Posts Tagged ‘Emeka Okafor’

Wall’s Return Puts Heat On Wittman


HANG TIME, Texas — The win over the defending champion Heat in the first week of December was an eye opener. Taking down the Thunder in the first week of January was no less impressive.

But if the goal of the Wizards is to provide more than a once-a-month shock to the NBA system, then the season begins tonight.

Point guard John Wall will make his season debut tonight against the Hawks after missing three months due to a stress injury in his left patella. While nobody is expecting to see the player that averaged 16.3 points. 8.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons, just having the former No. 1 draft pick on the court is finally a lift for the club that is again foundering at the bottom with a 5-28 record, the worst in the league.

Wall is trying to keep a lid on expectations, as he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post:

“I figure the first couple games probably won’t be the best games,” Wall said after practicing for the third consecutive day without complications from his left knee.

“Just go out there and play my game,” he said. “Don’t do too much. I know that’s the main thing I’ve got to do for my first game back. Just let the game come to me and just try to help my team out.”

Wall also doesn’t expect to have a difficult adjustment to playing alongside several new teammates after sitting next to the Wizards coaching staff for nearly every game and observing their tendencies. His teammates have already marveled as his speed and decision-making, which has been sorely missed for a team has started five different point guards this season – A.J. Price, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.

When asked if he felt any external or internal pressures with coming back, Wall quickly responded, “No pressure at all.”
The biggest challenge for him, Wall said, will be “getting my legs underneath me but just working the offense, being the point guard, finding my teammates and knowing guys’ sweet spots is pretty easy to me.”

Without Wall to run the show, the Wizards have been virtually clueless all season, unable to attack defenses and score. In one more season when Washington made significant changes to the lineup — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, rookie Bradley Beal — they have clearly lacked a leader to pull it all together.

While the medical staff will have Wall operating under a limit on playing minutes as he works his way back into game shape, Wizards coach Randy Wittman says there will be no limits to what he asks of his franchise player in terms of leading his team.

“John is going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Wittman said. “I don’t want to take any pressure off him. He hasn’t gotten any pressure yet this year. I want him to feel some pressure. John likes pressure.”

Of course, Wittman can only hope that Wall will relieve any pressure on his own situation, which has to be in the crosshairs of a season when Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles have already been relieved of their head coaching jobs.

If there has been a reason that Wittman has been spared the same fate, it’s because he’s been coaching with one hand tied behind his back without Wall. Now that the Wizards’ main man is back in the lineup, the heat is on and the clock is ticking.

Wizards Fall To 0-12 … And Counting

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Along the maddening trail to 0-12, there have been the gut-punches — three points combined in consecutive overtime losses to Charlotte (double OT) and at Atlanta, a near-22-point comeback at Dallas, four points at Indiana, OT at Boston and a three-point home loss to the Celtics.

Close was not the case Monday night at Verizon Center. The still-winless Washington Wizards, still without point guard John Wall, were run out of their own gym by the surging San Antonio Spurs, 118-92, the largest margin of defeat in an already defeated season.

Adding insult to injury, former Wizards big man Andray Blatche, who’s still pocketing $23 million from the franchise after being amnestied in July and eventually signed by Brooklynis taking cheap shots at his old team in the media and through his own brand of bastardized English on Twitter:

Such is the depressing life of the Wizards. Team president Ernie Grunfeld‘s dumping of high-priced Rashard Lewis for veterans Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor has been a disaster. The hailed return of Nene lasted two games before yet another departure to rest his problematic foot. In Nene’s limited floor time of 49 minutes, Washington is a plus-31, so the big fella can definitely help pound out a ‘W’ if he can stay on the court.

Still, Randy Wittman‘s bunch must now be viewed as a serious contender to crash the league record for consecutive losses to start a season. Just two seasons ago, the Wizards lost 25 consecutive road games to start the season, the third-longest such skid in NBA history. Last season they started 0-8.

Now they’re two-thirds to 0-18, the worst start ever by an NBA team and owned by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets. The lockout-shortened 1999 Los Angeles Clippers and the 1988-89 expansion Miami Heat started 0-17. These Wizards are the 12th team in NBA history to start a season with 12 consecutive losses.

