Over the course of the last three games, John Wall has scored 99 points. I just watched all of them with the new NBA.com video playlist function. I basically invented John Wall RedZone. You can thank me later.
[Editor's Note: You may notice that I am not your regularly scheduled Wizards correspondent. That's because Andrew Sharp single-handedly caused Bradley Beal's fibula injury with this paragraph: "But Beal is the best young shooting guard in the league, he has gotten better every week, and it's the first time since Gilbert Arenas that the Wizards have a star other teams would actually kill for. He's the greatest." Be careful out there, keyboard cowboys. You can hurt someone.]
Over the last couple of weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, and Washington Wizards have all had players-only meetings. These kind of gatherings rarely happen when things are going well, so it should come as little surprise that the combined record of those teams is 14-31.
So what's going on with these teams? What happened in their players-only meetings? And is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Your NBA chemistry Sherlock and Watson — a.k.a. Chris Ryan and Andrew Sharp — are here to investigate.
In case you were busy waiting for some good news in the world of football, seriously, any good news, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In a chippy Western Conference matchup that saw Matt Barnes and Serge Ibaka get ejected, Blake Griffin's double-double proved the difference as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-103. "It's not fair!" Ibaka yelled in the Thunder locker room after the game. "It doesn't make sense! Barnes pushed me. Why do I get ejected?" Thunder head coach Scott Brooks sat down next to his furious center, put his hand on Ibaka's back, and said, "Hey bud, sit down. Why do you think they ejected you?" But Ibaka snapped back, "Don't talk to me like that. I'm not a kid anymore, Scott! We're not kids anymore. We're grown men, and it's time you started treating us that way." Brooks smiled and said, "I know, Serge, come on," but Ibaka continued on, saying, "No! You don't know. They say you're a bad coach. They say you've always been a bad coach. Our offense is a joke. Griffin was laughing at our offense. They all were laughing. They all were laughing!" Ibaka balled up his fists and clenched his eyelids shut. Brooks looked at him and said, "Hey, bud. I get it. No one likes to be laughed at. But you don't fight my fights. We're all grown-ups here, Serge. Hey, Serge, look at me." Tears were visible in the corners of Ibaka's eyes as he shook his head, unable to look his coach in the eyes. "Sorry, Scott," Ibaka managed. "I just got carried away." Brooks touched Ibaka's head, told him, "No need to apologize," and started to walk away before turning back and adding, "You got ejected because they caught you fighting back. If you want to fight, you have to start it. That's part of being a man. Time to grow up, ace. Time to grow up."
In case you were busy telling one of your employees to hit another one of your employees to settle an interpersonal workplace dispute, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
A fourth-quarter surge from the Pacers' reserves turned a close game between division rivals into a blowout, as Indiana ran away from the Bulls in a 97-80 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team is now a disappointing 1-3, said after the game, "I'm panicking! Of course I'm panicking! We've played four games! Derrick Rose is not playing like an MVP! We're all panicking!" Thibodeau then added, "Fire! Fire! I don't know what to do! What am I supposed to say? 'Just play your game, and things will turn around?' No! No one will believe me! Must make everything clean! Must make everything clean!" Thibodeau then pulled out a canister of gasoline and poured it over the team's jersey hamper as the media ran from the locker room.
Philadelphia lost its second consecutive game after opening the season a surprising 3-0, falling to the Washington Wizards 116-102. "I think we've got this all straightened out," said 76ers GM Sam Hinkie after the game. "Me and the boys had to come to a bit of an arrangement, see. Turns out just bringing in bad apples ain't enough. You have to make them want to play bad, you hear? But the problem is, shooting baskets is real fun. Almost too fun." Hinkie then smiled and said, "But defense? No one likes playing defense. Dames don't go in for defense. So I say, no defense, and they can keep their precious offense. Pretty clever, eh?"
I recently sent an uncomfortably large PayPal check to an old friend to cover what I owed him from roughly 80 games of online Scrabble played at stakes between $40 and $240. I average about 340 points per game in Scrabble. My friend, who is mostly illiterate and challenges words like "lenient," averages 360 because he's one of those guys who plays with the middle linebacker in Madden and figured out the dynamic dribbling in NBA 2K13 that you assumed everyone else was too lazy and/or old to care about. Needless to say, we both have massive gambling problems.
