All posts in basketball

09Jul

d.c. sports: state of the union address

(courtesy photo)

Now that LeBron-a-thon is over and the rest of the sports world can return to some semblance of normalcy, I thought it would be appropriate to take a moment for an impromptu state of the union address for the D.C. sports scene.

In no particular order, here are 10 thoughts on all of your favorite local sports franchises.

1. Strike while the iron is hot and trade Gilbert Arenas to Cleveland. Like, right this minute. Seriously. Do it.

My plan all along was to wait for the New York Knicks to fall flat on their face and miss out on the big-name free agents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc.

Unfortunately, Amare Stoudemire took the money and ran, which leads me to believe that the Knicks aren’t likely to be as desperate to acquiring someone with name recognition. Maybe if Isiah Thomas was still calling the shots it could happen, but I doubt that their new regime is in as much of a hurry to pull the trigger on an Arenas deal.

Same concept, different city.

The Cavaliers just took the biggest stomach punch in the history of professional sports. Their chosen son just went on primetime television to break up with them. Honestly, it’s more disrespectful than anything Albert Haynesworth has done since he came to D.C.

But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. The Cavs could swallow Arenas’ contract if they shipped the Wiz back Antawn Jamison and some spare parts. The Cavs are obviously reeling from this blindside hit – so much so that their owner, Dan Gilbert, guaranteed Cleveland will win an NBA title before James. His remarks reek of desperation, which is exactly what you want if you’re looking to unload someone with as much baggage as Gilbert.

So let’s get on the phone now and make it happen before they have a chance to even rebound. Do it for the kids.

2. While we’re at it, be sure the deal includes a sign and trade for center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. I’m pretty sure he still has his Wizards jersey from the last time he was traded here, so you’ve got that going for you. Which is nice.

3. Speaking of the Wizards, their roster is starting to take shape after Washington drafted John Wall and acquired combo guard Kirk Hinrich and disappointing forward Yi Jianlian via trade. But regardless of what happens with the artist formerly known as Agent Zero, they’ve still got some work to do this offseason.

Personally, I’d like to see them sign Josh Childress. Dude’s got some game and he’d be an upgrade over Nick Young or whoever else he’d be taking minutes from. The only issue seems to be that after a stint in Greece, Childress seems to be a highly sought after player. No worries. If the price tag is too high, then the Wiz should turn their attention to re-signing Josh Howard once he’s fully recovered from his knee injury.

Unfortunately, the Wizards renounced the rights to Howard this week, as well as Mike Miller and Randy Foye (you know, the two guys they traded away a top-five draft picks for one year ago). So yeah, general manager Ernie Grunfeld continues to make the job harder than it needs to be.

Is it too late to include Grunfeld in a package deal with Arenas to Cleveland as well?

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25Jun

wall ushers in a new day for wizards

(AP photo)

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day … and I’m feeling good.” – Michael Buble

If you woke up Friday morning with that song in your head, it’s safe to assume you were tuned in to the NBA Draft last night as the Washington Wizards took their first step in the right direction by selecting Kentucky point guard John Wall with the top pick.

Unlike Kwame Brown, the team’s last number-one overall selection, Wall can actually play.

Wall averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds last season for Kentucky. He’s got good size (or length as Jay Bilas loves to say). He’s got blazing speed. He’s got great vision and court awareness. He even excels on the defense, something most current Wizards know nothing about.

All in all, Wall is one of the more complete players to come out of college in recent history and definitely provides Washington with a much-needed boost.

“He’s an outstanding talent,” said Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld. “Great speed, quickness, very good defender, has a very competitive nature to him, and he wants to be a really great player. Great work ethics, so we think he’s going to be a focal point for this organization for many, many years to come.”

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Wall. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to become the face of the franchise while making professional basketball relevant again in our nation’s capital. No pressure.

“I feel like I had pressure since I became number one in high school and was one of the top players,” Wall said. “I always got there hungry wanting to fight hard and compete in every game, so when I step on the court I’m going to take on any challenge there.”

Heading into the draft, the Wiz had only six players under contract for next season – Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Al Thornton and Quinton Ross.

