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.”
The Spurs are now 6-1 on their rodeo trip and 25-4 over the last two months. More important is that they’re an improved defensive team. After ranking 11th in defensive efficiency last season, the Spurs rank third this year, allowing just 98.4 points per 100 possessions.
Also ranking fourth in offensive efficiency, San Antonio is the only team in the top five on both ends of the floor. The Clippers (seventh and seventh), Heat (first and ninth) and Thunder (second and eighth) are the only other teams that rank in the top 10 both offensively and defensively.
Success on both ends of the floor is the the (obvious) key to title contention. Over the last 14 seasons, only two teams that didn’t rank in the top 10 both offensively and defensively won a championship. They were the 2010 Lakers, who ranked 11th offensively and sixth defensively, and the 2004 Pistons, who ranked 18th offensively and second defensively. L.A. was the defending champion and Detroit added Rasheed Wallace at the trade deadline.
But ranking in the top five on both ends isn’t a guarantee of postseason success. Of the last 10 teams to finish on both ends, only two — the 2007 Spurs and 2009 Lakers — won the championship. Two others — the 2007 Mavs and 2012 Bulls — didn’t make it out of the first round.
Last 10 teams, top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency
Lost in first round
Lost in Finals
Lost in conf. finals
Lost in conf. finals
Lost in first round
Lost in conf. finals
Lost in conf. finals
Lost in conf. finals
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
The same, but different
The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies rank No. 1 and No. 2 in defensive efficiency. Offensively, they’re both pretty mediocre, with the Grizz ranking 19th and the Pacers ranking 21st. They’re both in the bottom six in pace, as well. From an overall numbers standpoint, they may be the two most similar teams in the league.
But from quarter to quarter, there’s a big difference between the two teams. The Pacers are the league’s most consistent team from period to period, while the Grizzlies are the most inconsistent.
But that had a lot to do with who Crawford played his minutes with, or rather who he didn’t play his minutes with. Just 113 of those 1,127 minutes (10 percent) were played with John Wall, and just 341 (30 percent) were played with Nene.
The Wizards’ most-used lineup with Crawford on it (the fifth lineup on this list) had him running the point with Bradley Beal and Martell Webster on the wings, along with Chris Singleton and Emeka Okafor up front. It scored an amazingly brutal 67.8 points per 100 possessions in 68 minutes of floor time. No lineup around the league has been nearly as bad offensively.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2013 trade deadline will be remembered more for the lack of movement than for any deal that was made. We had a handful of transactions in the final hours before the deadline, but the best player dealt this week was a guy who has started a grand total of 52 games over seven seasons.
That would be J.J. Redick, who is heading to Milwaukee in a six-player trade. The Bucks are also getting Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith from Orlando. The Magic will receive Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris in return.
Redick is a role player, but one who should help the Bucks, who have struggled on both ends of the floor as they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games, dropping below .500 for the first time since early December. Now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, they’re just three games in the loss column ahead of ninth-place Philadelphia.
The Bucks were reportedly the leaders in the race for Josh Smith, who is surprisingly staying in Atlanta … for the next few months or so. The Hawks apparently did not have a deal they liked, and will have to hope for a sign-and-trade deal in July if they want something in return for Smith. Our own Sekou Smith says that the Hawks will have “no chance” to re-sign Smith.
Atlanta did make a minor move, sending Anthony Morrow to Dallas for Dahntay Jones.
As much as the lack of a Josh Smith move was a surprise, so was the fact that the Utah Jazz stood pat. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, the Jazz have both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on expiring deals. We don’t know if the Jazz had an opportunity to upgrade their backcourt this week, but maybe, like the Hawks, they’d prefer to let one (or both) of those guys walk in the summer.
The Boston Celtics made a minor deal, but held on to both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for the stretch run. They’ll be adding Jordan Crawford to their backcourt, sending Jason Collins and the contract of Leandro Barbosa to Washington in exchange for the volume scorer who has been out of the Wizards’ rotation for the last couple of weeks.
The Heat sent Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick to Memphis.
The Bobcats traded Hakim Warrick to the Magic for Josh McRoberts.
In order to get under the luxury tax line, the Warriors are sending Jeremy Tyler to Atlanta and Charles Jenkins to Philadelphia.
The Raptors traded Hamed Haddadi and a second-round pick to the Suns for Sebastian Telfair.
The Thunder sent Eric Maynor to Portland.
The Knicks sent Ronnie Brewer to OKC for a pick.
