Things are going well for the Washington Wizards. John Wall is a year older.
And wait, there’s more: General manager Ernie Grunfeld’s over emphasis on youth has been tempered by the arrival of veterans such as Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okefor and (equally important) the exit of the talented but immature Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
Bradley Beal, the No. 3 pick in the draft, is on board. And so is Randy Wittman, the head coach who earned an extension by going 18-31, including 8-2 over the last three weeks of 2011-12. If nothing else, firing Flip Saunders in January stripped away one more layer of Kevlar from Grunfeld, whose longevity in the nation’s capital almost cries out for term limits.
But -– you knew a “but” was coming, or at least a “however” — the optimism of a productive summer and a clean autumn slate got cut a little Tuesday when Grunfeld said that center/power forward Nene’s plantar fasciitis would limit him in training camp next week. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Not all NBA free agents are created equal.
Sometimes you’re Deron Williams and sometimes you’re not.
And this isn’t news to the huddled masses of familiar names and faces still looking for work with the start of training camps just a mere month away. They know that it’s time for the two-minute drill, when their options are dwindling and an invite to camp becomes a life-preserver for guys who are used to guaranteed roster spots and permanent spots in a team’s rotation.
This would explain the likes of Eddy Curry, who most likely will not be in Miami on opening night when the championship banner is raised but does have a ring with his name on it, auditioning for any team interested.
It’s the same reason you hear names like Josh Howard, who has worked out for his home state Charlotte Bobcats, Josh Childress, Hilton Armstrong and so many others — some former lottery picks (Childress) and some former All-Stars (Howard) — doing what millions of other Americans are doing right now, and that’s looking for work.
Curry, along with Hilton Armstrong, worked out for the Nets Wednesday, according to Yahoo! Sports. Curry, the much maligned former Knick, spent last season with the Heat, playing 14 games and averaging 2.1 points while riding the coattails of LeBron James to his first NBA title.
Curry, 29, played a combined 10 games in his final three seasons with the Knicks before his contract was used as salary ballast in the Carmelo Anthony deal in February 2011.
Armstrong was part of the Nets’ free agent minicamp in May, when he earned some praise for his play from general manager Billy King.
“What I like about Hilton is he’s long and he knows how to play. I think the biggest thing for Hilton is doing it consistently,” King said at the time. “I think he got better each day. I like his length, because the one thing is it’s hard to find athletic size in this league.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The championship after party for the Dallas Mavericks was extended by five months courtesy of the lockout, an extension that the Mavericks would never blame for their struggles last season but one that most honest observers would no doubt finger as a factor in their early season struggles.
The first two he mentions are enough to cause a little bit of concern for even the most optimistic of Heat fans:
1. The two remaining roster spots.
The 13 players already under contract for 2012-13 are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller,Norris Cole, Joel Anthony James Jones and Dexter Pittman.
Rounding out the regular-season roster could be as simple as bringing back two of the players who spent time with the team last season and currently are working out with the team, a pool that includes guard Terrel Harris, center Mickell Gladness and forward Juwan Howard.
The Heat also have attracted the interest of free-agent centers Chris Andersen and Darko Milicic, and could provide a landing spot for free-agent Andray Blatche, who is looking to revive his career.
HANG TIME, TEXAS – There have been plenty of different reasons for teams to use the amnesty provision in the new collective bargaining agreement.
By severing their ties with Elton Brand, the Sixers put themselves in a position where they could eventually land Andrew Bynum to anchor the middle of their lineuip.
The Rockets let go of Luis Scola in part to clear space for their failed pursuit of Dwight Howard, but also as a next step in an extreme makeover of their roster.
The Suns released Josh Childress so they would have cap space to acquire Scola, who they hope will be a solid, steady veteran presence as they head in a new direction in the post-Steve Nash era.
Then there are the Wizards, who cut big man Andray Blatche because, well, it was time.
The dictionary definition of amnesty is: a forgetting or overlooking any past offenses.
