Posts Tagged ‘Ted Leonsis’

Five teams LeBron should, but won’t consider

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pat Riley discusses the Big 3 staying in Miami

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Even before Pat Riley went all Clint Eastwood — Stay, “if you’ve got the guts” – during his entertaining Thursday news conference, my money was on LeBron James understanding that island hopping for titles on the backs of fans’ emotions isn’t a good look. And so he will ultimately keep gunning for not three, not four, not five … in sun-kissed South Florida.

Of course, Dan Gilbert never dreamed LeBron would dump his Cleveland Cavaliers, but he did. So until he says otherwise, there is always a chance The Chosen One will think his work is done here and seek a new hoops metropolis to conquer.

It certainly would be unprecedented, the most dominant player in the game packing his bags yet again, and this time after leading his last franchise to four consecutive Finals and two championships. Who in the history of the game has ever done that?

And yet, there’s something devilishly fascinating about that very prospect.

Could LeBron lift a third team to the NBA Finals? Could he win a third title? A fourth, a fifth?

And for which team would he play?

Forget the Knicks, that move would have to wait until the summer of 2015 when New York has cap space. The Lakers? Always a possibility, but how rewarding would it really be to hang a 17th championship banner in Staples Center all the while being Kobe Bryant‘s personal valet to a sixth ring and even him up with Michael Jordan?

I’ve got five teams — three in the East and two in the West — that LeBron could vault to instant contender. Three of the five franchises have never won an NBA title, and of the other two, neither has won one since 1983. So LeBron would be a sight for sore eyes, and a boon for business in any one of these locales.

I call this list, The Teams LeBron Should, But Won’t Consider.

His desire should be to stay in the Eastern Conference because it’s just a whole lot easier to get through the East than the brutally competitive West. Plus, with the Heat instantly weakened, the path to the East crown would truly be wide open. So here are my five:

1. Washington Wizards: The Wizards’ finances are in as good as shape as the Wizards’ backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal emerging as a dynamic duo. Washington needs to re-sign center Marcin Gortat to reproduce a front line with Nene. Add LeBron — who would come in as the elder statesman to the Wizards’ rising stars, so there’s no adjustment period as to who is the alpha dog (assuming Wall can handle it) like there was initially in Miami with Dwyane Wade – to this starting lineup and dare I call them Eastern Conference favorites.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Don’t laugh. And, hey, if LeBron and Carmelo Anthony really want to team up, here’s their spot. There’s so little money on the books that Philly could sign both stars and still have enough left over to add some pretty good role players. These two could come in as the big brothers and lead one of the great youth movements of our time. Think about it, the Sixers already have Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at point guard and 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel is ready to roll after sitting out all of last season. With the third pick in next week’s Draft, they’ll add another high-caliber youngster, maybe Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. Then there’s consummate pro Thaddeus Young. Sounding good isn’t it?

3. Toronto Raptors: General manager Masai Ujiri has already overseen a couple minor miracles in shedding the salaries of Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, so what’s one more? The books still aren’t as clear as in Philly, but it can work. Re-signing Kyle Lowry might be out the window, but how about Greivis Vasquez, budding, young star DeMar DeRozan, LeBron, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas? I’m pretty sure coach Dwane Casey would be good with it.

4. Phoenix Suns: Imagine LeBron driving and then trying to decide if he should kick it out to Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye or maybe Gerald Green. Imagine LeBron sprinting for fast-break dunks with a perimeter defense that includes himself and the dogged Bledsoe, and a team that stamped itself as one of the great hustling squads of last season. If we thought the old Steve Nash-Mike D’Antonio Suns teams were fun, whoa, this one could fly off the charts.

5. New Orleans Pelicans: There’s some work, not a ton, to be done on the payroll side, and there’s some tradable commodities despite multi-year deals in place (i.e. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon) and nothing should be viewed as impossible when it comes to pairing LeBron with Anthony Davis, right? Greatest inside-out duo since Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal? This pairing has devastation written all over it. New Orleans would never be the same.