In addition to Smith, Richard Hamilton (Bulls), Andrea Bargnani (Raptors), Kris Humphries (Nets), Ben Gordon (Bobcats), DeJuan Blair (Spurs) and Evan Turner (Sixers) aren’t going anywhere. The Denver Nuggets didn’t get a shooter, the Brooklyn Nets didn’t get any of their targets (Smith, Millsap, etc.), and the Los Angeles Clippers will try to get past the Spurs and Thunder with what they have.
The new collective bargaining agreement certainly had a role in the inactivity. The new, steeper luxury takes goes into effect next season, so contracts that don’t expire this season are a heavy burden to bear. Two years from now, the repeater tax goes into effect, so there’s plenty of incentive for teams to get under the tax line this year as well.
And now that the deadline has passed, we can get on with the remainder of the season, knowing that the landscape hasn’t changed one bit.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Josh Smith‘s days of playing before an ambivalent crowd at Philips Arena are numbered. If we’re reading the trade deadline tea leaves correctly, he might even be down to his final 48 minutes there on Wednesday night when the Hawks host the Heat.
The Hawks’ attempts to convince Smith to stick around until the summer, when he’d be a free agent, have not slowed a number of teams pursuing the versatile power forward.
In fact, the list of teams with reported interest in Smith seems to grow with every tick of the trade deadline clock. The Hawks have let it be known that they are willing to move the Atlanta native by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. And a player with his unique arsenal of skills can fit in any system.
The max-deal conversation that has raged for weeks was, like many things in the Twitter era, not fully understood by most of the people. They were simply repeating the stories of Smith and the Hawks agreeing to disagree about his value to the team that drafted him with the 17th pick overall in the 2004 Draft.
The funny thing is the Hawks, spanning two different front office regimes, have never really made clear what monetary value they have assigned to Smith. His current deal — he’s in the final year of a five-year, $58 million contract — was one the Hawks had to match after the Memphis Grizzlies made a play for him as a restricted free agent in 2008. It’s a bargain for a player who has been as productive as he has during that time.
Since basically his first season, Smith has been on the proverbial trade market every February. And the Hawks have drafted player after player (Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Al Horford) who were supposed to supplant Smith as the team’s best option at his position. Yet Smith has been steady. For every knock on his game — the ill-advised jump shots no one wants him to take, the spotty decision-making and the well-publicized dust-ups with coaches Mike Woodson and Larry Drew — there are things Smith and only a handful of other players can do on a given night.
When the Hawks traded six-time All-Star Joe Johnson to the Nets last summer, the playoff forecast for the franchise changed dramatically. Smith and Horford were left to lead a team of good role players that few people expected to be among the Eastern Conference’s best teams early this season.
There is a high probability that Hawks fans who have grown disenchanted with Smith’s game over the nearly nine years he’s played before hometown crowds. That throng will get their wish and see him move on. It’s up to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry to sort through the mess and find the right deal (with the most assets — players, draft picks, etc. — they can get for their best player).
And all indications are that’s exactly what he’ll do by Thursday’s deadline. (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: A 13-game night means there’s a little bit of everything for any kind of fan: lottery team showdows (like Bobcats-Cavs or Suns-Hornets), playoff team scuffles (such as Grizz-Hawks) and elite teams in action (like Warriors-Thunder, Rockets-Heat and Spurs-Wolves). We’re not going to pick a lottery showdown and that Grizz-Hawks game ended up being a blowout, so it’s out. The elite teams (OKC, Miami and San Antonio) did what they wanted and there was little doubt they’d win. So our pick today is Bucks-Jazz. Although Utah won by 14 points, Milwaukee gave a good fight most of the night. Plus, we’re a fan of watching big men go to work, and what team in the league has a better stockpile of ‘em than Utah with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter? It’s enough to make Karl Malone wish he could teach ‘em all a few tricks (more on that below) …
Kobe pleads for ‘urgency’ from Howard — The Lakers got word Wednesday afternoon that an MRI revealed Pau Gasol has a tear in his foot and are awaiting word as to how much time he will miss. Meanwhile, center Dwight Howard has missed L.A.’s last three games to rest a torn labrum in his shoulder. Oh, and, the Lakers have virtually no backup big men after they lost forward Jordan Hill for the season in January to hip surgery. All that said, Lakers star Kobe Bryant knows that for L.A. to climb back into the playoff race and stay there, he’ll need help from Howard sooner rather than later. ESPNLosAngeles.com details what Bryant is feeling about Howard and his need to rest his injuries:
“We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal,” Bryant said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan. “We need some urgency.”
