Wizards’ culture shift in full swing


VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. ties the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Washington Wizards

LAS VEGAS – That breakthrough season and playoff run was just the beginning for the Washington Wizards.

That flash we saw from the John Wall and Bradley Beal-led Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals is still going strong into both free agency and here in the Samsung NBA Summer League, where youngsters like Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. are busy doing work with their veteran peers keeping a watchful eye.

Wall and Beal were in attendance at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday night when Rice went off for 36 points in a triple-overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. Veteran free agent Al Harrington is working the sidelines as a volunteer assistant under Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, keeping his finger on the pulse of a team whose culture shift is clearly in full swing after years of building to this point.

“We’re trying to get our hands on that trophy,” a smiling Harrington said after the win over the Spurs. “It’s just a good vibe all around since the season ended. All of our guys, the young guys and the older guys, are grinding and trying to get to that next level. Everybody recognizes the opportunity that is staring us in the face and we have to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but  Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.

And for anyone dismissing the moves — the Pierce deal in particular, due to the mileage Pierce has piled up over the course of his stellar career — his coach in Brooklyn last season, believes the Wizards have taken a major step forward this summer with the acquisition of these veterans.

“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters here last week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”

The Wizards will be, too, based on the busy work they have done this summer. Teams either get better or worse with their offseason work. Staying the course, for anyone other than the champion Spurs, simply doesn’t work.

“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”

That’s the plan. Harrington said that was the vision of all involved when the season ended. They felt like they let the Pacers off the hook in the playoffs. “Trust me, it won’t happen again,” he said. “Our guys are better now because of what we learned about ourselves in that series.”

LeBron James heading home to Cleveland leaves a void at the top of the Southeast Division. And much like the work the Wizards’ summer league squad is putting in to capture top honors, when the regular season begins the varsity crew will battle for the No. 1 spot with the Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s there for the taking,” Harrington said. “You see the way we are working now in the middle of the summer. We changed the culture. And now we’re feeding the beast, making sure everybody knows what goes on when the lights come on in the regular season. We need [Rice Jr.] and Otto ready to go from the start. Our depth is going to be our strength. It’s go time from the first day of training camp.”

18 Comments

  1. Kirby Record says:

    I like their keeping Gortat and getting PP. It’s a win situation, though not without a sacrifice.

  2. Matt says:

    Gortat at 5 years 60 million is not too bad when you figure in 2 years the salary cap is expected to balloon to 70mil or higher– in the third-fourth year of his deal Gortat will be one of the best contracts on the team. Also– if it’s between a 30 year old defensive three point shooter who just came off a contract year or a bonafied double double big man who shoots 50+%, I’m taking the big man 100 out of 100 times.

  3. KD2DC2016 says:

    Ariza is a huge loss. However, pierce can do things that ariza can’t do. PP can create off the dribble which is something that Ariza doesn’t or can’t do. PP plays on both ends of the floor. And the development of Rice and and Porter will be huge with our depth. Martell Webster can fill in Ariza shoes from behind the arc. The wiz are better today than they were in April.

  4. Thai gunner says:

    I think we’r going to be better and fun to watch. Have fun folks.

  5. Scisca says:

    If all this ends up in them getting KD in 2 years, this will be a monster of a team

  6. randomguy says:

    Pierce is a downgrade over Ariza, but Ariza like many other players this offseason got overpaid so getting Pierce was a better alternative than keeping Ariza if he had wanted the same sort of money as he got in Houston. However, it does mean that all their improvement must come from within. Nene and Gortat are good starters, but really it comes down to how much more Beal and Porter can improve. Wall has been excellent so far, but he needs stars around him and so one of those two has to step up and become a star if the Wizards want to contend for a championship.

    • mee(a)t says:

      I wouldn’t say that…I think you get more variety in his offensive game.

    • KD2DC2016 says:

      Downgrade?????? PP is better offensively and gives us that solid defender at the sf position.

      • DenH says:

        dont sleep on pierce, he may not be the beast he once was but he is still crafty and unpredictable off the dribble, and has a pedigree of hitting tough shots in crunch time, out of all the players in the league, pierce is still a top 5 guy to give it to with the game on the line.

  7. A.J. says:

    Ernie Grunfeld has always been laughably bad. He was terrible as a player (he reminded me of the guys I used to play with in the 60s and 70s at the JCC), and has been just awful as a GM with three different teams. He must have incriminating photos, because instead of being fired a couple of years ago, he was re-upped. Just a bad, bad GM. Smart people should already be counting down the days left on that ridiculous Gortat contract.

    • Queirós says:

      And your ground on dissing Gortat’s contract is…?

    • TTKIN says:

      What would ur solution have been to the Gortat ordeal? He would’ve gotten that contract somewhere else, for sure. Especially after Lebron left MIA, the Heat would’ve gobbled up Gortat the second LBJ said he was leaving had Gortat not resigned already. MIA wanted Gortat before LBJ even said he was out.

      And even after getting Blair and Humphries, ur team would’ve been worse-off than last yr. Gortat was HUGE for u guys last yr.

      There really aren’t any good centers out there who are avail, so u guys would’ve had a hole there. And that would basically guarantee u wont win ur division. MIA and CHA could both knock u off at that pt. With Gortat tho, I personally think u guys have that division locked up.

      But my overall pt, ur franchise finally has momentum. They finally made the playoffs. they finally won a playoff game AND series. Ariza left and u pretty much knew all along he wasn’t coming back. But u knew there were other SF options out there (unlike Center). So u guys have been working nearly 10 years to get to this pt, and ur not going to fork over the contract just cuz u think it’s a LITTLE overpriced? 12/yr really is not that bad for a double-double machine (not as many double-doubles with Nene bangin downlow too). What would that be saying to the other players? Particularly Beal, who will have a nice sized extension coming his way in a couple yrs.

  8. Teefor3 says:

    Exciting. Lots of depth. Glen Rice Jr. looks like he can earn some minutes. I am curious to see how Porter will fit into the mix. I love his game but he isn’t a stand in the corner and shoot threes type of player. He is a utility guy. Hopefully they will recognize this and use him appropriately. Porter and Rice look like they have nice chemistry.

    We have enough big guys to really be a good rebounding team. I am going to miss both Trevors. Both brought energy. But I think the 2nd year players and the players will got this summer will more than fill in. All we need now is a young point to learn under Wall and Miller. I want us to do all we can to keep the starters minutes under control so they can be fresh come playoffs.

  9. Fuzz says:

    Great use of funds they would have overspent to keep Ariza. Pierc e, Humps and Porter will help Washington fans forget Trevor in ahurry.

  10. harrythehawk says:

    Wow, the Wizards are going to have a great year. Can’t wait!