However, we all know that no one backs down from a challenge issued by Clint Eastwood.

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…)

Wall managing to move Wizards ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Sans Nene, Wizards roll to 3-1 lead over Bulls

WASHINGTON — Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal hit the shots. John Wall hit the open man.

Trevor Booker and Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster ran the floor. John Wall ran the show.

Funny thing is, Wall was far more flashy and flamboyant, far more noticeable on Friday in Game 3 — double crossover dribbles that left defenders cross-eyed, one-handed slam dunks on breakaways, even a missed layup following a 360-degree spin that might have been the most breathtaking move of the night.

Of course, the Wizards lost Game 3 and they needed a different Wall on Sunday, one who was less soloist standing apart from the orchestra and more conductor standing in front of it.

No-no Nene. No-no problem, because Wall managed the way the Wizards played at both ends of the floor the way a surgeon manages an operating room.

“That’s a good word,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “That’s exact word I just used in there with the team. I think this series he’s managed the game.

“He understands who needs the ball, where the need it, who has got it going, where to attack and be aggressive himself and then, the most important thing for us against this team, is taking care of the ball. When we have six turnovers for the game and two in the second half, if we can get a shot every time down the floor, I’ll be really pleased with where we are at in the game.”

Where the Wizards are at following their 98-89 win in Game 4 is holding onto a 3-1 lead over the Bulls and on the cusp of their first playoff series win since in nine years. In fact, Washington as a franchise has not held a 3-1 lead in any series since the 1978 Eastern Conference finals over San Antonio when the Bullets went on to win their only NBA championship.

Let’s not get too far ahead in the hyperbole since the Wizards have not yet even closed out Chicago. But the majestic learning curve is evident for the 23-year-old point guard in his fourth professional season getting his first taste of the playoffs.

This was a day full of emotion and import for the Wizards and they treated it from the start almost like it was a Game 7 with no margin for error.

“It was a must-win for us,” said Gortat. “Because if we lost this game, it means that winning the first two on the road in Chicago meant nothing.”

The were playing without their rolling ball of thunder power forward Nene, who got himself suspending for head-butting and trying to twist Jimmy Butler’s head like a grape off the stem on Friday night.

It was a game and an atmosphere so big that 57-year-old team owner Ted Leonsis got into the act by wearing a Nene jersey at courtside. It was a situation and a loss to their lineup so big that the Wizards had to make up for it by making all the small plays.

There was Gortat, scrapping, battling, hustling to keep balls alive off the glass even when he couldn’t make layups. There was Ariza doing everything he could to be disruptive at the defensive end when he wasn’t filling up the bucket for 30 points. There was veteran Andre Miller spotting Webster sealing off a smaller defender D.J. Augustin and finding him with a perfect lob pass. There was Drew Gordon slapping a sure dunk out of the hands of the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer. There was Booker making a desperate fourth quarter save by leaping over the end line and heaving the ball back over his head to Wall. There was Wall jumping into passing lanes for steals and deflections.

This is the way it often happens with the young prodigies, who have talent oozing out of their pores, but have to harness it for the sake of the team. In four NBA seasons, we have seen what Wall can do. Now he is learning what and how he must do it if his team is going to advance. It’s why a young Isiah Thomas used to go to the NBA Finals as a spectator to mine the nuggets of how Magic Johnson and Larry Bird became champions. It’s all a process.

“John is learning what we are playing for and understanding now what we are playing about,” said the veteran center Gortat. “You can’t trip in the playoffs too many times.

“Hopefully the playoff situation will teach these guys — John and Bradley — something and next year in the regular season they are going to perform like that every game. Because it really shows what they’re made of. These two guys are extremely talented, extremely competitive and hopefully they will play like that every game.

“I see the difference. John especially is learning what it means to lead. There are many nights when we will need him to score and do all of those great things. But every night we need him to be in charge.”

Managing to move ahead.