After seven seasons of unrealized potential, frustration and immaturity, it might be difficult for the Wizards to completely forget all that Blatche never became, but it was clearly worth the $23 million it cost to turn him loose and turn the page. (more…)
The Washington Wizards are leaning toward using the amnesty provision by Tuesday’s deadline to waive forward Andray Blatche, according to league sources.
The Wizards have not made a final decision on the move. Teams have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to decide whether they’ll use the amnesty provision for the upcoming season. If they don’t, they cannot use it again until next July. Teams are only allowed to use the provision once during the life of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Players that are waived under the provision can be claimed by teams under the salary cap for the upcoming season. The team that submits the highest bid gets the player. If Blatche were to be waived, teams would have to submit a minimum bid of $3.79 million for him — which represents the sum of the minimum salaries a player with Blatche’s experience would receive over the next three years, the remaining length of his contract.
Washington is still wavering on whether using the amnesty provision — and writing Blatche a check for the remaining $23 million on his contract. The Wizards have been trying to deal Blatche since the end of the season, but haven’t found any deals to their liking.
They could also keep Blatche on the roster but keep him away from the team while they continue to pursue trades or, perhaps, a contract buyout, in the same way the Indiana Pacers kept guard Jamaal Tinsley at arm’s length for a year before finally reaching a settlement on his contract.
BOSTON – No one is happier that Randy Wittman apparently will continue as head coach of the Washington Wizards than the man whose firing opened the job for him.
Flip Saunders, who was fired in January with a 2-15 record, said that Wizards management did more than just promote his top assistant coach, who is expected to have his interim tag removed with a new contract in the next week or so. The brass also addressed some of the team’s issues once Wittman was in place, not that those were secrets prior to Saunders’ dismissal.
“Where I feel good is, there were a lot of things that I thought had to be done with that team when I was there,” said Saunders, who has been working as a consultant for Boston’s Doc Rivers during the playoffs. “When Randy first took over, they didn’t have great success until they did what they needed to do with some of the guys and changed the roster. And they got better.”
For example, a young but immature nucleus of JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Andray Blatche was broken up for Wittman – the first two traded, the third shut down when he ballooned out of shape – even though Saunders said he raised that red flag last season. Washington also acquired center Nene from Denver, who only played 11 games with his new team but gave it an inside presence and a veteran who could command attention off the court. Adding solid role players James Singleton and Cartier Martin helped too, Saunders said.
“I knew what needed to be done,” said Saunders, who went 51-130 in Washington after leading Detroit and Minnesota to 11 playoff appearances in 13 seasons. “Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to see it through. But Randy’s my guy. And the staff there are guys basically that I hired. So I feel good about that too.”
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
It’s awards season, so let’s make up a couple. Who’s your stud of the year, the player who most impressed you? And your dud?
Steve Aschburner: Another way to phrase the first part of this would be, “¿Quién es más macho?” based on my choice: Ricky Rubio. The pressure was on this kid, built up over the two years between his draft selection in 2009 and his arrival from Barcelona, finally, this season. Yet he proved to be far more NBA-ready than many people expected. His innate ability to deliver the ball transformed Minnesota offensively and his long arms and instincts kept him surprised those of us who thought he’d be overwhelmed defensively. He was “Linsanity” in flyover country, though for longer and more legitimately. Minnesota was 18-13 in the games Rubio started, 8-26 (with one game left) when he did not. Dud of the year? Ladies and gentlemen, may we present Mr. Dwight! David! Howard!
Fran Blinebury: He doesn’t have the classic, muscular stud physique, but Tony Parker put the Spurs on his back and carried them to the best record in the West, setting up for a realistic run at San Antonio’s fifth championship. And he does it all with that sly, knowing grin on his face. As for a dud, it’s hardly a race. I do believe Dwight Howard is Secretariat at the Belmont, running 31 lengths away from the field.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Most impressed? Probably LeBron James, because he played at an MVP level (again) while improving his image (for a change), even if he can partly thank Dwight Howard for setting a new high for player-movement lows. Speaking of my dud, Howard doesn’t win this prestigious award. At least he produced in a big way. But no one could have imagined Lamar Odom’s 2011-12. A letdown after leaving the Lakers, maybe. But to be told to stay away from the Mavs would have been unimaginable to consider in December. (more…)
There were no Cadillac Eldorados or steak knives to be had, a la “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In the ruthless world of the NBA, at least as it pertained to the woeful Washington Wizards Tuesday morning, there was only third prize: You’re fired.