The interview with MacMullan came one day after Bryant publicly challenged Howard, stating that playing through an injury is “something that you have to balance out and manage.”
Bryant also asserted that Howard is preoccupied with how he is perceived by fans and media.
“Dwight worries too much about what people think,” Bryant told MacMullan. “I told him, ‘You can’t worry about that. It’s holding you back.’ He says, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ but it’s always hovering around him.
“He just wants people to like him. He doesn’t want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing.”
Bryant also speculated that Howard, in his first season with Los Angeles, may not be accustomed to the Lakers’ standards.
“(Howard) has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is,” Bryant told MacMullan. “It’s win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That’s just how (the Lakers) do it. And that’s foreign to him.
“When you think about it, there aren’t many organizations that look at it that way. There are only two that can really honestly say that’s what they live by — Los Angeles and Boston.”
Howard preached patience in a recent interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, pointing to the fact that Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal needed three years before winning a championship with the Lakers.
But the 34-year-old Bryant, who is averaging 27.6 points per game in his 17th NBA season, is approaching this season with more desperation.
“We don’t have three years,” Kobe said. “We’ve got this year.”
Howard is listed as day to day, and his status is uncertain for Thursday’s game against the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers are hopeful Gasol’s injury will prompt Howard to return “sooner than later,” a team source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.
D-Will still dealing with pain — Deron Williams has had a rough season, part of which can be attributed to various injuries which have hampered his effectiveness and made him less-than the All-Star guard he usually is. Last night against the Pistons was no different for Williams, who had a rough night stats-wise and was mostly ineffective against Detroit’s young guard combination of Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
For Williams, it was another game with more pain. He came up limping and grimacing in the first quarter, with a knock that appeared to involve his knee or thigh. In the second quarter, he required attention from the trainer after grabbing his shoulder.
Williams walked it off, like he does with most of his aches and pains. And per usual, he never really recovered.
The point guard, who has been a shell of his former explosive self because of the injuries, had his moments in the fourth quarter, including a smooth crossover that led to an 18-foot jumper. But Williams was mostly ineffective, slow and hesitant, finishing with 12 points and nine assists — leaving him with averages of 11.8 and 6.5, respectively, in his last four games.
He also is missing his first All-Star game in three years.
“Right now I think he’s sore,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Williams, who has injured both ankles, his foot, his thigh and his wrist this season. “There’s no question. Someone like Deron who played all summer — we are beyond the halfway mark, so the guys that are playing big minutes are beat up. They are sore. In his case, his ankle and his wrist. He’s had trouble with that the whole year.”
Williams hasn’t dunked once this season, or hit a game-winner. So it was no surprise Lopez got the call down the stretch, with the game there for the taking thanks to Detroit’s fourth-quarter ineptitude (the Pistons shot 6-of-20 in the period).
Mailman wants back in with Jazz — Few players are as synonymous with a franchise as Karl Malone is with the Jazz. The Hall of Famer, former two-time MVP and the No. 2 all-time scorer in NBA history hasn’t suited up for Utah since the 2003 playoffs, but a statue of him resides out front of EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City and his No. 32 jersey hangs from the rafters in it. Malone currently serves as an the director of basketball promotions and assistant strength and conditioning coach for his alma mater, Louisiana Tech, but has also hosted a weekly radio show on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City in the last year. He appeared with ESPN 700′s Hans Olsen and James Rust on Wednesday afternoon and made his case to join Utah’s staff as an assistant coach:
Malone doesn’t want to replace any of Tyrone Corbin’s current full-time helpers, but he wouldn’t mind finding a spot next to Sidney Lowe, Jeff Hornacek, Michael Sanders and Brad Jones.
“All they’ve got to do is call me,” Malone said during an interview with ESPN 700′s Hans Olsen and James Rust on Wednesday afternoon. “I’ll work with the big men for free for a while until it work.”
This isn’t the first time Malone has offered his coaching services to the organization he helped turn into a powerhouse and a two-time NBA Finals squad during his 18 years in Utah.
“I’m saying it again. Ain’t nobody took me up on it,” Malone said. “Maybe they don’t want to hear me.”
Malone said he wouldn’t necessarily want a full-time gig and he has no desire to travel with the team every game.
“But look. We can start off and see if it working,” Malone said. “If not, I’ll be the first one to say, ‘Guys, it ain’t working.’ And they don’t have to say nothing.”
Malone has no doubt if the Jazz’s former coach was still in charge — or is again elsewhere someday — he’d be in a gym teaching bigs how it’s done.”If coach (Jerry) Sloan ever got another coaching job, I would be with him sometime,” he said. “End of story.”