Wittman goes from ‘worst’ to ‘first’ as Wizards make playoff noise

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Wizards’ Game 2 win

The NBA playoffs are only two games old for the Washington Wizards, but that’s enough for their coach, Randy Wittman, to already have gone from worst to first.

Some stipulations on the terms are necessary here: Wittman, whose eight seasons as a head coach have been split among Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington stints, ended the 2013-14 regular season with the worst winning percentage (.367, 191-329) of any NBA coach who has worked at least 400 games. That cutoff covers 90 men and a bunch of Hall of Famers, from Phil Jackson‘s record .704 success rate to Lenny Wilkens‘ .536 over the largest sample size (2,487 games).

Next-worst behind Wittman by a coach who meets the 400-game criterion? Former Washington center and coach Wes Unseld (.367, 202-345). Which means that, if the Wizards go 12-15 in their first 27 games next season, Wittman will climb out of that particular hole.

But he’s already out of the hole in his first taste of the postseason as a head coach. At 2-0, Wittman is in sole possession of the best winning percentage (1.000) in NBA playoff history.

That’s better than the No. 2 man, Jackson (.688), and way better than fellows such as Pat Riley (.606), Gregg Popovich (.618) and Red Auerbach (.589). Of course, those four guys coached a fat, round total of 1,001 playoff games, including Popovich’s work in Game 2 Wednesday against Dallas.

Obviously this all is a hoot, mere fun with numbers. If the Wizards lose the next two in their Eastern Conference first-round series against Chicago, Wittman will tumble all the way to .500. And so on.

But this little bump – not on his resume as much as in how Washington looks to have peaked for this opportunity, beating the Bulls twice at United Center – speaks to the situations Wittman has been in and his ability to survive. Or at least, re-surface.

In and around assistant jobs with Dallas, Minnesota, Orlando and Washington, Wittman got some some typical head coaching opportunities, i.e., bad teams. He went 62-102 with the pre-LeBron James Cavaliers and got fired. He took over when the Timberwolves dumped Dwane Casey (another comeback kid) in January 2006 and went 38-105 before getting the ax himself.

Then Wittman moved one seat over again two seasons ago, after Flip Saunders got fired at 2-15 but encouraged his top assistant to stick around. Wittman steered a motley Wizards group to an 18-31 finish, then went 29-53 last season when point guard John Wall‘s injuries provided at least a reasonable explanation for the struggles.

A former first-round pick as a guard/forward under Bobby Knight at Indiana University, Wittman played nine seasons in the NBA mostly for Atlanta and Indiana. In his assistant stints next to Saunders in Minnesota and Washington, he often was deployed as the “bad cop,” correcting players while Saunders stayed above the fray as the “good cop.”

Over time, borrowing from here and there, Wittman developed his coaching style. And it’s still developing.

“You learn by being thrown into the fire,” he said recently. “And yeah, you learn a ton of things that you like and things that, ‘Boy, you know, I can’t do that. I’ve got to change that part of my coaching.’

“You mellow out a little bit more, you learn to delegate. Back then, you just tried to have your hands on everything, and you can’t do that – it burns you out.”

This season, Wittman and the Wizards were said to have had a fire lit under them: Make the playoffs or (gulp). The franchise’s five-year drought of postseason appearances already was too long for owner Ted Leonsis, and there was talent in place capable of doing better. After a raggedy start – 25-27 through the All-Star break – and an extended absence by big man Nene, Washington started to gel.

Now the Wizards are playing as well as they have all season. Wittman, who worked with a target on his back for a couple of years, is getting credit from the outside and, more important, the inside. He welcomes references to his college coach, Knight, as far as a defensive influence. But Wittman seems to have backed off the scenery-chewing.

“What stands out to me the most, man, is how he stuck with us,” 20-year-old shooting guard Bradley Beal said Tuesday in Chicago. “He came into a pretty bad situation and he basically turned the team around. He’s had faith and confidence in us from Day 1 – ever since I got here, at least – of what we’re capable of doing. And what kind of team we can be.