Oh, and fourth prize: You’re hired. As the interim replacement for coach Flip Saunders, terminated after a 2-15 start in his third season with Washington. Assistant Randy Wittman will take over for the rest of the season in a move that figures to bring more aggravation to Wittman than change to the Wizards’ failing, flailing culture.
This move was, of course, only a matter of time in coming. When I wrote this earlier this month about Saunders and the dysfunctional team that soon would cost him his job, I didn’t even have the confidence to wait for Washington to come to me in Chicago; I jumped on it a day early because the ax seemed that ready to fall. Two weeks later, it did, a 2-7 mark since then and looking little different from the disarray, lack of purpose and absence of development that preceded it.
The Wizards — especially Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee and increasingly John Wall — seem like raw, incorrigible talent, oblivious to the value of coaching, committed only to their knucklehead ways. They knew that Saunders was a dead man walking, whether he stayed or went, because they had tuned him out. There are no old heads on the roster, no veterans both respected enough and involved enough to act as the coaches’ trustees in that locker room. (more…)
An NBA source confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the Washington Wizards have fired Flip Saunders as coach, and are expected to name assistant Randy Wittman as interim coach for the remainder of the season.
The Wizards, who have the NBA’s worst record at 2-15, were coming off another desultory performance Monday, one in which they trailed the 76ers by 30 points at halftime and wound up losing by 20. That has been the norm for Washington much of this season, surrounding occasional performances like last week’s win over Oklahoma City in which the team played with passion and purpose. Only recently had second-year guard John Wall, around whom the Wizards hope to build a contending team, begun playing with much fire. Saunders never was able to get players like Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee to perform consistently.
Saunders was 51-130 in his two-plus seasons in Washington.
Saunders was in the third year of a four-year deal that paid him approximately $4 million per season. He was hired in 2009 after Washington had gone 19-63 the previous season, during which time the Wizards had fired their previous coach, Eddie Jordan.
At the time, Saunders was joining a veteran team that had made the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons around a core group featuring Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. But Arenas’ role in an incident in December of 2009 in which he brought guns into the Wizards’ locker room as part of a confrontation with guard Javaris Crittenton resulted in Arenas being suspended by NBA Commissioner David Stern in January of 2010 without pay for the remainder of the season. The Wizards cratered again, going 26-56, and made the decision to blow up the old roster and start anew after winning the Draft lottery in 2010 and selecting Wall with the first overall pick.
Let’s be very clear about this: John Wall isn’t the reason the Wizards are winless heading into their game with the Knicks. But just as Wall was a reason for optimism in Washington this season, his performances of late haven’t inspired much if any this season.
The Wizards rank at or near the bottom in every major offensive category, and that falls on the point guard. He must set the tempo, find open teammates, get easy shots for teammates and score when necessary. Maybe some of the blame lies with the system used by coach Flip Saunders, but if you’re a talented point guard, you can make it work in almost any system other than the triangle offense.
Wall is delivering just over six assists a game, which is fine at first glance (although down from his rookie season). But the Wizards if nothing else have offensive talent and a fair amount of finishers. Wall should get six assists alone on lob passes to JaVale McGee. And while Andray Blatche will never be accused of being a basketball genius, he does have a point: his shots should be taken closer to the basket.
So far into his career, John Wall is the worst shooter in the NBA.
Adults have many duties to the young. One is honesty. When gifted kids grow up, their elders, including employers, should be candid about their flaws and help them fulfill their talent. Nobody knows the whole job at age 21.
Right now, the Washington Wizards have an enormous responsibility to Wall. They need to see him clearly and let him know that, despite his big contract, his No. 1 overall draft pick status, his face-of-franchise public relations role and his obvious talents, he is still not yet a good NBA player.
In two respects, he is actually one of the worst players in the league.