Guys like Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Josh Howard and Shaun Livingston who played on the team last season could return to Washington, but chances are each of them will be playing elsewhere next season.

This draft night was all about seizing the opportunity to overhaul the roster and give Wizards fans their first glimpse at what the future holds for owner Ted Leonsis’ newest project.

Earlier in the day, the Wizards agreed to a trade with the Chicago Bulls in which they’ll receive guard Kirk Hinrich, the 17th overall pick and $3 million in exchange for a future second-round choice. I use the future tense because the trade cannot actually be completed until July 8 for salary cap reasons.

From Chicago’s perspective, the deal works because it allows them to clear enough salary cap space to pursue two top-tier free agents this summer, when the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could be on the move.

Hinrich, a seven-year veteran who is versatile enough to play either point or shooting guard, averaged 10.9 points per game and 4.5 assists last season for Chicago. He’s a solid/dependable player who is credited for mentoring Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, the top overall pick two seasons ago. The biggest downside to Hinrich is the hefty price tag.

That’s why Chicago was willing to move the 29-year-old, and even sweeten the pot by adding a first-round pick and cash.

For the Wizards, this move is happening for one reason – to provide Wall with a better role model than Arenas. Hinrich isn’t a great shooter, isn’t even really an above-average point guard and yet, he’ll make $17 million on the last two years of his contract.

The question we’d love to ask Grunfeld is simply – don’t you think that’s an awful lot of money/salary-cap space to commit to someone to play the role of big brother?

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15Jun

a decade of mediocrity

(photo by Jared Wickerham)

Losing seasons have been the norm for D.C. sports fans, as the Redskins, Capitals, Wizards and Nationals have won just 1,165 out of a possible 2,673 games in recent history.

Thankfully, the influx of young talent with franchise players such as Alex Ovechkin, Stephen Strasburg and John Wall means that brighter days are ahead for our nation’s capital. Or at least that’s the story we’re telling with our weekly column over at SB Nation DC.

Click here to read the full feature. Or don’t. It’s your call.

19May

wizards finally win at something

(courtesy photo)

There is a god.

Sure, other places have enjoyed a Basketball Jesus or Jesus Shuttlesworth, but the closest the Washington Bullets/Wizards have ever gotten to immortality was some bum named God Shammgod.

After years (and years and years) of slipping on the proverbial banana peel, the downtrodden Wizards have finally stumbled their way into a small sliver of good luck. Call it the Ted Leonsis Factor. Everything that guy touches turns to gold. Yes, this team was 26-56 last season and they still have a long way to go before they can be invited back to the grown-ups table, but turning a 10 percent chance into the first pick in the NBA draft is a helluva good start.

It doesn’t matter that the last time the Wiz had the top pick they screwed it up by selecting Kwame Brown, a player so soft he wouldn’t have cut it in the WNBA. It doesn’t matter that most draft experts believe this draft doesn’t have a dominant, franchise-cornerstone kind of guy in the mold of Tim Duncan or LeBron James. No, this sudden turn of fortune, much like the arrival of Leonsis as the new owner, signals the dawn of a new day. There’s little reason to believe things will magically get better overnight, but for one day Wiz fans have reason for some of that cautious optimism we so often speak of.

Now, the question becomes, which player should the Wizards select with the number one pick? Do they go with John Wall, the talented point guard from Kentucky, or do they build the franchise around Evan Turner, the shooting guard from the Ohio State University? Both players are immensely talented and are automatically better than anyone already on the roster, but it’s never that simple with this team, is it?

As with everything else involving the Wizards, this decision ultimately revolves around Gilbert Arenas. Sure, he hasn’t been relevant on the court in three seasons, but the man continues to put a stranglehold on this franchise.

“Gilbert is still with us. He’s been down at our gym, working out and getting ready,” Grunfeld said during a conference call last night. “The more good players you have, the better.”

Not exactly the words you’re hoping to hear when dreaming of a fresh start for one of the most cursed franchises in the history of professional sports. Thankfully, Grunfeld stopped talking long enough to let the voice of reason make it all better.