“For him having played in the NBA helps me out a lot, because he played my position. I learn something from him every day. He pushes us, challenges us every day to be the best we can be. He knew we could be a playoff team at the beginning of the year. Now we’re here. But we’re setting new goals and standards, saying, ‘Let’s get higher than that.’ “

Hang Time Q&A: John Wall On ‘His Wizards,’ The Evolution Of His Game And RG III




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is far from a finished product. And he knows that better than anyone. 

The Washington Wizards’ point guard and one of the budding stars in a league filled with potential young stars, Wall is currently working through the process of handling responsibilities as the face of a franchise and a player capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Wall’s off-the-court leadership has grown considerably the past couple of seasons and might be the most critical component for a Wizards franchise that has invested in him for the future to the tune of five-years and $80 million.

Wall reflected on his journey, his future, the Wizards’ playoff hopes, Robert Griffin III and much more in a recent sit down with NBA.com:

NBA.com: What is different about this vibe of this group as opposed to last year or the year before?

JOHN WALL: I think how we came back as a group when I returned from my injury and just playing with the guys, we all liked each other as a team, even though we weren’t winning as much, and enjoyed playing with each other. It’s a trust thing. It’s the first time I can honestly say in my three years playing here that we all enjoyed one another. Nobody cared who scared who scored. We were all committed to what coach wanted us to do defensively and that’s how we came into this season and knew how good we could be.

NBA.com: What about the consistency factor, you guys had so many names and faces come in and out of the lineup? There’s been a lot of movement, personnel wise, since you were drafted.

JW: Basically, the biggest thing was staying consistent in everything we do. Me, trying to get healthy and doing the same things to get better. Staying consistent and knowing what guys you would have on the team in a given year and that guys weren’t going to get traded. We’ve got a good core of guys that we know will be there and what we want to do with those guys. It helps when you are planning long term because a plan is in place and you know exactly what your roles are and what you need to do.

NBA.com: Guys always talk about that turning point or that moment when the light goes on for them. For you, was that moment sitting out the start of the 2012-13 season, learning, watching, processing what goes on from a different perspective other than being on the court?

JW: I think that was the biggest turning point for me, sitting out that long, even though I didn’t want to sit out. Just getting the chance to study the game better helped me. Watching my teammates and seeing what they were great at and then knowing how I could come back and make the situation better, is what helped me. I think those guys made it a lot easier for me. Having Nene and Emeka Okafor knock down shots and finish. Having Brad [Beal] and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza playing as well as they played. It was the first time I had guys do that and trust in me to lead the team and be their point guard. It makes a difference.

NBA.com: When you came into the league the East was loaded with top teams from Boston, Miami and Chicago to Atlanta and even Orlando. Things have changed dramatically since then. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Is there a now or never feel to this season for you guys, sort of like the door is open and you better get through it now or else …?

JW: It’s a great opportunity. And if you fall short right now, you are basically not committed to getting to where you want to be in this league, whether it’s the playoffs or whatever. My first three years, everybody was loaded. Now there is like four or five teams rebuilding at the same time. And that’s rare in this league. You have to make sure you have a good understanding of where you are as a team and be ready to jump in there if it’s your time. And I think it’s our time right now.

NBA.com: You had an owner (Ted Leonsis) who wasn’t shy about putting the pressure on his shoulders and also yours in terms of bringing the franchise back to a playoff level. He’s banked on you being an elite player and a franchise player. Does that add any extra pressure when you are already the No. 1 pick in your Draft and get the huge contract extension?

JW: I could tell the difference last season when I came back from my injury, just by the type of conversations I was having with my coach (Randy Wittman) and the things we were talking about and my owner and the meetings we were having. It wasn’t just about me improving and getting better, it was about a vision we all had for me and what that means for this team and this franchise. Being in on the planning process and being there from the start makes it different. The general manager coming to me throughout the summer and letting me know this is my team and making sure I understand that I have to lead, that’s all a part of the plan now. And I think I’ve put in the work to do it.

