Wizards a long shot to land Paul George

The Pacers are shopping Paul George, and the Wizards have emerged as a potential trade partner along with the Cavaliers, Clippers, Lakers and Rockets.

George would be a great piece to roll out alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal, who the Wizards wisely wouldn’t move in any deal. Unfortunately, it’s for that same reason Washington is unlikely to land George.

The best deal Washington can offer without involving Wall, Beal or a third team is a sign-and-trade centered around Otto Porter. Moving George likely puts the Pacers in immediate rebuild mode, which makes a small forward with limitations on a near-max contract undesirable.

Indiana’s other suitors all have more reasonable offers to make. The Clippers could package a deal around Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. Individually, neither is as good as Porter at this point in their careers, but Crawford’s contract is only fully guaranteed through next season and Rivers is still young and showing improvement. The Rockets can trade Ryan Anderson, or work a deal around some combination of Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley.

Cleveland likely wouldn’t move Kyrie Irving, but Kevin Love is certainly an option and would be the best player any team could offer. The Cavs could also deal any of Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert or Channing Frye.

Similarly the Lakers have a swath of players they could send to Indiana and probably the most desirable youth for a team that might want to rebuild. If the Lakers plan to draft Lonzo Ball, as expected, they may want to make a deal around D’Angelo Russell. They also have Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and the most desirable draft picks of any of these teams.

George has expressed a desire to play for the Lakers once he opts out of his contract next year, but that doesn’t mean another team won’t rent his services for a year with hopes of convincing him to stay longer. If the Wizards were able to acquire George, they would move into the conversation of top two teams in the East, but without another trade partner, they’re probably a long shot to get him at this point.

NBA Kingdom, Pt. 1: Lay of the Land

Once the clock hit zeros in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, it was finally clear the league didn’t belong to LeBron James for the first time since 2010, at least not solely. But James didn’t lose the league to another player or a single rival opponent who outgunned him in a one-on-one showdown. No, James lost the league to a collective of individuals who had no chance to dethrone him without the assistance of one another. They jumped him for it.

Still, the Warriors haven’t completely snatched the league from James. With two championships in a three year span, they simply forced him to share it with a worthy opponent. When an individual changes teams, yet stretches his streak of finals appearances to seven straight like James did, it’s hard to draw an end to his reign, regardless of recent results. All it takes are a few calculated moves and the Cavaliers could be right back in position to win their second championship in three years. Even if they don’t make moves, most of us expect them to at least get back to finals.

It’s asking for a lot of any team to knock off the likes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the best supporting cast in the league without injuries playing a factor. This means star players will join near-forces to have at least a fighting chance at sniffing a championship. It means Chris Paul will consider joining the Spurs, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward will consider the Celtics, Dwyane Wade might team back up with James in Cleveland, and Kyle Lowry might leave a good situation in Toronto for a better one elsewhere. It also means players still under contract like Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony will be brought up in trade speculation.

Before James took hold of the kingdom, it hadn’t belonged to a single player since Michael Jordan. It was shared by teammates on great teams, or fought for every year by new contenders, but it hadn’t been shared by individuals from separate teams since the Celtics/Lakers rivalry of the 1980s. In order for that type of shared kingdom to continue to exist today however, James will need to win another ring soon. Because if Golden State wins another championship or two, he’ll simply be a footnote in what we look back on in the future as the Golden State dynasty.

What’s left for Wizards in regular season with 4 games left

Entering Wednesday, the Wizards sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, already guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Toronto Raptors, who currently have an identical 47-31 record and hold the tie breaker for third place, can either gain distance from or swap places with the Wizards in tonight’s game at the Detroit Pistons. But no matter the result, Washington is in a good position with a week left in the regular season. 

It’s that very reason some may argue that it’s time for Washington to begin resting a starting unit that has played more minutes than all but one team in the NBA this season. There isn’t much the Wizards can realistically play for in their final four games, so why risk injury and fatigue ahead of the real season? The answer is simple: the things Washington can accomplish are potentially franchise altering and these opportunities don’t come around often in D.C.