A review of two big moves that broke Friday evening:
Wizards Trade Emeka Okafor and 2014 First-Round Pick (Top-12 Protected) to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, and Kendall Marshall
This is what happens when an owner gives his general manager, in the final year of his contract, a very loud mandate to make the playoffs. The Wizards might have been able to make a run at that goal with their pre-trade roster — even though Okafor, co-leader of their surprise top-five defense last season, is out indefinitely with a herniated disk. Look at the Eastern Conference outside the top four teams. You’re telling me a core of John Wall, Nene, and Bradley Beal couldn’t snag the no. 7 or no. 8 seed, provided anything close to competent play from the supporting cast? The Wizards gave Wall a max-level extension, voluntarily took on Nene’s $13 million annual contract, and can’t stop talking about what a wonderful player Beal is going to be. But they’re not good enough to carry the Wiz to the last playoff spot in a top-heavy conference? Things are so precarious that a team that should still be building to the future has to sacrifice a first-round pick — and potentially a first-round pick in the most loaded draft in years — to acquire a league-average center on an expiring contract? All for the short-term endgame of losing to Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, or Indiana in the first round?
The Triangle All-Star Team is a way for the Triangle blog to celebrate our favorite players. Today: We begin with John Wall and Boogie Cousins.
Chris Ryan: In today's NBA, every aspect of a player's game is there for us to evaluate. Every mistakenly taken midrange jumper is there on Synergy or can be visualized in shot charts. Seemingly disconnected plays can be edited together to paint a picture of a poor defender. If you want to know how someone plays well with others, five-man unit stats give human interaction a statistical value. Sooner or later, we're all going to be like that Russian sub navigator in The Hunt for Red October, telling our friends, "Stop pissing, Yuri. Give me a stopwatch and a map, and I'll fly the Alps in a plane with no windows."
Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose preview the Cleveland Cavaliers' upcoming season by evaluating their attempts to woo LeBron James back to his home state, breaking down Kyrie Irving's shot chart, and laughing at Andrew Bynum.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NBA season? Well, you're in luck! The Triangle is counting down the days for all of us.
Want to talk about the Wizards? Let's talk about the Wizards.
We knew it was coming. There was too much optimism from outsiders. Too many people predicting the playoffs, praising the offseason, everything. Of course someone would get hurt. Nothing good can happen to this team. It's a law of the NBA universe.
In case you were busy playing chess while everyone else was eating checkers, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Powered by a clutch Alex Gordon triple, the Kansas City Royals bagged their eighth consecutive win as they held off the Twins, 4-3, in Minnesota. "Vindicated!" yelled Royals general manager Dayton Moore from the top of the waterfall in and empty Kauffman Stadium, both of his arms raised above his head in triumph. "It was all worth it! All the wheeling! All the dealing! All worth it! We're atop the mountain! And nothing is going to bring us down! There shall be no consequences for our hubris!" In unrelated news, Wil Myers.
Clayton Kershaw threw eight magnificent innings, but, matched in brilliance by Hiroki Kuroda, his efforts were not enough as the Los Angeles Dodgers gave up three ninth-inning runs in a 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees. Mariano Rivera, who closed out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, was given a fishing rod by Dodgers owner Magic Johnson as part of a pregame ceremony in honor of Rivera's career. "I know your dad was a fisherman, so I thought you'd like it," Johnson said as he handed over the rod and reel. "Um," Rivera said of the gift, pausing as he looked it over with a bit of a scowl. "No, it's, it's really nice. It's a really great rod. Anyone can see that." Johnson's face fell. "If you don't like it we can get you something else." Rivera forced a smile. "No, no, no. I like it. Look, it's all ready to go. I can't wait to get out on the boat and give it a whirl. No really. Really. Really, I like it. I do. I do like it. It's just. I — you know, I played baseball all these years so I wouldn't have to fish. But I like it. I do. Seriously. It's a really nice gift. Really nice."
The Wizards, always Wizarding around, are on the verge of signing John Wall to the maximum-allowable contract extension — a five-year, $80 million mega-deal that precludes the Wizards from signing any of their other current players, including Bradley Beal, to five-year extensions after their rookie deals expire down the road.
The Wizards are making a bet, and if Wall plays this season as he played the final two months or so of last season, it’s a bet Washington will either win handily or lose by such a small margin that it’s ultimately meaningless. But it’s a bet they in no way have to make, and probably shouldn’t. Without an extension by October 31, Wall would enter restricted free agency next summer, a process the incumbent team — the Wizards — controls almost completely. The very worst possible outcome, at least among outcomes that are even remotely likely, is that Wall signs a max-level offer sheet with another team — a deal the Wizards, if they are so inclined, could immediately match.
