Posts Tagged ‘Otto Porter Jr.’

D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose. … He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

I love these guys! Pushing each other. We are all a work in progress in everything! Thunder mob

A photo posted by Kevin Durant (@easymoneysniper) on

No Panic In Wall Or These Wizards




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – He could have hidden, deflected the pressure or even blamed someone else when the Washington Wizards’ season got off to a rocky start.

John Wall is still a young player in the NBA, still learning how to lead a team. Few people would have blamed him for taking the easy way out when things weren’t going according to plan.

Wall, however, is cut from a different cloth. He didn’t flinch. He stayed the course, weathering whatever the haters and naysayers threw at him and his team, and helped guide the Wizards through the tumult of the first two weeks of yet another injury-plagued season. What looked like a potential meltdown waiting to happen two weeks ago appears to be back on track today, what with the Wizards fresh off of an 8-8 November (the franchise’s highest win total in that month since 1984).

Wall refused to panic and would not allow his teammates to do so either as they picked up the pieces early and kept grinding until they figured some things out. That 2-7 start is a thing of the past. The Wizards, winners of six of their last 10 games, are poised to continue their climb upward tonight against the Orlando Magic (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And that’s just the way Wall planned it, as he told Michael Lee of The Washington Post, sort of:

“I think everybody [else] panicked,” Wall said after Saturday’s 108-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “We didn’t panic because we know we have a good team and we know we have a team that’s capable of being in the playoffs. We know we got off to a rough start . . . but we figured out a way to win.”

With Bradley Beal sidelined with injury (for at least another week), Trevor Ariza joining him on the injured list and veterans like Nene clashing with youngsters in the locker room, things could have gotten a lot uglier before they got better. That 2-7 start could mushroomed into something even worse. Coach Randy Wittman is always on the hot seat and the sluggish start can only serve to make matters more complicated for a coach in this league.

“It was a tough start to the month, to the season. I don’t think any of us wanted the start we had, but it happened,” Wittman said. “And there’s going to be stretches again during this year where we have to get ourselves out of this and get on a run. To do what we did in this month with the schedule we had and the road games, I think it’s good. I think you have to be ready to take advantage of the situation when it turns your way.”

The Wizards banded together and worked their way out of that early season mess to move into a position to reach the .500 mark, provided they handle the Magic tonight, since Wall arrived with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. This is what Wizards owner Ted Leonsis was talking about all summer, when he was praising Wall as (and paying him to be) the leader of this bunch.

Not only did Wall raise his game — earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors last week and cranking out 22.6 points,  8.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals — he made sure that his teammates assumed their positions as well. They’ve responded in words and actions, taking advantage of a feeble field in the Eastern Conference to move into the playoff picture, as many of us expected them to this season.

“Never in our minds did we doubt that we were not this team that we’ve built all these expectations up to be,” said Martell Webster, whose contributions during this resurgence have been critical. “We’re headed in the right direction. We’re not at .500 yet. We have the opportunity to be there Monday. The goal is to get, of course, way above .500. It’s just consistency. Realizing the fact that when we play the game the right way, we tend to get great results.”

Now that they are on the rebound, chasing those expectations should be a bit more manageable. That brutal opening stretch of the schedule that saw them face a virtual who’s who of league powers from both sides of the conference divide, and 10 of 16 away from home, is over. Once they get Beal, their leading scorer, back, things should get a little easier for Wall. And we still haven’t seen prized rookie Otto Porter Jr. (hip flexor), who just started practicing full tilt.

But no matter what happens, we’ve already learned a good lesson about the Wizards.

There is no panic in them or their fearless young leader!

Wolves, Wizards On Different Paths




VIDEO: Kevin Love is all smiles after a win over Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In an effort to soften the blow, we put our sunglasses on when scanning back at our preseason predictions for this season.

There are so many hits and misses, it helps to have a little shade to work with for the ugly misses. For every prediction we hit out of the park (thank you Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves), there is a prediction that seems to go horribly wrong (there’s that mess in Cleveland and, of course, that wobbly start from John Wall and the Washington Wizards).