“I’m being dead serious about this,” Malone said. “I don’t want no cameras around. I would be more than willing to come.”One large factor Malone is interested: He’s a big fan of the Jazz bigs.
“Utah Jazz is one of my favorite teams. I still have them doing damage,” Malone said during the 25-minute interview. “Utah Jazz have a group of the best big men that’s in the league. Go through any team (and compare).”
“All in all guys, don’t start blowing up the team,” he said in the radio interview. “If you don’t have to get rid of a big guy, don’t get rid of a big guy. You don’t see a lot of them coming down the pike. But the fact of the matter is, we have talent on this team.”The sports talk-show hosts also asked Malone who he’d pick if he had to between Big Al and Malone’s fellow Louisiana Tech product, Millsap. Malone grumbled and laughed about being put on the spot but then — you guessed — gave his opinion.
“I love Paul Millsap and he’s going to play somewhere all he want to. If you’re making me choose between one or the other — and I’m Tech Nation, Paul Millsap — Al Jefferson, to me, is a bigger guy that would do more damage at that position if you can’t bring but one of them back,” Malone said. “Try to bring both back. Whatever you do, do not get rid of these two young kids (DerrickFavors and EnesKanter).
‘Sheed still remembers his Bullet days — Long before Rasheed Wallace was an All-Star performer as a Portland Trail Blazer and a key part of the Detroit Pistons’ championship team of 2004, he was the prized pick of the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) in 1995. Going No. 4 overall to Washington, Wallace garnered All-Rookie Second Team honors and was part of a young-but-developing squad that included Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Calbert Chaney and other young talent. But after his rookie season, ‘Sheed was sent to Portland for Rod Strickland and Harvey Grant as the Wizards tried to make a serious playoff push. Wallace talked with the Washington Post’s Michael Lee about his D.C. days and what could have been had he stuck around:
“Every time I’m back here, people say, ‘Man, why’d you leave?’ ” Wallace said, shaking his head, at Wednesday’s morning shootaround at Verizon Center. “It wasn’t up to me.”
Wallace still blames former Bullets General Manager John Nash for his exit after one season with the team, but Nash had resigned before Wes Unseld eventually shipped him to Portland for point guard Rod Strickland and forward Harvey Grant in one of those promising-big-for-fading-small deals that the franchise was so accustomed to making in the 1990s (ahem, Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond).
With a few more gray hairs peeking out of his scraggly beard and unkempt Afro, Wallace still looks back on his time as a Bullet as a classic could’ve-been.
“Man, I think about it a lot,” said Wallace, who averaged 10.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in his rookie season. “I understand it was all business and money, but we had a helluva squad here. I wish we could’ve stayed like two, three years together, just to be able to see what we could’ve done.”
The Bullets were stocked with front-court talent back then, with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Gheorghe Muresan, Jim McIlvaine and Bob McCann and Wallace was often viewed as a luxury. Wallace started 51 games as a rookie, getting a lot of time at power forward as Webber recovered from a dislocated left shoulder, but he also dealt with troubles on and off the court in his short stint with the Bullets. He also didn’t need much time to establish a reputation for berating NBA officials, and had been mentioned in trade rumors since January of that season.
The Bullets reportedly offered Wallace to Philadelphia for the No. 1 overall pick, which turned out to be Allen Iverson.
Still, Wallace was stunned when he was seated in a barbershop in Philadelphia and got word that he was going to join the Portland Trail Blazers.
“My cousin called, and told me, ‘You just got traded to Portland.’ I was like: ‘Man, whatever. I didn’t get traded,’ ” Wallace said with a laugh. “About two seconds later, my agent [Bill Strickland] called and was like, ‘The rumors is true.’ I was like, ‘Aarghhhh!’ ”
The “what ifs” will never be resolved in Washington but the memories remain. When asked what he misses most about his days playing at the Capital Centre in Landover, Wallace said: “Just the enthusiasm of the crowd. The crowd felt the same things that we did. That it was a helluva team and we could’ve did some things. …I think we would’ve went far in the playoffs, because we were big. Unfortunately, I started those games that I did because Web went down. I hate to move into his starting slot like that. But man, we could’ve did a lot of things.”
Richardson facing season-ending surgery — The Sixers have spent the season waiting for All-Star big man Andrew Bynum to get into the lineup so they can see exactly what kind of team they have. But while Bynum has been rehabbing and progressing, Philly has been waiting to get veteran guard Jason Richardson back, too. Richardson hasn’t played since Jan. 18 as he’s been dealing with a nagging knee issue that will now likely require surgery and six to nine months of recovery time, writes Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
Philadelphia 76ers guard Jason Richardson learned Wednesday he will miss the rest of the season due to a left knee injury that requires surgery, a source told Yahoo! Sports.
