John Wall is in position to take over East after signing extension

If John Wall was concerned about things like stealing headlines and being the center of attention in the sports world for a day, he could had those things with his announcement of signing a supermax extension with the Wizards.

People questioned why he hadn’t signed the offer made some weeks ago by his team of seven years and whether he was unsatisfied with his level of exposure in the nation’s capital, but his decision to announce the agreement on the same day we learned of Kyrie Irving’s trade request shows that his number one priority was winning.

Wall intimated in the past that he needed to see what moves the franchise made and how the offseason shook out. Aside from re-signing Otto Porter to a large deal, and effectively handcuffing the franchise’s ability to bring in marquee free agents for the next few years, Washington made minimal roster changes. But as a top-4 seed in the East and a conference semi-finalist last season, the Wizards, behind Wall, Porter and Bradley Beal, should be a contender to reach the NBA Finals if Irving’s trade request is met.

Irving may or may not be moved, but the turmoil in Cleveland won’t easily be settled, especially with LeBron James’ pending free agency next summer. The top of the Eastern Conference looks ripe for the picking and Wall realized he’s in as good a position as anyone to benefit from a possible Cleveland collapse. The Celtics are probably the next best team in the conference, but the Wizards aren’t incapable of beating them in a seven-game series – not with Wall, arguably the second best player in the conference, locked in for the next six years.

Wizards sign Kris Jenkins, Marcus Keene to summer deals

Watching the NBA Draft as a fan of a team with no picks isn’t nearly as fun as when your team does have the pressure of getting it right; just ask any Wizards fan after the team went a second straight year without drafting.

But following the draft, things got interesting for Washington by way of undrafted signees. The Wizards scooped up Villanova forward Kris Jenkins and Central Michigan guard Marcus Keene for the summer.

Jenkins may be familiar to D.C.-area sports fans from his time as Gonzaga College High School after being adopted by the family of Upper Marlboro-native and University of North Carolina guard Nate Britt. Jenkins entered the national consciousness when he hit a buzzer beater against Britt and the Tar Heels to win the 2016 NCAA championship game.

People may not be as familiar with Keene because of where he went to school, but all he did last season was lead the nation in scoring at 30.0 PPG.

The reasons why each wasn’t drafted are physically obvious. At 6’6″, Jenkins is the rare undersized small forward. He can shoot the lights out when he’s feeling it but may be a little too unathletic to play shooting guard. Jenkins will likely be a bench specialist if he ever makes a regular-season NBA roster. Having his former Villanova teammate, Daniel Ochefu, on the Wizards’ roster should help make him more comfortable going into the summer

Despite being nearly unstoppable in college last season, Keene is a miniature 5’9″. He has drawn comparisons to Isaiah Thomas, who showed potential early in his career but took a few years to develop into the All-Star player he was last season.

Keene and Jenkins each have the potential to carve out roles in the NBA, but it will require a team to have the patience to allow them to adjust to the game. Neither is a lock to make this roster, but if they show some flashes on the court who knows what happens.

Update: Wizards also reportedly signed Florida forward Devin Robinson.

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.

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.

What can Wizards expect from backup point guard

When it was time for John Wall to catch a breath last season and the second unit rolled into the game, Ramon Sessions was the man called upon to initiate the offense.

Sessions provided the Wizards with a steady and consistent presence, appearing in all 82 games and often giving Washington exactly what it expected from him. Sessions was a penetrating guard, who got to the free throw line often. In fact, Dennis Schroder was the only guard with more games of 20 or fewer minutes and 4+ free throw attempts. Sessions wasn’t a great shooter but knew his limitations and didn’t attempt a lot of long shots. If he couldn’t get to hole, he got the Wizards into their offense, which usually meant dumping the ball into the inside.

Sessions is now in Charlotte, and Washington acquired Trey Burke to assume the duties of Wall’s backup. Burke, the former Michigan Wolverine, has a smaller frame than Sessions and plays a different game. His numbers declined almost across the board in each of his first three seasons in Utah, and now he’s looking to get his career back on track.

One immediate upgrade Burke provides over Sessions is his ability, and more importantly willingness, to score from the outside. Burke shot a career-high 34% on threes last season, which isn’t great, but in 18 fewer games he attempted over twice as many as Sessions (32%). Burke is also 7 years younger and should be able to push the tempo more for the second unit, not that Sessions wasn’t shy about getting into transition.

Burke doesn’t get to the free-throw line nearly as much as his predecessor, but if he’s able to improve on a career 1.6 attempts per game, he knocks them down over 80% of the time. The biggest downgrade going from Sessions to Burke will likely be on the defensive end of the floor where Burke’s defensive real plus-minus was 75th out of 79 qualified point guards, 27 spots behind Sessions.

