Posts Tagged ‘Ernie Grunfeld’

Wizards’ Leonsis savors playoff payoff

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards close out Bulls with 75-69 win in Game 5

CHICAGO – Training wheels off, coddling over. Ted Leonsis stood in the hallway outside the Washington Wizards’ dressing room at United Center Tuesday night and let the warm glow of accomplishment and expectations met wash over him.

His NBA team had just completed its gentleman’s sweep of the Chicago Bulls, the so-called “wild card” club that other Eastern Conference foes allegedly wanted to avoid. Washington, so inexperienced (no playoff appearances since 2008), so unprepared, not only flexed superior talent but beat the Bulls at what those guys do best: defense, rebounding, hustle, the proverbial grit of the game. And did it by sweeping all three games on Chicago’s court.

Leonsis had staked out this sort of thing back at the start of the season, and not in the most delicate terms. So as a coach or a player walked by and occasionally wrapped him up in a hug, Leonsis mostly beamed.

“For the last two months, you could really see this team coming together,” the Wizards owner said. “Our young kids are starting to get that experience. And they didn’t look scared at all. After the first game, we said, ‘We’re going to be OK,’ because John Wall and Bradley Beal just looked and felt like they belonged.”

Wall, the third-year point guard, had been the answer-in-waiting, a Jimmy John’s-quick ball handler who needed to stay healthy enough, and trust in his teammates enough, to bring Leonsis’ vision into focus.

“I think it just took time for me. My first couple years, I was dealing with injuries and not playing the full 82 games,” said Wall, 23. “They did a great job of rebuilding and adding great pieces around me, veteran guys and also in the draft. And I put a lot of pressure on myself to get better, to better my game as a player and also stay healthy.

“Sitting out [40 games] last year kind of let me know what this team could be. … We built this as a group. We trust each other. We do everything as a family. And that’s the reason we’re playing good basketball right now.” (more…)

Wizards Sign Wall To Extension

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Washington Wizards building their franchise around John Wall went from theory to reality the moment Wall’s signature went on that five-year, $80 million extension the two sides began working on recently.

That time is now, according to Michael Lee of The Washington Post, who reports that the deal is done and will be announced Thursday at a news conference.

Wall hasn’t made an All-Star team yet and the Wizards haven’t reached the playoff since he was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. But the Wizards believe he is the key to their future and are paying him accordingly. Wall’s new deal will not start until the 2014-15 season. But Wizards’ general manager Ernie Grunfeld is making sure that the linchpin to the Wizards’ future doesn’t have to worry about free agency any time soon.

The Wizards found out last season what life is like without Wall when they sputtered to a 5-28 without last season while he was recovering from a left knee injury. They finished the season 24-25 with Wall in the lineup. He posted the best numbers of his career in those final 29 games, averaging a career-high 18.5 points and 7.6 assists while shooting a career-best 44 percent from the floor.

With Wall as the ringleader of a young core that also includes fellow lottery picks Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., the Wizards are poised to make a move up the Eastern Conference standings next season.

Signing Wall through the 2018-19 season with a maximum extension might seem like a risky move to some without more evidence that he is going to be the type of player that can lead the Wizards into the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. But the Wizards are avoiding a load of extra drama by avoiding restricted and unrestricted free agency with a player they have much invested in already.

They’ve seen what a healthy and motivated Wall can do, what sort of impact he can have on a team that ranks among the best in the league defensively. As his growth and maturation process continues, the Wizards are clearly focusing on Wall’s immense potential with this extension.

Wall is the first member of his Draft class to receive an extension but probably not the last. The Sacramento Kings have reportedly engaged the representatives of DeMarcus Cousins, Wall’s college teammate at Kentucky, in conversations about a deal for the talented big man. There is an Oct. 31 deadline for players from their Draft class to receive extensions.

Tide Changing On Wizards’ Wall



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Poll anyone about Washington Wizards point guard John Wall these days and you are guaranteed to get more pro-Wall reaction than not. Had you polled those same people 10 months ago, the reaction would have been upside down.

Injury and uneven play led many to wonder if the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft was destined for anything more than solid numbers (17 points, 8 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals through his first three seasons) on lousy Wizards teams.

Attitudes and perceptions about Wall have changed dramatically in the past five months. He’s no longer dangling in talented young star purgatory, that no-man’s land for players working through their rookie contract without anyone knowing exactly how to project where said player might be headed next (see Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks).

Wall’s career could be headed in a much different direction now that the Wizards and Wall’s agent, Dan Fegan, have reportedly begun discussions about an extension of his rookie deal. The sides have until Oct. 30 to agree on a deal and what Wall is worth, to speak in crude terms, is yet to be determined (interested observers are already taking sides in D.C.)