The BluBlockers are needed for tonight’s Timberwolves-Wizards matchup tonight in D.C. (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), a duel between teams on very different paths early on this season. Both teams are loaded with young talent and have quality depth. But the results have been vastly different for the two teams that are inextricably linked — Wizards coach Randy Wittman used to be Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman while the boss in Minnesota, Flip Saunders, once coached the Wizards.

While Wall and the Wizards have struggled to an ugly 2-7 start, including their current four-game losing streak, Love and the Timberwolves have shown themselves to be an exciting and aggressive crew.

At 7-4, the Wolves are living up to all of the hype, internal and otherwise. Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Co. have managed to take on heightened expectations and handle them appropriately. Throw in that Chase Budinger is back and practicing with the team and Minnesota is looking even better.

Love is in the MVP mix, coach Rick Adelman‘s got his supporting cast thriving and the roster’s balance and depth is finally paying dividends. The Wolves are in the midst of back-to-back grueling stretches of five games in seven nights, a mettle-testing, early-season grind that will could serve them well months from now.

Tonight’s game kicks off a monster week that will see Adelman’s team face off against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at home and the Brooklyn Nets Friday at the Target Center. Then comes a road date in Houston with the Rockets on Saturday and they’ll finish this stretch up in Indiana on Nov. 25.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“I don’t know if [the league schedule-makers] know that we’re almost to Canada and Houston’s almost all the way to Mexico,” Adelman told reporters Monday.

When your team is top three in the league in scoring and set to get another boost whenever Budinger returns to the rotation, none of the teams you are blindsiding will grant you any sympathy.

The Wizards, meanwhile, could use a little sympathy … and anything else they can get right now. When their owner, Ted Leonsis, used every opportunity in the lead up to the season to tout his team as a legitimate playoff contender in the East, he surely did not envision this humbling start.

Signing Wall to an $80 million maximum contract extension in August was supposed to be a sign of the commitment Leonsis was making not only to the young face of the franchise, but to the future. Wall was not only going to be the change agent for the Wizards on the court, his extension was also supposed to serve as the symbolic change in the way the Wizards did business going forward.

Veterans would see that the organization was serious about putting the resources in the right places and taking that next step from playoff pretender to contender. But it didn’t take long for reality to set in. As sound as the plan looked on paper, the Wizards simply didn’t have the right mix.

As talented as Wall and his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal one of a handful of early candidates for the league’s Most Improved Player award — surely are, something is still missing.

As my The Beat colleague and TNT’s own David Aldridge pointed out in The Morning Tip, Wall does not shoulder the burden of the Wizards’ slow start on his own. They’re not the same defensive monster they were a year ago, not with Marcin Gortat taking Emeka Okafor‘s place in the lineup.

A top-10 defensive unit last season, the Wizards are now a top-10 scoring team but falling woefully short on the defensive side. As DA pointed out, the slightest tweak to the Wizards’ rotation and chemistry has altered the product on the floor dramatically:

Nene, whose antipathy for banging in the post was well-known, was especially good with Okafor. The quintet of Nene, Okafor, Martell Webster, Bradley Beal and Wall was one of the league’s best defensive fivesomes last year. It’s not that Gortat is a horrible defender. He tries. But opponents, according to the league’s player tracking stats, are shooting 56.7 percent against him on shots at the rim. (By comparison, opponents are shooting 31.4 and 31.5 percent, respectively, on shots at the rim against New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez.)

“March has done a good job for us,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Saturday. “No question, ‘Mek was solid back there for us, the last line of defense for us, with his basketball knowledge. I think what March brings, though, is that big guy who can challenge at the rim. He’s also got a very good IQ. Defense is a matter of getting your knees dirty each and every night. It’s not a fun thing, but it’s a valuable thing. That’s where we have to get back to, understanding how valuable that is for us to be a good team.”

A good team?

How about a playoff team?

After all, that’s what we all predicted for the ‘Wolves and Wizards this season. But as of right now only one of these teams is living up to that expectation.

Otto Porter Has The Name (And Game?)

