Davis Bertans

Associated Press

Markelle Fultz’s steal, slam secures Orlando win against Washington (VIDEO)

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Markelle Fultz is fitting in nicely with the Orlando Magic.

The former No. 1 overall pick had a career-high 19 points and the deciding defensive play in a 125-121 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points and 17 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 25 points and nine assists, but the Magic nearly squandered an 18-point fourth quarter lead before Fultz stopped Washington’s rally.

Fultz made all six shots from the field in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers, and finished 8 for 10 from the field. However, it was his defensive play that decided the game.

With Orlando leading 119-116, Fultz stole a pass and was fouled as he dunked the ball with 36.1 seconds left. His free throw finished the 3-point play and gave Orlando a six-point cushion that stood up for the team’s fourth win in its last five games.

“That was definitely fun,” said Fultz, who was drafted No. 1 by Philadelphia 76ers in 2017 before being traded to Orlando midway through last season. “You live for moments like that when the game is on the line and you’re out competing to see what everybody is made of. I love it that I got a chance to make a big-time play and I finished it off.”

Orlando needed it to withstand a couple of fourth-quarter rallies by Washington and its 3-point shooting team. The Wizards made 10 of 15 3-pointers in the final period and scored 44 points, but couldn’t play enough defense to overtake Orlando.

Bradley Beal scored 34 points and had eight assists for Washington, which absorbed its fourth loss in five games. The Wizards got 21 points from C.J. Miles and 15 from Davis Bertans.

“We are 10 games in (to the season) now so we have to dial back the amount of excuses we have,” Beal said. “We compete hard enough to win every game. We are top five on offense, so we know that’s not the problem. We just have to get stops.”

 

Wizards: Ian Mahinmi out to begin regular season

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With John Wall and Isaiah Thomas injured, the Wizards have no backup point guard behind Ish Smith. The situation is even gloomier at small forward with C.J. Miles, Troy Brown and Admiral Schofield all banged up.

Add center to the list of positions where Washington is woefully thin.

Wizards release:

Wizards center Ian Mahinmi is out with a strained right Achilles tendon. He will be treated conservatively before being re-evaluated in six weeks.

Washington will play nine regular-season games in the next six weeks.

This leaves Thomas Bryant at center. He’ll provide plenty of activity, but he can’t do it alone. The Wizards have to play small, though some of their power forwards – Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Moritz Wagner – might have to play small forward given the injury issues there. Plugging one hole creates another.

Hope is dissipating from a season that already contained little.

Gregg Popovich: Marcus Morris situation handled ‘unprofessionally’

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The Spurs agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with Marcus Morris. San Antonio even traded Davis Bertans to the Wizards to make the cap mechanics work.

Then, Morris reneged to sign a one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks.

The Spurs spreading word that they were pissed was one thing. San Antonio president-coach Gregg Popovich putting his name behind the indignation is another.

Jabari Young of The Athletic:

Popovich:

It was more than difficult to lose Davis. Let’s just say that that was an unfortunate situation that was handled unprofessionally on a couple of different levels. We made that move to make the signing that we did and got blindsided. Davis was a special player, as we all know. He was young and getting better and better. So, yeah, we hated losing him.

Did Morris reach out to explain himself to the Spurs, as he claimed?

Popovich:

Not really.

That’s a sharp response that directly contradicts Morris. There’s clearly resentment toward him.

I’m curious what Popovich means by different levels, though. The Knicks? Agent Rich Paul, who left Morris over the saga? Both? There are multiple ways blame could be spread.

The result for San Antonio is more straightforward. Not getting Morris and settling for Trey Lyles stinks. Losing Bertans stinks. Whatever happened with Morris, the Spurs got the raw end of it.

Wizards should have traded Bradley Beal

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NBC Sports’ 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.    

They should have traded Bradley Beal.

I’m reluctant to declare whether a team should or shouldn’t trade a player. It depends on so many factors outsiders don’t know. Mainly, what are other teams offering (or demanding in salary dumps)? The return (or cost in salary dumps) is essential to any trade evaluation.

But the Wizards should have traded Bradley Beal.

Beal is a young star locked up two more seasons and plays a position, shooting guard, in demand around the league. Look at the astronomical returns Anthony Davis and Paul George generated for the Pelicans and Thunder. It’s hard to believe Beal wouldn’t have fetched something similar.

Of course, Washington would like to build around Beal. Right now, he’s saying all the right things about staying.