The 12th-year veteran was told by a doctor in New York City that he has a cartilage tear the size of a quarter on the right side of his left kneecap. Richardson is expected to be out six to nine months following surgery that is expected to take place next week.
Richardson had missed the previous seven games after being diagnosed with synovitis in his left knee. He finishes the season averaging 10.5 points and 3.8 rebounds while starting in all 33 games he played in during his first season with Philadelphia. He is under contract through the 2014-15 season.
Carter a ‘long shot’ to be traded — Our own Jeff Caplan caught up with Mavs swingman Vince Carter, who has been hot lately for the Mavs, averaging 17.6 points on 49.0 percent field-goal shooting and 45.0 percent from 3-point range over his past eight games. Carter’s name has been bandied about in trade rumors, but the likelihood of him being shipped out of Dallas seems slim, and he seems to be enjoying his second season in Big D, too:
There’s no doubt that teams are and will inquire about Carter’s availability. Dallas reportedly didn’t get involved as a third team in the Memphis-Toronto trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Raptors because it wouldn’t part with Carter. Detroit took the role and acquired point guard Jose Calderon from Toronto.
A league source Wednesday characterized the odds of Dallas moving Carter by the Feb. 21 as a “long shot.”
Which Carter said suits him just fine, despite the Mavs needing a significant run just to get into playoff contention.
Carter signed a three-year contract with the Mavs prior to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season as part of the franchise’s retooling following the 2011 championship. His hopes of helping Dallas repeat didn’t materialize, but he had found a good fit. When the club decided to bring him back this season at $3.1 million, it fully guaranteed his final season next year at $3.2 million.
Carter’s contract is certainly attractive, but with Dallas uninterested in taking back salary and unlikely to net a major asset, there’s little reason to trade him when the club still believes it can make a push into playoff contention.
“There’s a reason he’s such an important guy to us,” Carlisle said following Wednesday’s win. “People key on his offensive stuff, but he’s just a big team guy. He’s one of our leaders.”
Two seasons ago with Phoenix, Carter’s career seemed to be closing quickly as his production continually dropped.
“Sometimes you get on a team where your talent isn’t needed, utilized,” Carter said. “This is a different type of offense here. I don’t know, I felt pretty good then and I will say I do feel even better. I put my work in after that summer because it kind of bothered me to even hear somebody think that or say it at that point in time because I still felt at that point physically able to contribute, to be effective for any team.”
Wall not a ‘franchise’ guy? — Ex-Magic coach Stan Van Gundy got in a little hot water with folks in the D.C. area after appearing on ESPN 980′s The Sports Reporters in late December and saying that Wizards guard John Wallwasn’t a great decision-maker or a franchise cornerstone. Van Gundy recently talked to Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com and clarified his point a little bit, but Stan Van apparently isn’t a huge fan of Wall as the ONLY top-level talent on the Wizards:
“I said this: John Wall is a talented guy, a very good player. I don’t think he’s good enough that you can build a franchise around him,” Van Gundy said after serving as television analyst for George Mason’s home game against Drexel last Thursday night. “I don’t think he can be your best player, certainly not clearly your best player. You need one guy better than him or a couple of guys at his talent level for them to win.
“To me that’s not a negative. I didn’t say it as a negative. I think some people took it that way. I just don’t see John Wall as a franchise player because – a lot like Rajon Rondo; I don’t see him as a franchise player even though he’s an All-Star – he’s not a good enough shooter yet and he’s not a reliable go-to scorer.
“In the NBA, your franchise guy has got to be a guy you can put the ball in his hands late in the game and he can get you a basket. I don’t see that from John Wall at this point in his career. Maybe it will develop, but I don’t see it.”
ICYMI of the night: Ricky RubiolikessettingDerrickWilliams up fordunks, as we’ve seen before. But last night’s ultra-high alley-oop to Williams might have been one of their best connections yet …:
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Lakers have won two straight games in impressive fashion and host the New Orleans Hornets tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV). They’re still six games under .500 and they still look like a real long shot to win a playoff series.
That would make these Lakers one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history. They brought together one of the best players of his generation, one of the best point guards in recent memory, one of the best international players in NBA history and the most impactful defender of the last several seasons. Yet here they are at 19-25, standing in 10th place in the Western Conference.