They’ll try to avoid a baker’s dozen at home Wednesday night against a smarting Portland team that dropped an ugly one at Detroit on Monday night.

How realistic is 0-18 or — gasp! — worse? Here’s their next six: vs. Portland, at New York, vs. Miami, at Atlanta, vs. Golden State, at New Orleans. Those six teams are a combined 49-34, and the worst of the lot, the Hornets (4-9), beat the Clippers in L.A. on Monday.

Then comes this hefty four-pack: at Houston, vs. Los Angeles Lakers, at Miami, vs. Atlanta.

Before the Wizards fell to 0-7 nearly two weeks ago following a 107-101 defeat at Dallas where they reversed a blowout, but couldn’t tie it up in the final minute, first-year Washington forward Martell Webster said he and his teammates, many of them new to the team as well, are determined to turn around the moribund franchise.

“Who else is going to do it?” Webster said. “It’s easy when things don’t go well to start blaming and start pointing fingers, but I don’t believe in that. When you think about it with your family, when you have problems you don’t point fingers, you work to resolve the problem as a family, as a unit, and I think that’s the most important thing. We’re a family, a unit and we’re not going to point fingers. We’re going to take accountability and responsibility for all of our individual actions, but at the end of the day we’re settling the problem ourselves.”

Still, there’s little doubt that as the losses mount so does the mental anguish.

Wall’s Frustration Intensifies As Still No Target Date For His Wizards Return

DALLAS — Washington Wizards point guard John Wall said Wednesday that he still doesn’t have a target date to join his teammates for the first time this season. He continues to rehab from a stress fracture in his right knee, a daily grind that  isn’t getting any easier with which to cope.

“Still tough and frustrating,” Wall said as he laced his sneakers to go put up some jump shots with assistant coach Sam Cassell prior to the Wizards’ game against the Dallas Mavericks.

The final days of November will mark the eight-week period that Wall was expected to miss after being diagnosed with the early stages of a non-traumatic stress injury in the knee just prior to the start of training camp. However, it’s apparent that Washington’s young potential star won’t make the deadline.

When the team is at home, Wall pushes through rehab and then does little else.

“Just lock myself in my house and listen to music,” he said.

Wall, as well as injured center Nene (who also has no timetable for a return from plantar fasciitis) travels with the team, sits in on film sessions and remains in close contact with coach Randy Wittman and his teammates, who are battling their own frustrations with six consecutive losses heading into Wednesday’s game.

“We talk, he’s with us all the time. That’s why we bring him with us, he and Nene,” Wittman said. “They’re around the team, they’re with us in all the meetings, we talk and I want them to talk to their teammates, as well, seeing what they’re seeing. It’s a different game sitting over there (on the bench) than when they’re out running up and down the floor, and they can be a help in that area.”

Wall, 22, would rather be running up and down the floor and getting his third season off the ground. For the first time in a long time, excitement was building heading into training camp. The roster had been overhauled. Gone are the knuckleheads and underachievers that not only made the Wizards hard to watch for so many years, but hard to root for, too.

They were replaced with veterans such as Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, A.J. Price (a career backup in his fourth season charged with running the point in Wall’s absence) Martell Webster and promising rookie Bradley Beal, who is leading the team in scoring. There’s also improving big man Kevin Seraphin, who started to come on last season and is averaging 9.7 points and 3.8 rebounds.

The 6-foot-11 Nene and the play-making Wall would serve as huge additions.

Wittman, when asked if doctors have given him a target date for Wall’s return, pursed his lips, shook his head and said, “I don’t have one, unless you’ve got one.”

Wall and the Wizards have no choice but to wait, and hope to keep from digging into an irreversible hole.

“Yeah, it’s tough, but nobody’s making any excuses,” said Wall, who averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 assists in his first two seasons. “We think we’ve got enough talent on this team to go out there and play with what we have. We just haven’t closed out games. We’ve been in a lot of games, we just haven’t closed them out. We believe in our teammates, some guys are injured, some guys are not, but it’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up and prove themselves.”