NBA.com: People always talk about putting in the work, but how has your work ethic changed since you’ve been in the league?

JW: My rookie season I didn’t know what to expect coming in. My second year was kind of tough because it was the lockout year. I was working my tail off but I really didn’t know what to do, because there was so much uncertainty. Last year was my first year to really understand the NBA game and comprehend what it was I needed to do and what I needed to work on. Then I get diagnosed with the knee injury and everything went sideways. So this summer I came in early and made sure everything was right, made sure I was healthy. And learning how to change the pace of a game, working on my body and improving my jump shot, those were the things I worked hardest on. I’m constantly getting better in all facets of my game and I think I can keep getting better and better.

NBA.com: Has the leadership component, particularly the vocal part, been tough for you? You’re not an older guy and you certainly don’t strike me as a very talkative guy. How hard do you have to work to remind yourself to be a leader in that respect?

JW: Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] helped me work on that. I’ve always been a guy that led by example. The vocal part I worked really hard on at Kentucky. He basically said you have to learn how to talk to certain guys. And you can’t go out and try to fuss and cuss guys out. You have to respect each and every guy in your locker room as a man. So I think that’s something I improved in. It helped that when I came back last year my teammates trusted me to be that guy, both with the ball in my hands on the court and without the ball in my hands off the court. Talking to them helped me improve in that area.

NBA.com: You’re also a part of USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team group. When you’re out there with all of the other best young players, all of the other top young point guards, what changes in terms of how you handle yourself and compete in that environment as opposed to being the face of the franchise in Washington?

JW: The toughest thing with that is you get to thinking like high school, especially when all the top point guards are out there. You want to battle it out with those other guys. But you are ultimately out there for USA Basketball, and that’s bigger than your name or the franchise you represent. So you try and just go out there and just play the game and get better, but also show the people in charge at USA Basketball that you can do whatever is asked of you if you are lucky enough to get the call and get asked to play in one of the international competitions. So it’s not an ego thing when you are in that environment.

NBA.com: You seem so much more measured and relaxed about things these days. Is this the most comfortable you’ve been on and off the court since you’ve been in the league?

JW: Yeah, 100 percent. I’d say 120 percent, the most comfortable I’ve been just talking to anybody and going into games, being on the court, and just feeling confident knowing this is the old me. My first three years, I was always kind of searching, how do I present myself and how do I do this or that the right way? The uncertainty is gone. This is the hardest position in the league to me. Every night somebody is coming at you. Seriously. You get no breaks. People can look at the schedule and you see Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon and those guys aren’t always talked about, but some of the toughest challenges I have is against guys like that. Because you have to show them the same respect you do a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

NBA.com: You have a unique dynamic in D.C. right now, being the young face of a franchise in a city where another player in similar position (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III) is going through a similar stage of his career at the same time. How strange is it to watch that roller coaster from so close and comparing it your own evolution?

JW: I feel for him right now, I really do. There are some parallels, but then again it’s totally different. He started off hot, Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff. My first couple of years there was a learning curve, some stumbles and a lot of learning to do. Now I feel like I’m finally getting there now, hitting my stride and now he’s struggling. It’s tough and it’s also a reminder of why you have to stay humble and hungry no matter what’s going on around you. Take nothing away from him, he’s still that same guy and still humble and hungry. But you have to be mindful of the fan base and what type of support they’re going to show you. When you’re struggling it gets frustrating for the fans and even more frustrating for us, because you know what you want to do for your city, the things you want them to experience with you playing your heart out day after day. It’s the same for him and the Redskins as is it for us, we’ve got a lot of young talent and people want that to turn into winning. The fans do and so do we.

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.

Wizards Going All In With Gortat-For-Okafor Five-Player Trade

Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors

In Marcin Gortat, the Wizards have the big man they need to fill out their supporting cast.

