Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

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 …

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!

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!

‘Stale Contracts’ Offer Lockout Insight

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Some efforts to dig down to the root of the NBA’s labor problem have produced results that vary from foolish to the downright preposterous.

But few items hit home harder than the “stale contract” issue raised in this reflective piece by Washington Post columnist Mike Wise, a longtime NBA scribe who knows his way around the league better than most.

Wise hammered home his point with this passage:

If Kevin Garnett’s contract was the flash point of the 1999 lockout — his $126 million dwarfed the $85 million paid years earlier for the entire Minnesota franchise, thus making it hard for a small-market team like the Timberwolves to put enough help around a star to contend — the salary of a player believed to be a dud is at the heart of this dispute.

Owners are sick of paying premiums for damaged goods. Players are putting the onus on the people who signed them to those deals, irrespective of who turned out to be a lousy employee.

Nowhere was the impetus for a long labor stoppage more obvious than here in Washington, where what was once thought to be a blockbuster deal — Gilbert Arenas for Rashard Lewis this past December — was in reality one franchise’s lemon traded for another.

Only in the NBA can a town be excited by moving a player with three years and $60 million left (Arenas) for another with more than two years remaining on a $118 million deal. Why were the Wizards ecstatic? Because as bad as Lewis’s $19 million-plus deal per year was for a player with declining numbers the past three seasons, at least they only had to have his contract around for two years instead of three. That’s sadly called success before the trading deadline.

Beyond finding a more equitable split of income, stale contracts are why the union and the league may not come to terms this fall and perhaps beyond.

While some observers like to label this NBA lockout as simply a chicken contest between millionaires and billionaires, it’s so much more than that. There are legitimate issues that must be resolved before we get our game back.

Regardless of whose side you take in this fight, it should be clear by now to anyone paying close attention that fundamental changes to the way the league operates will have to come before the two sides agree to get back to the business of basketball.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 37)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When a monster trade happens and you need an extensive breakdown, we’d like for you to be able pull up a chair here at the hideout and get all your questions answered.

We’ll take care of everything, including asking all the right questions of the people in the know.

So on a weekend that sees Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu all change teams on the same weekend (in two different deals instigated by Magic GM Otis Smith), we want to make sure you come here for the breakdown.

And we took care of all that and more on Episode 37 of the Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

Several friends of the program were kind enough to lend us their time to make sure we covered all the bases. Our main man Michael Lee of the Washington Post joined us to break things down from the Wizards’ angle. Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post weighed in on from the Magic perspective.

If this is just the start of a crazy couple of months before the February trade deadline, two more teams that could be in the middle of the movement mix are the Hawks, the only team in the Southeast Division yet to overhaul their operation in the past two seasons, and the Knicks, who are desperately pursuing another All-Star (Carmelo Anthony) to play alongside Amar’e Stoudemire.

So naturally, we decided to take a proactive approach in that regard. Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution helped us out with the Hawks’ thinking as we head to the deadline, while Alan Hahn of Newsday helped us finish off the show in style with some Knicks chatter.

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast Lang Whitaker of SLAM Magazine, our super producer Micah Hart of NBA.com’s All Ball Blog and your host Sekou Smith on Twitter.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here.