But there is a strong body of evidence that suggests the price will be high, and perhaps rightfully so for a mercurial talent who is just now realizing his potential.

The first 33 games of last season, in which the Wizards went 5-28 while Wall recovered from a knee injury, gave everyone a glimpse of what life might be like without the prized point guard around. The Wizards were a lost cause in his absence, devoid of any star power or direction at the most critical position on the floor.

The 49 games Wall played in after returning from that injury were a revelation. The Wizards went 24-19 before dropping their final six games of the season. And Wall was a virtual showstopper most nights, averaging 18.5 ppg, 7.6 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 spg while impacting the game on both ends of the floor in ways we hadn’t seen from him thus far.

With fellow young talents Bradley Beal and rookie Otto Porter Jr., as well as a seasoned cast of veterans surrounding them, the Wizards are poised to finally make a break from their lottery ways and move into the playoff pack in the East. But they only make that move with a healthy, motivated and secure Wall leading the charge.

He’s become the linchpin to the Wizards’ future, just as you would expect a former No. 1 overall pick to do be at this stage of his career. That said, Wall is not the sure thing that say Derrick Rose was when he was three years into his ascent in Chicago. And if there is anything hanging over Wall at this point, it’s whether he’s ready to serve as team leader both on and off the court.

If you are Wizards’ boss Ernie Grunfeld, you’re betting that he is ready. You are betting that the show Wall put on in his last 49 games was just the beginning. You are betting that the Wall, who showed up for that courtside interview with NBA TV during the Las Vegas Summer League, is prepared for a truly breakout season.

Grunfeld’s future could very well depend on all of that being the case, on Wall joining that party-crashing group of young point guards led by Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving. That group is are ready to muscle their way into the elite group led by Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others.

The talent is there for the youngsters. None of the guys already on the elite points guard list is more physically imposing than the 6-foot-4, 200-plus pound Wall. Sure, others are much more polished, skilled and certainly more seasoned. But as far as raw growth potential and skill, Irving and Wall head that list.

Wall is aiming for the top of that elite list, of course, which is exactly what you want from a player in his position at this stage of the game!

No. 1 Pick Could Help Push Cavs Into The Playoffs

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NEW YORK – Before Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were among the two or three Lottery teams most likely to make the playoffs next year. They have a budding superstar, other young players who will only get better, and a new (and old) coach who will get them to improve on the end of the floor where they’ve been particularly dreadful that last few years.

2013 Lottery results
Pick Team
1. Cleveland
2. Orlando
3. Washington
4. Charlotte
5. Phoenix
6. New Orleans
7. Sacramento
8. Detroit
9. Minnesota
10. Portland
11. Philadelphia
12. Toronto (to OKC)
13. Dallas
14. Utah

After Tuesday night, if you didn’t already have them there (some of us did), you’d have to move the Cavs to the top of the list. Thanks to the results of Tuesday’s Draft lottery, Cleveland will add the No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft to and young and talented core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.

It was just two years ago that the Cavs won the right to select Irving with a pick acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers. This time, they won with their own pick, earned with a 24-58 record, some terrible defense, and an 8-3-6-7 combination of ping-pong balls.

A month ago, Mike Brown was rehired to fix that defense. The Cavs are the only team to rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three years, but ranked in the top five on that end a couple of times under Brown (and with the best player in the world).

A month from now, Cleveland will add another piece to the puzzle. Two No. 1 picks in three years is a good way to ensure both short and long-term success.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said Tuesday, “because if we can pick the right guy to fit into the young core that we have now, we can be a great team for many, many years.”

Before the lottery, there was no clear No. 1 pick. No LeBron James or Anthony Davis. And there was no Big Two on the level of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Among the top four or five talents, there’s a guy at each position, and none is a can’t miss prospect.

But with Cleveland drawing the top selection and already having Irving and Waiters in their backcourt, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-11 power forward, jumps to the top of the list. The Cavs have Thompson, Tyler Zeller (taken with the No. 17 pick last year) and the oft-injured Anderson Varejao up front, but every good team needs at least three quality big men.

The issue, of course, is that Noel won’t be available until at least Christmas, still recovering from ACL surgery in his left knee in March. And as we’ve seen in the past, training camp is a critical part of a rookie’s orientation to the league.

The Orlando Magic, who finished with a league-worst 20-62 record, will draft second, and they can use help at every position and on both ends of the floor. They have a handful of young players, but none is really a franchise anchor. Their best pieces are on the frontline, however, so they should be happy with any number of options in the backcourt, including Michigan point guard Trey Burke and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.