50 WINS

It’s no secret the Wizards are in position to win 50 games for the first time since doing it as the Bullets in the 1978-79 season. Reaching this milestone would be a tremendous boost to the perception of the franchise outside of the district and to the overall pride of the fan base within. It would also mean a lot to the players on this roster, who have made it known that winning 50 games is important to them. 

The Wizards have already checked off a few milestones this season, including a division title and at least 47 wins for the first time since that 78-79 season. The Bullets lost to the Seattle SuperSonics in the finals that year.

In its final four games, Washington plays the Miami Heat twice, the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons. These are teams the Wizards are better than and more than capable of beating, but two of which could still be playing for a playoff spot and won’t go out without a fight. Still, with this monumental goal in sight, the Wizards should make the push for 50. The opportunity isn’t guaranteed to come around again. Washington would become a lot more attractive to free agents and a place its own players would want to stick around. 

PLAYOFF SEEDING

The Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers currently hold down the 5-8 seeds in the Eastern Conference, separated by just 2.5 games. Miami, Charlotte and Detroit aren’t far behind. So things at the bottom of the playoff chase can move around just as easy as the top. Furthermore, Washington’s record against those teams currently in is an identical 3-1, so on the surface it would seem fruitless to play for seeding. The Bucks are rolling down this final stretch of season however, and if it was one team of that bunch to avoid it would be them. Chicago’s six wins in the last 10 games are as many as Milwaukee’s, but the Bulls aren’t seen as a threat, even with Dwyane Wade’s imminent return. In fact, Wade’s return may be seen as a hindrance to some. Atlanta has struggled mightily as of late and will be lucky to get in. 

Washington still has a long shot to grab a top-two seed, which would ensure home-court advantage at least through the first two rounds. The Wizards need to make that a goal in order to not only take advantage of the second-best home record in the East, but to also get the most favorable playoff matchups. If Washington can’t jump to one or two, it may want three, depending on where Cleveland lands. Where the Wizards are now, they would likely face Milwaukee in the first round, Cleveland in the conference semifinals, and if they got past that, Boston or Toronto would be waiting in the conference finals. Not the easiest road.


CHEMISTRY

A week ago, 50 wins and at least a top-three seed seemed more likely than not. The Wizards were in the midst of a four-game winning streak, including a rout of the Cavaliers. They followed that up with three straight duds against Western Conference playoff teams and have been playing .500 ball over the last 10 games. The previous span of 10 games saw the team go 7-3. The difference in those stretches are a decline in production by the team’s starting unit and a dip in three-point shooting. Markieff Morris is the only starter to have increased his offensive production over the last 10 games, but even he has dropped off dramatically in rebounding. John Wall made a higher percentage of his two-point shots, but his assists are just under 10 a game over that stretch. Still really good, but down from the 11 he averaged over the previous 10 games. It would behoove the Wizards to get that chemistry back between the starting unit as they head into the playoffs, as this team will only go as far as one of the league’s best starting fives will take it. Washington doesn’t want to stumble into the playoffs and have to play a team that likely scratched and clawed to get in and figured it out along the way.

Wizards can win ugly

As John Wall secured an inbound pass in OT of Wednesday’s game against the Nets, it was assumed he would be fouled and hit a couple of free throws to put the game out of reach. Instead, he stepped out of bounds trying to avoid the foul and gave the Nets an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds. Fortunately, Brooklyn failed to hit a tying three-pointer and the Wizards eked out a 114-110 victory in their 2nd consecutive overtime game.

Through 3 1/2 quarters, the Wizards felt like they were in control. Even without Markieff Morris, who sat due to calf tightness, Washington was the better team and played like it. Then, it was as if the Wizards tried to put their superiority on autopilot and coast to a victory – something you can’t do against any team in the NBA – and it almost proved disastrous.

