrong in his handling of the situation. He still holds a title with the league, “Commissioner Emeritus.” Though je has criticized teams before, for someone in his position to so strongly attack a sitting general manager by name like this is so extreme.

Just as Stern wasn’t wrong about the trade, he isn’t necessarily wrong here. Demps has a dismal track record, though he has upgraded his performance to questionable recently. And Davis might leave the Pelicans, a potential outcome that hangs over the franchise.

But – wow. This hell of a message from Stern, even considering his blunt and confrontational manner (which is on full display in Ballard’s excellent profile, which is worth reading in full).

Austin Rivers: Everybody, ‘so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers,’ overlooking Wizards and Pacers

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We picked the Celtics, Raptors, 76ers and Bucks to be the top four teams in the Eastern Conference this year and ranked the Wizards and Pacers next. If that’s not the consensus, it’s close to it.

Wizards guard Austin Rivers, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

“I think we’re heavily slept-on,” he tells me. “Team’s been to the playoffs, what, the last five, four or five years? Then going into this year, you add me, Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and nobody seems to talk about us. So I just think we’re heavily slept-on, but that’s fine. At the end of the day, nothing really matters until the season starts and we set that tone for ourselves. I get the hype of a couple of the other teams, but I think we have a chance to compete with the best of the East.”

I tell him I recently spoke to Tyreke Evans, who said something similar about the Indiana Pacers. Rivers gets more animated.

“Yeah, I would say Indiana’s the other team that gets slept-on, too,” he says. “You look at Indiana, they took Cleveland to seven games and then damn near, arguably could have beaten them.”

Rivers rattles off Evans’ stats from last season, then continues: “That’s who they just added to the team? And nobody seems to talk about the Pacers because everybody’s so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers. And rightfully so: they’re both talented teams. But Indiana is just as good as both those teams. And I think we’re in the same situation.”

I agree the Wizards and Pacers had positive offseasons. But Indiana might have been punching slightly above its weight as a surprise team last year, and Washington’s problem has often been overconfidence.

In that regard, Rivers – acquired in an offseason trade from the Clippers – is already fitting right in. The brashness might be good for Rivers, but it’s not what the Wizards need.

Washington could have a good season. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are a strong starting point in the Eastern Conference, and Dwight Howard could help with the right attitude and health. Rivers is a quality reserve. But let’s pump the brakes on calling Jeff Green a key addition, though Rivers would be only one of many – including someone in his immediate family – to make that error.

Clippers biding their time until star hunt

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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.

Lob City is the proudest era in Clippers history. Really, it’s the franchise’s only proud era since moving to California. After reaching the playoffs just four times in the first 33 years post-Buffalo, the Clippers qualified all six years Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan played together. In that span, only the Spurs and Thunder won more games.

And now it’s over.

The Clippers moved the final remaining link from their 2012-2017 teams by trading Wesley Johnson yesterday. That’s historic turnover, as the roster is completely remade just two years later. Since the early 1950s, only the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely changed their rosters within two seasons.

L.A.’s flux comes with big eyes. The Clippers are trying to lure star free agents, which means closely monitoring situations elsewhere. Entering the season with the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard reportedly favors the Clippers. Jimmy Butler is unhappy with the Timberwolves – ideal for the Clippers, who want to avoid another pleasing team landing his Bird Rights. Though Kevin Durant rumors are focused on the Knicks, talk of him leaving the Warriors could mean L.A. is at least in the mix.

The Clippers project to be able to unilaterally open about $63 million in cap space without stretching players next summer.

Creating so much flexibility required stinginess this summer. The only free agents signed to multi-year guarantees were Montrezl Harrell (two years, $12 million) and Avery Bradley ($12 million this season, just $2 million of $12.96 million guaranteed next season).

The Clippers also gave multi-year deals to their first-round picks, No. 11 pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and No. 13 pick Jerome Robinson. I’m much more bullish on Gilgeous-Alexander. Those two rookies could be important in building back up, because for the second straight summer, the Clippers lost their best player.

After Paul engineered his way to the Rockets last summer – with Griffin traded to the Pistons between – Jordan left for the Mavericks this summer. His fit in L.A. had become awkward, and though he was willing to take a one-year deal (at least with Dallas), everyone seemed ready to move on. This seemingly wasn’t about maintaining flexibility. It was about turning the page.

The Clippers will miss Jordan on the court next season. They replaced him with Marcin Gortat, acquired in a trade for Austin Rivers, but that’s a downgrade.

Gortat (like Rivers) is on an expiring contract. So are Luc Mbah a Moute – a Lob City contributor returning after a stint in Houston – and Mike Scott, who each signed one year, $4,320,500 deals for half the mid-level exception.

The Clippers look deep and feisty after all this tinkering around Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari. They probably won’t make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, but they should remain competitive enough to stay on the radar of free agents.

Remember, though, the Clippers entered the summer coming off a winning season and with plenty of 2019 cap space. They were always setting up to make a big splash next summer. They just took a small step back this summer, which will be no problem if they make their desired leap in a year.

Offseason grade: C-

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 a 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-