“We have a lot of work to do with the franchise,” Leonsis said. “The players, the culture, the expectations, the discipline around the team, but I do think it is a breath of fresh air and does revive the franchise and gives us a shot to be an exciting team with a lot of expectations.

“I know how hard it is to rebuild a team,” he continued. “I am going to be patient but I have a strong belief that our management team and ownership team is very focused.”

Forget, for a moment, that Arenas was such a moron that he had to serve time in prison for bringing firearms to his workplace. If the Wizards hold true to Grunfeld’s words and keep Arenas, his impact on either Wall or Turner has everything to do with on the court.

Here’s what we know about Wall:

For starters, Wall’s Wildcats went 35-3 last year, meaning they won nine games more than the Wizards while playing 44 less times. And honestly, some folks might suggest that Kentucky had more NBA-caliber players than the Wiz did last season, but we digress.

Wall is a 6-4 point guard who excels with the ball in his hand (he averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season). He’s got more than enough speed and athleticism to continue to be a stand-out player whenever he takes the court and by all accounts he’s a hard working and coachable player. His 3.5 grade point average his second semester shows Wall is bright, especially when compared to the 2.0 that his Kentucky team reportedly averaged.

The weakest area of Wall’s game would have to be his three-point shooting, which hovered around 32 percent. If you’re looking for an NBA player to compare Wall to, you could probably go with Chicago’s Derrick Rose.

Here’s what we know about Turner:

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23Feb

new-look wizards worth watching

(photo by Ned Dishman)

It’s so simple it really shouldn’t even have to be said – the point of sports is to win.

Forget about overbearing parents who don’t keep score and want every kid to get a gold star. Those people suck at life. The reason people play sports is to win.

If we’re talking about team sports, then the goal is to win championships. And one thing we can all agree on is that the Washington Wizards – especially since they changed their name in the mid-90’s – have never been equipped to actually compete for an NBA title.

The Wizards – with a nucleus of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler – were typically good enough to qualify for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but were never really a threat once they got there. That’s what happens when you build a team full of jump shooters who can’t/won’t play defense.

But the bar was set so low after decades of mediocrity that D.C. sports fans were willing to live with this incarnation of Washington basketball because, if nothing else, they were entertaining.

Agent Zero. Hibachi. Tuff Juice. DeShawn Stevenson’s inability to feel his face. The annual Brendan Haywood-Etan Thomas smackdown. Beefing with LeBron James and Jay-Z.

You’d be hard pressed to find a quirkier bunch of basketball players. If they were going to lose, at least they were going to put on a show in the process. And that was good enough for a while.

But as Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said last week, the team had become stale.

Even without the locker room distractions provided by Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, the Wizards had a difficult time putting it together on a nightly basis. Some individual players were having a solid season (Haywood specifically comes to mind), but the losses continued to pile up which is simply unacceptable for a team with a bloated payroll like the Wiz. And the breaking point was that this team was no longer fun to watch. People stopped coming to games and a general sense of apathy hovered over the Wizards.

So Butler and Haywood were shipped to Dallas. Jamison was granted parole in Cleveland. And we were left with a bunch of unproven and underachieving nobodies. But here’s the funny thing – the spare parts left over here in Washington have provided unexpected results.

Forget that the Wizards are now 3-1 since the all-star break. More than likely, that won’t last. But what folks should notice is that this team is suddenly watchable again. A perennial knucklehead like Andray Blatche stepped into Jamison’s role and has instantly flourished, as evident by his 25 points per game average over the last four games.

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19Feb

dark days ahead for wizards

(photo by Ned Dishman)

“We weren’t winning as many games as we wanted to win, and I thought it was time to go in a different direction.” – Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld.

The trade deadline has come and gone and the Wizards team we are now left with is radically different from the team we’ve gotten used to over the last couple years.

If Gilbert Arenas somehow manages to ever play another game in D.C., he’ll no doubt have to adjust to a locker room that looks nothing like the “Big Three” lineup he relished being a part of.

Antawn Jamison? Gone. Same goes for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. Jamison now resides in Cleveland and the other three now call Dallas home. So what does that leave the Wizards with?