Brooklyn made big shot downs the stretch as Washington struggled to defend the paint. And buckets didn’t come as easily for the Wizards as they did earlier in the game – or even as they did in Monday’s OT loss to Cleveland. Granted, the refs decided not to call fouls late in the game, but it was consistent for both sides.

All that being said, Washington still won the game. It wasn’t due to extraordinary plays or late-game heroics, it was simply from being the better team. They didn’t have to necessarily play as the better team. These are the type of games that Washington would’ve found a way to lose last season, and though moral victories aren’t needed in actual victories, it’s a bonus that the Wizards can incidentally win close games.

It’s very similar to how the Cavaliers beat the Wizards. They didn’t play better, but the team with the better players always seems to get more of the ‘lucky’ bounces and incidental plays. No, the Nets game wasn’t as good as the Cavs game, but it proved the same point in case you didn’t catch it yet. The Wizards aren’t just an avereage team playing good basketball right now; they’re actually a good basketball team. 

The Process may be working, but it isnt over

Before Joel Embiid burst onto the scene at Kansas as a possible number-one overall draft pick, I was reluctantly questioning “The Process” that Philadelphia 76ers basketball was engulfing itself in about four years ago.

I was reluctant because I knew there was a good chance Sam Hinkie’s plan could work. From a probability standpoint, it made a lot of sense that stockpiling draft picks and increasing your odds of picking earlier would turn into a great player or two. Still, I was glad it wasn’t MY team in full-on tank mode.

While the 76ers struggled through one of the longest stretches of ineptitude I’ve ever consciously witnessed, I was satisfied watching my Wizards exit the playoffs early as a model of consistent mediocrity – no one in the east was going to knock off LeBron James anyway, right?

Now, in the fifth season since a Jrue Holiday-led Sixers team bowed out in the conference semifinals and a stick of dynamite was set to the roster, the ideal of “The Process” appears to have been born into the form of a 7-foot, 250-pound force of nature. In what is effectively his rookie season, after injuries kept him from the court since being drafted third overall in 2014, Embiid is giving Philadelphia its first bit of in-season optimism since Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year in the 2013 season (before being traded the next year).

Through Jan. 19, the Sixers were +68 with Embiid on the floor and -292 without him. He’s a complete game changer, and even more so in the closing moments of games. Of players with at least 50 combined minutes played in the final six minutes of 4th quarters over that span, Embiid’s 38.5 PER ranked third behind Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook.

Embiid can shoot from long range, he’s skilled with has back to the basket – he’s got a soft touch and silky smooth moves – and his combination of footwork and handles is incredibly rare for someone his size. Oh, and he’s really good on defense. Before Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers, Embiid was on a stretch of 10 games scoring 20-plus points (he got hurt and finished with 18). He fell one game shy of tying Allen Iverson’s franchise rookie record of 20-plus points in 11 straight games. And when Embiid does score at least 20, the 76ers are 10-6.

“The Process” is finally a tangible thing that people can see and believe in, and the next part of it, 2016 first-round pick Ben Simmons, may finally play following the All-Star break. Combine Simmons with Embiid, and a surging Nerlens Noel – the 2013 first-round pick – and Hinkie’s plan seems to be a model others may want to copy.

Teams should take heed before going all-in on the tank, however, because the end game for Philadelphia is far and away. The final step in this drawn-out process is competing for a championship, because if the process was only good enough to get to the playoffs and make early-to-mid-round exits, then Philadelphia wasted 4-5 seasons to become the Washington Wizards. “The Process” is only complete when the 76ers win a championship, or at least make a push for the finals. It must be said though, the future looks bright with Embiid, and being competitive in the playoffs soon seems like a realistic possibility.

Draymond is the bad guy, and that’s a good thing

Are you not entertained? I have to ask, because everyone’s complaining about Draymond Green’s intensity as if they’re a Cleveland or Golden State fan.

Unless you root for the Warriors, you should probably look down – you’re sitting on a high horse that’s not in the race. The thoroughbreds left awhile ago. Get down and enjoy the show. This shit is getting good.