In discussing the possibilities, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn talked about building a culture as much as acquiring talent.

“I trust our general manager and our scouts and their ability to find the right person who’s going into fit in our locker room,” Vaughn said.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, another descendant from the San Antonio Spurs’ management tree, had a similar outlook, saying that he wants to continue “to build the momentum with what we want to be about, what our identity is, what our values are, and really staying true to that.”

Like the Cavs, the Washington Wizards have a young and talented backcourt. So they will probably look to go big with the third pick, though general manager Ernie Grunfeld indicated Tuesday that he’ll look for the best player available.

“In this league, players win, regardless of what position they’re at,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll take the best player that we feel will help us, in the short term and the long term.”

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.

We Lost A Hoops Legend In Williamson



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In basketball circles there are a handful of people whose faces are not recognizable to the casual fan but are instantly recognizable for insiders, players, scouts, coaches, executives and pundits alike.

Only a select few of those recognizable faces can travel the globe and retain that instant credibility in gyms from New York to New Delhi, a man whose voice carries and attracts all of the movers and shakers in attendance.

The Memphis Grizzlies, the NBA and the basketball world lost one of those men today when Kenny “Eggman” Williamson died after a long battle with cancer.

An assistant general manager with the Grizzlies for six seasons, Williamson, 65, spent three-plus decades immersed in the game from the grassroots level all the way up to the NBA. He is survived by his wife Nicole, their five children and four grandchildren.

A Harlem native and a staple at Rucker Park, Williamson spent 21 years as a college assistant, with stops at St. John’s, Louisville, Seton Hall and Columbia. He worked for the Charlotte Bobcats for three years before joining the Grizzlies and also worked for the Knicks for six years.

“Anyone who ever met ‘Eggman’ will never forget him,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said in a statement released by the team. “He had a huge personality and was extremely well-respected, both professionally and personally. Kenny was as true and committed a friend as one will ever have. He deeply cared for his friends and the youth of Memphis and of every community he touched. He was the greatest people person I have ever known. Every place I ever traveled with him, from Argentina to Turkey and throughout the U. S. he made an indelible impression and made countless friends. He was well-known is all basketball circles, both domestically and internationally, and his presence will be sorely missed.”

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins knew Williamson well, having dealt with him in previous stops before they worked together with the Grizzlies.

“I took a high school basketball team to Germany once and Kenny was there. Everybody knew him,” Hollins told Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal. “I interviewed for the Charlotte job and Kenny was working for the Bobcats at that time. And then when I come here and get the head coaching job, there’s Kenny sitting as the assistant general manager. We were very close.”

My encounters with Williamson began years ago, when I was just starting out as a reporter and would run across him in gyms around the country. One night you’d see him at an AAU game in Las Vegas. Weeks later you’d spot him at a pro-am game in Washington D.C. And a few years later I walked to my seat on press row at Staples Center and he was sitting in the scout’s seat next to me.

Anytime he sat next to or near me after that, I knew it was best to just close my laptop and open my ears for a few lessons on the game.

The rule, as I learned from others that new him much better and much longer than I did, was that you listened while he worked the room and made sure to heed his advice when it came to players, places and anything else he said because few people knew their way around the basketball world better than “Eggman.”

Rest in Peace Kenny Williamson!

Wiz Step Lightly On Nene’s Sore Foot

 

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…)

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.

(more…)

Flip Flops, Takes Fall For Grunfeld





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…)

Blogtable: Fixing The Wizards

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.

Is there any way that the Wizards can turn this thing around any time soon?


Steve Aschburner: Hahahahahaha! Not to be, er, flippant, but the question presumes that Washington wants to turn around its dreary season soon. It’s much more accurate to say that owner Ted Leonsis has given GM Ernie Grunfeld marching orders to get bad first, on the way at some point to good. The only reason this was getting more attention than, say, Minnesota the past two seasons was the big zero in Washington’s victory column. In beating Toronto on Tuesday and picking up other occasional W’s in coming weeks, the spotlight is off and the losing can continue. Not that there won’t be predictable firings and trades – but this ugly duckling was hatched from a (misguided) plan.

Fran Blinebury: In a word: No.  The only thing in D.C more dysfunctional than the Wizards is Congress.  But it’s close.

Scott Howard-Cooper: Are they making a big trade with a clear victory anytime soon? Is the best Draft in years anytime soon? Yes, they can turn this around, but relatively speaking — if turning this around means becoming respectable. That is possible. But this is not a playoff team. (more…)