But the Wizards will likely stink next season. After living through that experience, will Beal actually want to stay long-term? I would’ve rather traded him this summer with an additional season on his contract than wait to find out.

That was never in the cards, especially because Washington went through key portions of the offseason without a permanent front-office leader. That was a failure of Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. He fired Ernie Grunfeld in April and didn’t remove Tommy Sheppard’s interim title until mid-July, once free agency had quieted. This is a 365-day-a-year job. Washington missed opportunities.

Sheppard’s big move was drafting Rui Hachimura No. 9. I rated Hachimura No. 25 on my board. That could just be a difference of opinion. But I fear the Sheppard – unsure of his long-term status – gravitated toward the player with major marketing upside. If Hachimura struggles, it won’t matter that he’s Japanese.

Sheppard also re-signed Thomas Bryant (three years, $25 million) and sold that as a key step in keeping Beal. An enthusiastic young player, Bryant definitely helped Washington last season. But c’mon. He’s still Thomas Bryant.

Otherwise, the Wizards lost several rotation players via free agency – Trevor Ariza, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Jeff Green and Tomas Satoransky (sign-and-traded to the Bulls for two second-rounders). That was tough on a team with limited mechanisms to add outside players. With John Wall’s high salary serving as a major block, Washington was capped out.

The Wizards had to get creative to form even this barely tolerable roster.

They used most of their mid-level exception on Ish Smith (two years, $12 million). He should be fine as a stop-gap starting point guard. However, I suspect many of contributions will come just through his professionalism amid a losing season.

Washington got Davis Bertans from the Spurs, who unloaded his salary before Marcus Morris reneged on San Antonio. The Wizards also dealt Dwight Howard for the more-functional, but slightly higher-paid C.J. Miles.

Isaiah Thomas was a worthy bet at the minimum, but hope is fading of him bouncing back. He’s already hurt again.

Washington jumped into the Anthony Davis trade when the Lakers wanted to clear cap space for a run at Kawhi Leonard. The Wizards got a second-rounder for taking Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones. Washington got another young prospect, No. 42 pick Admiral Schofield, for effectively taking $1 million of dead salary from the 76ers.

These new veterans likely aren’t good enough to get the Wizards anywhere. The new young players carry only limited promise.

Washington’s short- and long-term hopes rest mostly on Beal – as long as he accepts that burden.

Offseason grade: D+

Spurs treading water

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NBC Sports’ 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.

Gregg Popovich is arguably the best coach in NBA history. Get him a few capable veterans, and he has guided to the Spurs to the playoffs. Every darn year.

He’s also 70 years old, which limits the value of a rebuild. Why waste seasons Popovich could prop up just to get young players he probably won’t stick around to coach? Might as well continue to enjoy the present.

So, the Spurs agreed to a contract extension with Popovich then commenced on a boring offseason – though one that included more action than desired.

The big prize was supposed to be Marcus Morris, a good forward who would’ve strengthened San Antonio’s rotation. But he reneged on his deal and signed with the Knicks. The Spurs are reportedly – and should be – pissed.

San Antonio traded Davis Bertans, a solid stretch four, to the Wizards to open money for Morris. That trade was already complete by the time Morris pulled out. Many top free agents were off the board.

The Spurs settled for Trey Lyles ($5.5 million next season, $1 million of $5.5 million guaranteed in 2020-21). He impressed a couple years ago, but he significantly regressed last season. There are reasons he was the fallback option.

At least San Antonio got a couple of more-ready forwards by re-signing Rudy Gay (two years, $29 million) and signing DeMarre Carroll (two years, $13.65 million followed by $1.35 million of $7 million guaranteed in 2021-22). Still, the plan was to get Gay, Carroll and Morris.

Mostly, the Spurs remain on the same course. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are still the headliners. All eight players who played in each of San Antonio’s playoff games return.

Still, there’s a tinge of a youth movement beneath the surface.

Dejounte Murray missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Derrick White emerged in Murray’s absence. Those rising point guards will be back next season, and it’s possible to envision a next era led by one – or if Popovich is creative enough – both.

For just the second time in the last three decades,* San Antonio picked twice in the first round. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they got those selections in a weak-looking draft. No. 19 pick Luka Samanic and No. 29 pick Keldon Johnson are fine, unspectacular prospects.

*In 2011, San Antonio traded for No. 15 pick Kawhi Leonard and drafted Cory Joseph No. 29.

The Spurs’ goal is clearly a record-breaking 23rd straight postseason appearance. That’ll be tough in a loaded Western Conference. But they’re content to try.

Offseason grade: C