Dream Work All About “D” For Faried

Kobe Bryant. LeBron James. Dwight Howard. Amar’e Stoudemire. Emeka Okafor. JaVale McGee.

Every time word gets out that another acolyte has ventured into the temple of Hakeem Olajuwon, the high priest of fancy footwork, the questions are all about offense.

Did he teach you how to spin like a top to get free for a layup? Did he show you how to tie David Robinson into more knots than a pretzel bakery with two, three, four different head fakes? Did you learn the secret of the Dream Shake?

For Kenneth Faried, the most valuable lessons learned from Olajuwon over the summer came at the other end of the floor.

“Everybody thinks it was about offense, learning how to score,” said Faried, who worked out in Sugar Land, Tex. with Olajuwon and his Nuggets teammate McGee. “But I think what is going to help me the most are the things that Hakeem showed to help me with defense.

“The footwork and me just doing the twirls and spins, learning how to keep my feet moving constantly are things that can make me a better defender.

“I can read people defensively and react to them or anticipate and get to a spot ahead of my opponent. And he showed me that I can get out there and play perimeter guys and still at the same time I can shut down the biggest bigs on the inside.”

Olajuwon was a five-time member of the All-Defensive Team, was named Defensive Player of the Year with the Rockets in both 1993 and 1994 and averaged 3.1 blocked shots and 1.7 steals over the course of his 18-year NBA career.

“People forget Hakeem was a great defender,” said Denver coach George Karl. “He won Defensive Player of the Year. For me, our big guys are really rebounders and defenders first. The offense comes to them through our guards attacking and making plays for them as much as giving them opportunities to make plays for themselves.”

From Bryant to Howard to James, the primary reason that most of them seek out Olajuwon as a tutor is to glean a few tips from his unique footwork to create space down in the low post that makes it easier to get shots off. But from the time that he first took up the game back in Nigeria, Olajuwon’s first love was always protecting the basket as a shot blocker. It was his penchant for jumping into the passing lanes and going down onto the floor to make steals that led to Hakeem wearing what became his signature large red knee pads.

Faried played a key role in the Nuggets’ help defense in Wednesday night’s win at Houston, frequently cutting off and contesting James Harden’s drives to the basket. He made a timely block of Harden’s try for a layup with 47.9 seconds left in the game that helped seal the win.

Though the 6-foot-8 Faried’s offensive range is limited and his style is to simply attack the basket and the pursuit of rebounds ferociously, he is trying to expand what he can.

“It helps a lot to get the finesse game,” he said. “It helps you as a person to not have to dunk everything at the rim. You can sometimes, when somebody’s fouling, learn how to maneuver or finesse it up for a layup or just know how to go through contact without always dunking.

“But for my role on our team, I found Hakeem’s defensive help and his philosophy and style of moving in order to always stay in front of his man to be the most valuable. That’s a way I’d like to play.”

Wizards Leaning Toward Using Amnesty Clause On Blatche

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.


Wizards Undecided On Blatche Amnesty

The first day that NBA teams are officially allowed to sign free agents and make trades is also the first day of the six-day window where teams are allowed to use the amnesty provision to cut players and remove them from their salary cap. The Washington Wizards are still undecided about whether to use the amnesty provision on one of the top league-wide candidates, forward Andray Blatche, according to sources.

Washington is exploring several options for Blatche, who has fallen out of favor both with fans in D.C. and with the organization after signing a contract extension in 2010 that reworked his existing contract into a five-year deal worth $35 million. The Wizards could opt for amnesty, which would remove the remaining $23 million the team owes Blatche from its salary cap, freeing up resources that the team will need in the next few years to extend players like John Wall and this year’s first-round pick, Bradley Beal.

The Wizards could trade Blatche immediately. Or, they could continue to explore trade options while removing Blatche from the daily workings of the team–in essence, paying him his salary to stay away. The Pacers used a similar strategy in 2008, forcing guard Jamaal Tinsley to sit out the whole season while not playing after he clashed with then-coach Rick Carlisle and the organization.