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – No excuses in Washington this year.

That’s what Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis has been preaching for months. Injuries will not be used an excuse for the Wizards not chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

So, out goes injured center Emeka Okafor, who is out indefinitely after neck surgery, and in comes Marcin Gortat from Phoenix. It’s a deal that bolsters the Wizards’ frontcourt rotation and allows them to continue on with their plans to ride John Wall, Bradley Beal and a talented young core group into playoff contention this season.

It’s the sort of aggressive, risky move you would expect from a team with playoff aspirations that they want to realize now rather than later. Leonsis planted the seed after last season, when injuries to Wall and others prevented the Wizards from taking off the way they expected.

When Wall signed his five-year, $80 million extension in August, it became a playoffs-or-else proposition in Washington. The injury to Okafor, as well Chris Singleton and rookie swingman Otto Porter Jr., took some of the steam out of the hype train. But the arrival of Gortat, a 7-footer who averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds last season in Phoenix, pumps some adrenaline back into things in Washington.

The deal, first reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, will also include the Wizards getting veteran guards Shannon Brown, Malcom Lee and Kendall Marshall, who was at one time expected to be the heir apparent to Steve Nash, for Okafor’s expiring contract and a protected first-round pick in the 2014 Draft.

The Wizards are not expected to keep Brown, Lee or Marshall on their already stocked roster, waiving all three to get to the league-maximum 15-man group in time for the start of the regular season next week.

The Suns acquisition of both Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in consecutive summers, however, pushed Marshall into the margins in a rebuilding process in Phoenix that has yet to find a true foundation.

With a new direction and a new boss, general manager Ryan McDonough, the Suns are essentially waiving the white flag in the Western Conference playoff hunt and plotting a course with assets, cap space and a robust crop of talent in the 2014 Draft pool. Contract extension talks with Bledsoe are reportedly ongoing, but he appears to be the only established player safe from the trade chatter. (There have been rumors for months about Dragic being dangled as trade bait for the right asset).

It’s an interesting move by both parties, one that signals a definite shift in strategy by a Wizards team focused on the here and now and similarly deliberate move by a Suns team planning for the long-term future.

Randy Wittman and the Wizards have the big man they need to fill out that supporting cast around Wall and Beal. And Gortat gets his chance to prove he’s not just a great backup (to Dwight Howard in Orlando) or a guy who can put up solid numbers on a struggling team.

The best part, though, is the Wizards are not just talking about doing whatever it takes to become a part of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, they are making the moves necessary to make sure those words have a chance to become a reality.

It’s like the owner said, no excuses.

Wizards’ Wall All About The Playoffs





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – He’s going to write it on his shoes before every game, and for his sake let’s hope that adds up to 82 times during the regular season. He’s going to speak it into existence every time someone sticks a camera, microphone or tape recorder in his face.

If can do anything about it, John Wall is going to will the Washington Wizards into the playoffs one way or another.

It’s an ambitious goal for someone who has never known anything but the lottery during his brief career. It’s also a courageous thing to do in this day and age, when anything you say can and will be held against you on social media at some point. I think Wall is right to repeatedly mention the word “playoffs” where his Wizards are concerned. That’s what a leader does, identify the goal and then fight, claw and scrap until that goal is reached.

So when Wall opened up to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report recently, he expanded on what he and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis have been saying for months since before Wall signed that five-year, $80 million extension … it’s playoffs or bust this season:

“I should be in the playoffs,” Wall said.

Don’t just talk about it, be about it. And from all indications that’s exactly what Wall is doing. He’s no longer the young point guard playing strictly on instincts and raw talent. He’s refined his game a bit and his confidence is soaring:

“My first two years, I wasn’t really confident,” Wall said, “because I didn’t believe in myself and some other people didn’t believe in me. But that was just me not being confident in my own ability.”

With another offseason of training and shooting drills behind him, Wall said, “My confidence level is at an all-time high.” He added, “This is the most comfortable I’ve felt with shooting the ball. So I don’t care if I miss 12 straight. I still will shoot an open shot without no hesitation.”