Injuries have played a role, and so has a coaching change. But there’s just too much top-line talent on the Lakers’ roster for them to have the record that they are. And it isn’t hard to see examples — mostly on the defensive end of the floor — of where they aren’t playing up to their ability on a nightly basis.
If the Lakers don’t make the playoffs, it will be difficult to find a more disappointing team in NBA history. But here are a few examples of recent teams to haven’t lived up to expectations. The list features current Lakers Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Pau Gasol, as well as head coach Mike D’Antoni…
The Jazz were coming off a trip to the Western Conference semifinals. They lost Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Brewer in free agency, but added Al Jefferson via trade. And they still had Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap, though Mehmet Okur missed 69 games with various injuries.
The Wizards had Gilbert Arenas (returning from a knee injury that limited him to just 15 games in the previous two seasons), Caron Butler and Jamison back together. And they added Randy Foye and Mike Miller in a trade with Minnesota. The idea was that they would get back to where they were three seasons earlier, when they led the Eastern Conference through January.
Though they won the No. 1 pick the following summer, the Wizards still haven’t recovered. Since the start the 2008-09 season, Washington has a 99-256 (.279) record, worst in the league.
2008-09 Phoenix Suns (46-36)
We tend to think of Shaquille O’Neal being a bad fit in D’Antoni’s system. But the Suns actually ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency in his one full season in Phoenix. The problem was that they ranked 25th defensively.
Right after the All-Star break, with the Suns holding a 30-23 record, Amar’e Stoudemire was lost for the season with a detached retina. But O’Neal and Nash missed only 15 games between them that season. And despite the presence of two future Hall of Famers (and past MVPs), the Suns finished two games out of the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
The ’08-09 Suns were one of only two teams in the last 35 years to win at least 46 games and not make the playoffs. The other was the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors, who were 48-34.
2006-07 Memphis Grizzlies (22-60)
The Pau Gasol Grizzlies probably don’t come to mind when thinking about disappointing teams of the past, but only *five teams suffered a bigger drop-off in winning percentage over the last 35 years. And the Grizzlies didn’t have the personnel changes nor the injury issues that easily explain the regression with those five.
They did trade Shane Battier to Houston that summer for the draft rights to Rudy Gay. And Gasol did miss the first 22 games of the season, putting the Grizz in a 5-17 hole. But they weren’t much better when Gasol returned. Coach Mike Fratello was fired at 6-24 and they finished with the worst record in the league.
The 2005-06 Grizzlies went 49-33 under Mike Fratello, made the franchise’s third straight trip to the playoffs, and ranked second in the league defensively. Then Battier left, Eddie Jones wasn’t the same player anymore and the ’06-07 Grizzlies ranked dead last defensively.
*The five teams were the 2010-11 Cavs (departure of LeBron James), the 1998-99 Bulls (departures of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson), the 1996-97 Spurs (David Robinson played just six games), the 1982-83 Houston Rockets (departure of Moses Malone), and the 2007-08 Heat (injuries to Dwyane Wade and O’Neal, who was eventually traded).
2006-07 Miami Heat (44-38)
The defending champs lost O’Neal for more than two months to knee surgery and Dwyane Wade for six weeks to a shoulder injury.
But both were in the lineup when the Heat got swept in the 4-5 matchup in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Along with the 2011 Mavericks, they’re one of two defending champs since the 1998 Bulls that didn’t win a playoff game the following season.
At the end of the season, who has the best record: Charlotte, Washington or Cleveland? Worst?
Steve Aschburner: Ah yes, the single-digit sweepstakes, the NBA equivalent of lobsters trying to claw over each other to get out of the pot. My guess for the final ranking of the Eastern Conference’s three worst teams is 1) Cavaliers, 2) Wizards, 3) Bobcats. Cleveland has two guys – Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao – who have played at an All-Star level, something neither Washington nor Charlotte can boast. The Wizards are anticipating a bump when point guard John Wall returns, though their head coach – Randy Wittman – probably is shakiest of the three fellows leading these clubs. The Bobcats remain in developmental mode, with victories nice, but playing time and seasoning as higher priorities for their young players. No team, frankly, is playing less to win this season than Charlotte – and that mission likely will be accomplished.
Fran Blinebury: With a healthy Kyrie Irving back in the lineup, I like Cleveland in this race of bottom dwellers. But that’s assuming the Cavs don’t unload Anderson Varejao at the trade deadline. The worst of the bunch is clearly the Wizards, a train-wreck of a franchise that long ago went over the basketball cliff.