But asking owner Ted Leonsis to write that $23 million check is a big ask, sources allow, even though Blatche is not in the team’s future plans. The Wizards have remade their power forward group in the last year and a half, drafting Jan Vesely with the sixth pick in the 2011 Draft and acquiring Emeka Okafor from New Orleans last month (along with small forward Trevor Ariza) for Rashard Lewis. Second-year forward Trevor Booker also played extremely effectively in spots the last couple of years. Washington has Ariza and Chris Singleton penciled in to take the lion’s share of minutes at small forward. (more…)

Wizards Poised To Make A Splash?

MIAMI — The Washington Wizards have been down this road before, making moves as the draft approaches and preparing themselves for what could be, if everything falls into place.

Their ongoing real franchise makeover that began at the trade deadline with the addition of Nene for JaVale McGee was followed up with this afternoon’s announcement that the Wizards have acquired Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza from the New Orleans Hornets for Rashard Lewis and the No. 46 pick in next week’s draft.

“We are pleased to add two more solid pieces as we continue to build our roster with a balance of proven veterans and the core of young talent that we have developed,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement released by the team. “Emeka’s defensive presence and rebounding ability will combine with Trevor’s versatility to add new dimensions to our frontcourt, and both players fit in very well with the type of team-first culture that we have been working to establish.”

The Wizards get two starters to flank John Wall and Nene from the Hornets in exchange for Lewis and the cap flexibility he will bring. Lewis can be bought out for $13.7 million by the June 30 deadline, which is roughly half of the nearly $23 million he is owed next season. The Hornets have not indicated what direction they plan to go with Lewis, but his expiring deal will give them some room to work with in free agency sooner or later.


Now The Hornets Start Over

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU — The Chris Paul trade has been made and now, we can move on to focusing on basketball (at least until the Dwight Howard rumors start flying again).

The Hornets got a pretty good haul for Paul, acquiring Al-Farouq Aminu, Erick Gordon, Chris Kaman, and the coveted (and unprotected) Timberwolves 2012 first-round pick.

John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune gives his take from New Orleans

So while there’s relief that the Hornets removed the cloud that has been the Paul Stall, and joy that the NBA office might now go back to doing whatever it is that it does that doesn’t involve scratching its itch to be a general manager, the desire to backflip over this deal hasn’t yet bubbled to the top.

Yes, there’s “potential” involved, and plenty of it. The Hornets could be younger, more athletic and more dynamic, and the future could be bright enough to light the New Orleans Arena for years.

But tell me: When was the last time that potential paid the freight?

In other words, to take a step back only is palatable if the ensuing steps forward are delectable, and we have no idea if they will be.

That’s the truth. The Hornets’ hands were tied because of Paul’s impending free agency and unless they hit the jackpot with that Minny pick, they’re not getting back a star near his caliber.


StatsCube: The West Effect

As we await word on David West‘s MRI results, we fear the worst. A torn ligament would end West’s season and make the Hornets short-handed as they look to clinch a playoff spot in the final 2 1/2 weeks of the season.

According to StatsCube, the Hornets have been a better offensive team with West on the floor and a better defensive team with him on the bench.

Hornets efficiency, 2010-11

West on/off MIN Pace Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
West on floor 2450 90.6 105.7 102.4 +3.3
West off floor 1034 92.3 99.3 98.9 +0.3

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The defensive numbers are somewhat encouraging, but we have to remember that, when West is on the bench, the Hornets are likely defending against second units that are weaker offensively.

Obviously, the trade the Hornets made at the deadline looks more important now. Marcus Thornton may be putting up big numbers in Sacramento, but Carl Landry makes for a somewhat suitable replacement at power forward with West out.

Landry’s numbers with the Hornets compare pretty well with West’s numbers for the season…


Is David West’s Season Over?

It was one of those moments that makes you sick to your stomach. Two teams battling for playoff position are going down to the wire on League Pass, and a split second after David West throws down a dunk in Paul Millsap‘s grill to tie the game with 22.5 seconds left, West comes down awkwardly on his left leg.

The replay showed that West’s left knee buckled on his landing. Combine that visual with the volume of his screams that were heard loud and clear on the Utah broadcast, and the quick assumption is that West blew out his knee. The Hornets said in a release that West is listed with left knee trauma and an MRI is pending.