Despite everything, Wall averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists last season and is the sixth-fastest player in NBA history to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 assists in a career, hitting those marks in just 124 games.

With a better jumper and a little more judicious passing, Wall might yet threaten to break the top tier of point guards. Early reports from training camp were positive.

“I think he’s taken a step,” coach Randy Wittman said. “Direction and being a leader, and vocal, and being the guy that kind of gets everybody where they need to be.”

We’ve been saying it for months now, the renaissance in Washington starts and ends with Wall and the grand investment Leonsis has made in the now healthy face of his franchise. The talent is there (his backcourt mate Bradley Beal is a budding young talent that is ready for prime time as well). So is the drive. The leadership is still a work in progress, but he’s clearly on the right track.

The only thing left to do … did someone say “playoffs?”

Write it down, take a picture, do whatever you need to young fella.

Set the bar yourself!

Wizards, Wittman Chasing .500

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The moving target that has been Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis‘ expectation for his basketball team through the years got firmed up considerably about a month ago. Splitting some sort of difference between chasing a playoff berth and avoiding the bottom two or three spots in the NBA standings, Leonsis set a clear goal: Finish .500 in the games remaining, counting from point guard John Wall‘s return from a left knee injury.

Simple enough, to track if not to achieve. After all, the Wizards without Wall went 5-28 through the first 33 games of 2012-13. That would suggest that more than just a one-player fix was needed – Nene was hurting too, with Washington 1-12 in the big man’s absences. But Wall’s return to action on Jan. 12 seemed a reasonable line of demarcation, representing the biggest talent boost these guys were going to get.

So far? So fair. As in neither great nor rotten, as in mediocre, as in middling, as in meeting Leonsis’ January-imposed standard, as in way better than they were. Washington is 10-9 with Wall. Since Jan. 7, the low point after 33 games, it has posted a better W-L record than eight of the 14 other Eastern Conference teams and it now looks down rather than up in the standings at Charlotte and Orlando.

A glimpse of some team stats shows the difference Wall has helped make at both ends of the floor:

                        Pre-John Wall              Post-John Wall

W-L:                 5-28                             10-9

PPG:                89.2                             94.7

OPPG:             97.2                             91.7

FG%:               40.8                             46.2

DFG%:            44.0                             43.0

The defense that kept Washington in more games than it otherwise would have managed now ranks fifth with a 102.0 defensive rating. Offensively, the Wizards still are 30th of the NBA’s 30 (97.7). But with Wall back, and with top pick Bradley Beal developing rapidly (including East rookie of the month honors in December and January), the work coach Randy Wittman got out of them even in lean times has been paying off.

“We’re not surprised at all,” Beal said at All-Star Weekend. “In our heads, our record should be backwards. If we had everybody healthy, if things were right ever since the beginning … not to use that as an excuse but since [Wall has] been back, everything’s been perfect. John creates so much more space out there on the floor. So with myself and some other shooters, and then our bigs down low, I think it’s going to be difficult for a team to guard us.”

Defensively, Washington has held 11 consecutive opponents under 100 points, its longest such streak since March 1999. That’s in jeopardy this weekend with Denver in D.C. Friday and Houston showing up Saturday. Still, the Wizards’ defensive habits aren’t likely to be lost – tested maybe but not lost – in a span of 48 hours.

“Usually a team that has our record, they’re a sieve at the other end,” assistant coach Jerry Sichting said recently. “Our guys bought in, they played good defense. Most of our problems, we just couldn’t score. The first two months, we were really lucky to get to 90. Sometimes we were struggling to get into the 80s. But Randy’s got them playing hard and he’s got them playing defense, so the foundation is there to win games.”