Jeff Caplan: I want to say Cleveland will have the best record of three solely because of Kyrie Irving. He’s a phenomenal talent, but he has so little help. So I’m picking Charlotte to have the best record of this woeful trio. Even though they lost 18 in a row, as crazy as that sounds. I think they have a better overall roster and the pain from the seven-win season remains with them. As for the Wizards, I am impressed how hard this team plays yet nets so few results. Unless John Wall returns soon and is spectacular immediately, this group will remain in the cellar.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Washington. There, I said it. The Wizards need to make up four games to move to the front of your illustrious pack. That is very much within reason because (a) they are planning to have John Wall and Nene healthy the second half of the season, and (b) the Cavaliers and Bobcats are the competition. Cleveland will challenge for the lead as well. Worst: Charlotte. While the long losing streak is not a true read – the Bobcats are better than that – the roster has more holes than the others.
John Schuhmann: I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was asked this exact question at my holiday get-togethers. Such a hot topic in the streets! Cleveland will finish with the best record of the three, because Kyrie Irving is the best player on any of these teams and the Cavs have played the toughest schedule in the Eastern Conference thus far. And Charlotte will finish with the worst record of the three, because they’re just awful on both ends of the floor. The Wizards have been good enough defensively to keep them in some games, and maybe John Wall will be back soon.
Sekou Smith: Based on the presence of Kyrie Irving alone the Cavaliers should be the pick. But the Bobcats, even with that nasty losing streak on their first quarter report card, still sit ahead of both of the Cavaliers and Wizards in the standings right now. As much as they’ve been ridiculed here and elsewhere for their struggles, it’s hard to see how two teams that couldn’t make up ground on a team in the midst of a staggering 18-game losing streak are all of a sudden going to pass the Bobcats up now that the worst is presumably over. And to their credit, the Bobcats battled during that losing streak. They were not just taking beatings without putting up a fight. That kind of intestinal fortitude will come in handy over the next three and a half months of action.
HANGTIME SOUTHWEST –Andray Blatche can be a baaaaaad man. By both interpretations of the vernacular.
His talent (if not always his effort) is undeniably positive, a big man with a handle so supple he makes guys half his size envious. And, man, does he have moves. Like Sunday night when he sized up Sixers center Spencer Hawes a step inside the arc and with one dribble to the right put Hawes on his heels, veered into the paint, launched himself to the rim while levitating the basketball on the upturned fingertips of his right hand only to flip his wrist at the last moment and throw it down.
His behavior, however, is equally as undeniably negative. Confounding, maddening, a chain of self-inflicted screw-ups, senseless altercations, childish decision-making and outright selfishness.
Google “Andray Blatche” and “trouble.” Before you can finish typing “trouble,” “trouble again” pops up.
There are hard-headed players who enter the league too young, too ill-equipped to handle the sudden wealth and freewheeling lifestyle, or are simply too stubborn, and never materialize. Phoenix’s Michael Beasley is well down that road and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins may be, too.
For some, the light bulb eventually comes on. For others, it never does. Blatche, in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets, is standing at that career crossroads. And why not hope for a so-far feel-good story to continue that way on Christmas, when Blatche, granted new life in the league, and his recently wobbly Nets play host to the Boston Celtics (Noon ET, ESPN)?
“I’m wiser, definitely wiser,” Blatche said last week during a telephone interview. “Just more open-minded today. Back then I didn’t have my priorities straight.”
Blatche is averaging 11.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 49.8 percent shooting in 21.0 minutes as a valued reserve. His per-36 numbers have soared to career-best levels of 19.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
But, there’s also been signs that Blatche still doesn’t get it. After the Nets’ home opener, Blatche ran out of gas and thought it’d be a good idea to share his misadventure via Twitter. While an empty tank is no a crime, it’s not exactly a sign of staying on top of things. Putting it on Twitter didn’t do much to enhance his reputation.
A few weeks later, as his old Washington Wizards were in midst of a long losing streak to start the season, Blatche ribbed the club that drafted him and signed him to an extension in interviews and on Twitter. He said the Wizards, who drafted him in the second round and signed him to an extension despite numerous red flags, didn’t support him and “they tried to end me.”
So the ending to this story, happy or sad, is far from told.
“It was a reality check,” Blatche said. “I almost lost something that I love doing, so you can say it was a wake-up call.”
UPDATE: On Saturday, Bargnani claimed that he was misquoted. However, the Italian journalist who interviewed Bargnani said that is not the case.
An emotional Andrea Bargnani made it clear he was misqoted by Italian media. Not pleased. Teammates knew he didn't say it like that— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) December 15, 2012
Apparently, Bargnani hasn’t watched the Washington Wizards.