The change at guard plays into the NBA’s change in offensive philosophy – that guards who play on the perimeter are more efficient than their mid-range counterparts. If Burke can improve defensively, Scott Brooks should be able to put him in positions to succeed on offense. And with Burke’s game still in the development stage, there’s a good chance his best days are ahead of him. The Wizards are hoping those days are more immediate. If not, Burke will have to look over his shoulder for Czech rookie Tomas Satoransky, who will be competing for minutes at both guard spots and small forward. Satoransky’s ability to finish at the rim adds a drive-and-kick dynamic to the second unit that Burke does not. Whether the move to Burke will be an upgrade this season remains to be seen, but the ceiling for what he can become is way higher than Sessions and that’s a good thing.

 

crowned

you remember that clingy person that you couldn’t get rid of? the one that no matter how many hints you dropped, they didn’t get it? they wouldn’t go away! you remember how aggravating and annoying that person was, right? well, you should because that person is you.

you hold your public figures in high regard, your favorite actors, musicians, comedians, maybe politicians, and most of all athletes. when anyone is even mentioned in the same breath as whomever your favorite athlete is, you shun the notion and proceed to lambaste the person being compared as though he/she made the comparison. with the cleveland cavaliers winning the first championship in franchise history last week, i think you can guess where i’m going with this: lebron james.

i’m not here to compare james to some of your favorite players, not michael jordan, kobe bryant, larry bird, magic johnson, dwyane wade? but for some reason you are. when people mention how great james is, your first response is, “but he’s not jordan,” or “kobe was better than him.” maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong, but the truth is, james’ greatness stands on its own. it doesn’t need to be confirmed or affirmed in comparison to what others accomplished. bryant wasn’t great in the way that jordan was great, and james isn’t great in the way that they were great. but he is without question an all-time great player.

if you don’t trust your eyes, or if the haterade is blinding you, i’ll provide a little bit of proof of his greatness. since james entered the league in 2003, with the loftiest of expectations (which he lived up to), he has won four regular-season mvp awards. that’s more than any other player over that time. but since you like comparisons so much, that’s one short of jordan’s five, and three more than the one kobe won. he has three nba championships and won the nba finals mvp each time. and by the way, he’s 31. jordan also had three championships at 31. sure, james joined the miami heat with the likes of wade and chris bosh to get the first two, but he was still the best player on those teams. and they didn’t win a title until wade relinquished the reigns of the team to james after losing in the 2011 finals.

changing teams shouldn’t have skewed your vision of what james can do and has done on the basketball court, but if it did, let me ask you this: if charles barkley would’ve won a ring in phoenix or houston after leaving philly, would anyone have cared that he changed teams? not only would his accomplishment not be seen as less, he would’ve been considered an even greater player than we regard him now. would you have thought less of allen iverson if he left those trash 76ers teams and won a ring on a better squad? i wouldn’t. if james stayed in cleveland and never won a ring (he didn’t have any help) why would that have made him any more of a player in your eyes? karl malone never got a ring and is still regarded by many people as one of the best power forwards to ever play the game. and by the way, nobody cried when he went to the lakers to try to get a ring with bryant.

this latest championship doesn’t cement james as an all-time great, he was already there. now, he’s just jockeying for position among that list. he’s adding things to his resume that other players don’t have. he’s defining his own greatness, aside from what other players have accomplished. no one in the king james era has reached six straight finals. sure, he went to miami, but then he came back to cleveland and went to two more, and he’ll probably reach another one next season. james is the common denominator. a player hasn’t led his team to as many consecutive finals since bill russell in the 60’s. james led his team to the title after going down 3-1 in the series, something that had never been done in the history of the nba – in 32 tries before this year. oh, and he did it against the greatest regular season team of all-time.

just to be clear, i still think mj is the greatest player ever, but mj also played on the greatest team i ever seen, for one of the greatest coaches, with one of the greatest sidekicks. we never seen jordan carry an inferior team the way james did. and yes, james did carry the cavs. he led every single player on either team of the nba finals in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. that is another feat that had never been accomplished. he might not have the same shooting ability as some of our other favorite players, especially in late-game situations, but that block on andre iguodala (see above) was one of the most clutch plays i’ve ever witnessed.

no doubt, i once clung to my favorites too. i rode for jay-z as the greatest rapper so hard and for so long that it made it hard for me to realize how great other rappers were, because i was comparing them to him too much. before you know it, a person’s prime is over, and someone else steps in. eventually, i got to a place where i could appreciate other rappers and what they offered, rather than what they didn’t. if you hate lebron james, i would encourage you to start appreciating the greatness that we are witnessing. before you know it, someone else will step up as the game’s best player, and you’ll have to hate someone new.