There’s one of the X factors in this: Wittman. Once assumed to be a Bob Knight disciple in coaching style stemming from his Indiana roots – and overlooking his nine seasons in the NBA not playing for Knight, followed by years as an assistant with the Pacers, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Magic and Wizards – Wittman is on his third head coaching job. Each circumstance has been different – though consistently lousy – and he has learned at every stop.

“He’s a coach who believes in his team,” Wizards guard Martell Webster said. “Now that we’re starting to buy into the system, it’s paying off for us. He was never worried about his position. … He was very frank with [management] and very up front that it didn’t matter. He cared about us and what went on in this locker room.”

Wittman, 53, took over in Cleveland in 1999 in the thick of center Zyrdrunas Ilgauskas‘ foot problems – Big Z didn’t play at all in Wittman’s first season with the Cavs and lasted only 24 games in the second before re-injuring himself. In Minnesota in January 2007, he stepped in as a midseason replacement – then had Kevin Garnett traded out from under him that summer.

He took over on the fly again last season after Washington’s 2-15 start under Flip Saunders. Harboring playoff ambitions two years earlier, the roster underwent a veterans purge in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas fiasco, then an overload of immaturity (JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young) set up a second purge.

Wittman did well enough with what was left standing to finish 9-8 last spring and earn a fresh contract in June. And yet, there’s this:

Lowest winning percentage for NBA coaches with 400-plus games:

            .326     Randy Wittman, 133-275

            .369     Wes Unseld, 202-345

            .382     Garry St. Jean, 172-278

            .388     Tom Nissalke, 248-391

            .401     John Lucas, 173-258  

– Compiled by Elias Sports Bureau

Depending how you look at that chart, no head coach in NBA history has failed as often over such a long period. Or none has had the opportunity to fail that often. It’s almost like an MLB pitcher who loses 20 games; some manager must think he’s pretty good to give him the ball that many times.

Leonsis said last month that evaluating Wittman and his staff with a banged-up, shorthanded team would have been unfair. Basically, that’s the same job he had with the Cavs and the Wolves, too. Whatever the teams’ deficiencies have been, though, that .326 dogs him, not the individual players, the trainers or anyone else.

“I’ve never been in a situation good or bad where I wished I wasn’t in it,” Wittman said. “Even the tough start we had this year, I didn’t have any complaints. Our guys played their asses off. You try to keep them fighting and playing, and at some point it’s going to turn. Hopefully we’ve reached that point now.”

Some coaches benefit from good timing (San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich) and build from there. Others ride a wave of improving circumstances (Miami’s Erik Spoelstra). Still others hang back (Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau), waiting years for an opportunity that won’t instantly eat them alive.

That old saying about there being only 30 of these incredible, high-paying coach jobs in the world? Well, not all 30 are equally incredible.

“Most of the guys who would kill for that opportunity have never had to do it,” Sichting said. “It’s not easy, especially taking over in the middle of the season. Obviously things were going the wrong way or you wouldn’t be taking over.

“The thing that wins more than anything is talent. When you’re undermanned because of what your roster looks like or because of injuries, it’s really hard to win a game in this league. But Randy works his tail off. He’s got a great mind for the game, X- and O-wise. He lost a few pounds earlier in the year, but he’s making a comeback. We’ll get some more pounds on him.”

The key for the next two months: Win one of every two games. Prior to this 10-9 stretch, the longest a Wittman team ever stayed at or above .500 was in 2000-01, when the Cavs got to 20-20 before an Ilgauskas-less 10-32 swoon.

There might be more pressure now that Washington is fully manned (or nearly so, with Jordan Crawford traded and Cartier Martin limping). But then, there’s always pressure relative to the expectations, whether the owner’s, the fans’ or the individiuals. Otherwise, as Wittman sees it, you’re not setting the bar high enough.

“Hell, I hate losing. I don’t deal with it very well,” he said. “But if sit and worry about that, you’ll never amount to anything. Seriously, I don’t ever think ‘Aw, this is another tough year.’ I’ve been doing this a long time. You try to learn from it and become a better coach next year.”

While winning enough to get yourself asked back.