OK, so that was an unnecessary potshot. There’s nothing funny about how hot the seat of Raptors coach Dwane Casey has become in the early stages of his second season. Casey, by nature, is a calm soul and he immediately told everyone to settle down, that the Bargnani quotes just might be a case of language-barrier word tricks that foul up the translation.
“When I read it, it doesn’t sound like some of the words are Andrea’s English, first of all, so I’m sure some of it was lost in translation,” Casey told reporters. “I’ll ask him about it. Every guy has his right to his own opinion, I don’t monitor guys’ opinions or what they say.
“Me personally, I would be very careful how I would interpret that, because we’ve all traveled and I’ve seen some crazy articles come out. A lot of it’s lost in translation. I don’t know what his intentions are or what he meant by his statement, but I’ll ask him.”
It wouldn’t be the first time an overseas newspaper, perhaps unintentionally, exaggerated a story or delivered in translation some variance on the subject’s actual meaning or context.
Here’s how the newspaper, La Gazetta dello Sport, translated Bargnani’s statements about his club:
“Nothing has worked from the beginning of the season. We are pretty much the worst team in the NBA. This summer’s moves in the market were made to build a winning team, but we are not winning.
“We are below all of the expectations. No one is used to playing with anyone. We have won four games: it’s a tragic thing. Whatever way you look at it, it is a desperate situation. Since four years ago, we have kept losing. To improve, the only thing we can do is to win, and for now, we have not.”
Bargnani, 27, has taken plenty of grief in Toronto as a scapegoat for the team’s ongoing struggles, and the former No. 1 draft pick is a frequent trending topic on the rumor mill. He wasn’t on the floor Friday night for the Raptors’ resounding 95-74 victory over the visiting Dallas Mavericks because of a torn ligament in his right elbow and a strained right wrist sustained Monday night at Portland. He could be out for more than a month.
The win snapped Toronto’s six-game losing skid and got the Raps just their fifth win in 24 games.
Casey’s beleaguered club will continue to try to turn things around, to string together some wins and make their perimeter-shooting big man eat his words.
In one of the unfortunate hamhanded moments in the otherwise revered film, “The Godfather: Part II,” Kay Corleone says to her husband Michael, “You once told me, ‘In five years the Corelone family will be completely legitimate.’ That was seven years ago.”
Diane Keaton’s character has nothing on Washington Wizard fans. At the time their franchise player John Wall went down with a left knee (patella) injury, they were told the 2010 No. 1 draft pick would be out eight weeks. That was 10 weeks ago.
Ten weeks ago, with Washington sputtering along at 2-14, with head coach Randy Wittman’s job hanging by threads, with attendance near the NBA’s bottom (28th of 30) and the Wizards’ offense even worse (a 97.6 offensive rating that ranks dead last).
Now Wall’s recovery time has been adjusted to “8 to 12 weeks,” according to Michael Lee‘s item in the Washington Post Friday. That buys them all another fortnight, though there really is nothing to be done if Wall continues to sit and watch and squirm even beyond that 12-week mark. Wall will be ready to play when he’s ready to play – you can’t hold rehab and recovery to a deadline.
All Washington really can do is help Wall cope with the frustration he feels and be as ready for his return as it can be. The 2-14 Wizards have gone 2-3 over the last two weeks (including the big upset of Miami Tuesday), compared to 0-11 before that, so it’s unlikely they would be way better had their preferred point guard returned to action according to the initial eight-week prognosis.
Heading into Saturday’s game vs. Golden State, Wittman told Lee the team’s style of play is set up to minimize the load on Wall when he does return, first seeking to get his legs and game under him.
“Like I tell him, ‘You just have to be John Wall and let the chips fall where they may after that,’ ” Wittman said. ” ‘What you can bring and what we’re missing from you would be beneficial for our team.’ That’s all he has to worry about.”
Wall can leave it to the other Wizards to pick up their pace to play alongside him. To the doctors as to whether this latest injury could recur or hamper him all season. And to fans and experts as to what this means to his career, Wall’s third season in three as a pro in which he’ll play 69 or fewer games.
Last year gets an asterisk, of course, due to the lockout; Wall suited up for the entire regular season. But the NBA traditionally counts its games 82 at a time and the warehoused Wizard has yet to come close to that (69 as a rookie, 66 in 2011-12). He’ll max out somewhere south of 59 if he’s not back in 10 days.
Long-term durability, of course, is less a concern right now than Wall’s longer-than-expected recovery.