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – There’s been a lot of firsts for Washington Wizards first-round draft pick Otto Porter throughout his basketball career, and when he takes the floor on opening night, he’ll knock off more than just his first NBA game.

It appears he will also become the first Otto to play in the NBA in the league’s more than 60 years of existence.

There is a small asterisk attached to that statement. There was, of course, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham, who won the 1946 National Basketball League championship in his lone season with the Rochester Royals before coach Paul Brown recruited him to lead the Cleveland Browns to pigskin glory. Before Graham came Otto Kolar, a guard-forward who averaged 5.1 ppg from 1938-42 with the NBL’s Sheboygan Redskins and Chicago Bruins, according to Basketball-reference.com. For the purists, call Otto Porter Jr., the first modern-day Otto.

“Really, Otto is supposed to be a last name,” Porter said. “But I got it as a first name.”

Otto as a first name peaked in this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and perhaps its rarity now is appropriate for a person as unique as Porter. These days his name is about as uncommon as was his path to the NBA. Porter played high school basketball at the same tiny school as his father, Otto Porter Sr., in rural Sikeston, Mo., about 145 miles removed from the city courts of St. Louis. Porter Sr. never allowed his son to play AAU ball, a major-college pipeline and virtual rite of passage for nearly every elite-level player.

All his life, the only other Otto that Otto Porter Jr., has come across is Otto Porter Sr. Across the sports world, there have been a few, none as legendary as the Cleveland Browns quarterback. And the majority suited up or coached in the first half of the 20th century. There are exceptions such as Otto Linwood, a defensive lineman for Miami (OH) from 2005-06, and Army quarterback/defensive back Otto Leone from 1987-90.

“I really don’t know how grandpa gave him his name,” Porter Jr., said during a phone interview with NBA.com on Tuesday following a workout as he counts down the days to the start of the Wizards’ first training-camp practice on Saturday. “People always do want to know what it means. They’re fascinated by it.”

Otto is of Germanic origin and it means “wealth.”

The Wizards, in selecting the 6-foot-8, 198-pound forward from neighbor Georgetown at No. 3, believe they acquired a wealth of talent that won’t take long to bloom. Washington certainly could have selected potential franchise-changing center Nerlens Noel, but considered Porter to be a perfect complement  at small forward — long, lanky, can defend and potentially shoot the 3 — to its young and brimming backcourt of point guard John Wall, the No. 1 pick in 2010, and St. Louis-native Bradley Beal, the No. 3 pick in 2012.

“I feel like I can definitely help a team that’s on the upswing and turning things around, that needs an extra push,” said Porter, a 2012-13 consensus All-America who averaged 16.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 2.7 apg. “But all said and done, I’m here to help this organization win games. They’re going to continue to work harder and push and I’m going to come in and help with that as far as helping these guys get over the hump.”

That Porter, who boasts an impressive 7-foot-1 wing span, will play his NBA games at the Verizon Center, the same arena his Hoyas played their home games, has only eased his initial transition. Outside of Summer League and a brief stop back home, Porter, 20, spent the entire summer in D.C. He’d stop by Georgetown to visit friends and coach John Thompson III, but he spent most of his time working with Washington’s coaching staff and working out with Wall, Beal and other new teammates who seem to finally at least have reason to turn a cautious eye toward the playoffs.

The Wizards finished 29-53 last season, tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference, and nine games removed from the eighth playoff spot. But that comes with a rather large asterisk. With Wall out recovering from a knee injury, Washington started 0-12 and then 5-28 without him. Before a six-game losing skid to end the season, the Wizards were playing better than .500 basketball with Wall playing sensationally.

The East got tougher at the top, but the bottom three or four playoff spots could be a wild, wide-open race. Emeka Okafor‘s neck injury last week didn’t help the Wizards’ fragile frontcourt situation, but it’s not as if this group hasn’t dealt with injury before.

“The guys have a great attitude, they’re coming in and working hard,” Porter said. “They’ve seen how far they’ve come, so their work ethic just rose another level. Just playing with them, their focus, they’re working to change this organization around.”

Their newest addition plans to be a big part of a long push. If he’s successful, Otto might again become a household name.

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!