Green is providing all you pundits the talking points necessary to bash the bad guy, but without him you wouldn’t have anything interesting to talk about – just the mundane chemistry issues of a 35-6 team. Poor Warriors, with their best record in the NBA, how will they ever get it together? Let’s face it, Green’s the most interesting thing about this team right now.

His 2nd-quarter flagrant-1 foul on LeBron James Monday night was probably unnecessary and uncalled for, but it was also run-of-the-mill. This is the type of stuff rivalries are made of. People complain about the new, “softened” NBA, but when someone infuses some old-school toughness, it’s a problem?

Maybe it’s the antagonistic nature of the person at fault that turns you off, but beggars can’t be choosers. Personally, I can’t think of anyone better to get this party started. I didn’t like the foul. I loved it.

James denied the validity of this Warriors-Cavaliers thing as a rivalry, attempting to downplay the reality of what it is to ease his own psyche more than fool any of us. We, however, know exactly what this is. It’s more than Heat vs Spurs. It’s even better than Bulls vs Jazz. No two teams have met in the finals three years in a row in NBA history, and these two teams are heavily favored to become the first. Green embraces what this is all the way, and he plays like it.

“A team that you beat, beat you, it’s definitely fun,” Green said. “If you look at the last two years and this year, we’ve been the top two teams in the league each year, and so I look at it as a rivalry, and it’s definitely a fun game to play in.”

Is he over the top sometimes? Sure, but why strip down the thing that makes him such a good player at risk of minimizing the pure enjoyment and entertainment of this wonderful rivalry. Green is just as integral to this series as James, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, or Andre Iguodala are – and more so than the Kevins, with Love missing the first finals and Durant just coming around this season.

Rather than complain about Green picking up flagrant fouls that don’t affect anyone outside of potentially himself and his team, let’s embrace the fact that as himself, Green makes this thing interesting. He’s the wild card.

Without Green on the court last summer, Cleveland picked up a pivotal Game 5  victory necessary to spark a rally from being down 3-1. Had Green kept his cool, the Warriors may have clinched a second ring – but Durant doesn’t enter the fold. This season (and rivalry – maybe still?) wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the latter happened. Green is what makes this thing fun. We need start embracing him finally and stop resisting the urge to enjoy the bad guy.

 

The posse cut

Let’s get two things clear about Phil Jackson’s use of the word “posse” in reference to LeBron James’ friends and business partners.

1. Jackson didn’t intend to offend anyone

2. Regardless of his intentions, what he said was offensive

Whether Jackson knows it or not, calling James’ group of friends a “posse” reveals deep prejudices about young black males that have been built into the psyche of white society. When Jackson was speaking of the situation, he was probably searching for a way to simply refer to a group of males, but that the group he was speaking of was black – specifically black males in the world of sports – the word posse was elicited. If it were Jeff Hornacek meeting with a group of his friends or business partners, we can’t say for sure but it doesn’t seem like Jackson’s word choice would’ve been the same.

To some, it may seem like James overreacted to the use of a word that has been tossed around in similar situations for decades. It’s not unreasonable to think that some of the players Jackson once coached referred to their crews as posses. And although James brought up the dictionary definition of posse to further enforce his point, Jackson clearly wasn’t using the word by its literal sense. He did use it in a condescending tone, however, so as to dismiss the accomplishments of James’ agent Rich Paul and James’ business parter Maverick Carter. By calling them a posse, Jackson reduced them to guys hanging around for either the sole purpose of collecting benefits because they’re cool with a superstar basketball player, or to inflict violence on other people for the star basketball player. In actuality, these are grown men with individual business ventures going on in their lives. They aren’t teenagers fresh out of high school anymore, even if Jackson wanted to refer to them as a posse back then.

James and Carter were right to call out Jackson, not for an apology or reversal of what was already said, but as a reminder to anyone else who might label young black men based on prejudices, to see and think before they speak.