Not much.

There’s forward Josh Howard, a former all-star who seems far removed from his glory days. Injuries and poor-decision making off the court seem to have derailed Howard. There’s Al Thornton, a second-year player who has potential, but we have to point out that potential is just another way of saying “ain’t done shit yet.”

Forward/center Drew Gooden was here for a cup of coffee, but made it clear he had no intention of actually sticking around for what appears to be a lengthy rebuilding process. You know it’s bad when a guy is happy to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers rather than remaining a part of your franchise.

The Clippers are one of the most inept teams in professional sports and have been so for as long as anyone can remember, but Gooden – like most sane basketball players – would rather cash in there than be subjected to “The Curse of Les Boulez.”

Center Zydrunas Ilguaskas was part of the package the Cavaliers sent for Jamison, but he too, will never suit up for the Wizards. Any day now, we’ll hear that the Wizards have bought him out and he’ll end up back in Cleveland.

The Wiz did manage to acquire Cleveland’s 2010 first-round pick and a protected second-round pick from Sacramento during their firesale, but that’s it. Basically they have a handful of expiring contracts and the equivalent of two extra second round picks in exchange for any semblance of respectability.

Maybe we’d feel a little optimistic about the future if we had any faith in Grunfeld to turn this ship around. But what exactly has he done to earn our trust? Other than fleecing the Lakers into taking Kwame Brown for Butler, there’s not much in the way of positives for Grunfeld in D.C.

He’s the one who built the team around Arenas, Butler and Jamison, which meant that Wizards fans were forced to embrace a team full of jump shooters who didn’t play defense. You don’t need extensive knowledge about the history of the NBA to know a fatally flawed team like that isn’t going to win anything.

He’s the one who chose to reward Arenas with a max contract, even though Gilbert had basically been a nonfactor the previous two seasons due to injuries. Even before Arenas brought hand guns to work and earned himself a lengthy time out this was an awful decision.

Grunfeld knew his team would never win a championship, despite anything you might read elsewhere, but went with these guys because they were entertaining. They weren’t going to beat a legitimate contender like the Cavaliers or Lakers, but dammit, they were interesting. They made professional basketball in this town relevant and that was good enough for Ernie.

If it seems we’re being overly harsh on Grunfeld, let us show you why.

Please turn your attention to the Houston Rockets, another team that was active at the trade deadline. The Rockets went into this week knowing that Tracy McGrady was going to be moved.

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17Feb

what we’re reading

(courtesy photo)

The new-look Washington Wizards will take the court tonight at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but it looks like one of the new guys might not see action. Word is that forward Drew Gooden, the guy who has been on eight teams in eight seasons, would like to negotiate a buy-out of his contract so he could go to a team that might win something.

Speaking of the big trade: the Dallas Mavericks were 17-2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder coming into last night’s contest, which just so happened to be the debut of Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson for Dallas. Well, the Mavs gave up 40 points in the second quarter, shot under 15 percent in the third quarter and none of the former Wizards had a game to be proud of as the Thunder rolled 99-86.

Wizards forward Antawn Jamison to Cleveland is still the popular rumor making the rounds. With the trade deadline of Thursday fast approaching, the fate of Jamison (a.k.a. – the last player on that roster people actually care about) seems tied to that of Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire.

“We are all holding hands and watching you right now.” Sure, when we text that to Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell it’s deemed inappropriate. But when Alex Ovechkin sends it to a fellow Russian, it’s perfectly okay. Damn double standards.

Speaking of Ovi, even on cruise control he’s the best player on the ice. In less than 18 minutes of action, Ovechkin scored twice on four shots and could have had more, if he wasn’t content to set up teammates the rest of the way in an 8-2 blowout of Latvia. Alex Ovetjkin has video of Ovechkin’s two goals. Watch the video, if for no other reason than to see “Good Sasha” force a turnover to set up the first goal.

It seems strangely fitting that goalie Semyon Varlamov, who most likely will not see action for the Russian National Team, is spending his free time snacking on McDonald’s rather than what’s for dinner at the Olympic village. Also, Alexander Semin goes joyriding.

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