That offer sheet could run for only four years, and carries smaller raises than the Wizards can offer, meaning it would constitute a shorter and slightly smaller cap hit than the five-year deal the Wiz are about to give Wall. So the Wiz-Bangs have several variables to weigh as they make this decision:
• The value of waiting an extra season to learn more information about the current state of Wall’s game, how he’ll mesh with Beal and Otto Porter, and how much he might improve going forward. Spoiler alert: This, to me, is the most important variable at play. Wall has played only three NBA seasons. He suffered various knee-related injuries in his rookie season that forced him to miss 13 games of that campaign and lingered into his second season — the chaotic lockout-shortened campaign in which Wall played all 66 games.
After being instantly dismissed from the national consciousness following a dreadful 4-28 start, few people noticed when the Washington Wizards quietly showed signs of a promising future during the second half of this past season. The Wizards’ improved play coincided with the return of John Wall, whose knee injury had kept him in street clothes through early January. With their promising young point guard back in the fold, the team morphed from disaster to, dare I say it, playoff-caliber force almost overnight.
Washington finished out the season at a .500 clip upon Wall’s return, which hardly screams “elite.” But the 25 games featuring a healthy core of Wall, rookie guard Bradley Beal, and veteran wing Martell Webster (whom the team intends to bring back despite his free-agent status) certainly do. No matter what roles Wall or Beal played (both came off the bench for a few games), the Wizards posted a point differential of plus-4.84, the equivalent of a 55-win team over a full season. And though a 25-game stretch isn’t something Washington can hang its hat on, it’s certainly an encouraging sign. That trio, combined with Nene and Emeka Okafor, also combined to form the league's most effective five-man unit that played at least 140 minutes together, per NBA.com. That amount of playing time isn’t enough to produce ironclad proof that the Wizards are set to the rule the basketball world, but it certainly is enough time to suggest that’s a lineup that can be quite effective.
For a franchise that’s been toiling in mediocrity for decades, there are enough bright spots from last year to suggest Washington is poised to make some serious noise in the Eastern Conference if it can inject one more talented piece into its core (and stay relatively healthy), a real possibility thanks to some incredible lottery luck. By selecting the right player with the third overall pick, the Wizards can become a legitimate contender in the East as early as next year, something no one could have predicted six months ago. Unlike some of the more desperate teams, Washington doesn’t necessarily need to hit a home run at the top of the draft, but to break through from mid-standings irrelevance, the Wizards probably have to avoid coming up empty. If the team can get an impact player with the third pick while also finding a competent backup point guard with one of its second-round picks, the Wizards have the opportunity to completely change the course of their franchise. No pressure, right?
You know how at the beginning of every NFL season, everyone is 0-0 and has a chance at the Super Bowl? That is not true in the NBA. For fans of five to 10 teams every year, the NBA draft lottery is the Super Bowl.
No other sport decides its future like this — with an uncomfortable, surreal 30-minute raffle, basically — and that's what makes it so great. In the span of 30 minutes, jammed in before some conference final game every year, the directions of entire franchises can change one way or the other. For instance, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the most insane lottery night of all time ...
... when Memphis nearly landed LeBron James, only to end up with nothing (its pick was protected as no. 1 overall but otherwise the Grizzlies had to send it to Detroit). Instead, we walked away thinking Cleveland had just fallen into a dynasty, Detroit was about to extend its dynasty another decade with Darko's frosted tips coming to the Midwest, and the Nuggets were getting Bernard King 2.0 for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were destined to remain in NBA no-man's-land, wondering what might have been.
I was one of eight or 10 media members who got to watch the lottery last night from inside the television studio where the NBA draft order is filmed. It’s not quite as cool as being in the secret locked-down room where the lottery actually happens, but it’s an experience — a bizarre event filled with odd moments, awkward silences, uncomfortable people, team representatives wearing ridiculous amounts of makeup, endless commercial breaks where everyone on the dais just sort of sits there, Jay Bilas, and other strangeness. Some quick observations from TV land:
• The Cleveland Cavaliers contingent at these things is just very weird. They make a party of the lottery, and the party treads the line between quirky and unseemly. They bring at least a dozen people every year, and there is always a local celebrity or two among them; Bernie Kosar came last year, and he was on the list again this year. He didn’t show, but a rapper named Machine Gun Kelly, who does not know how to tie a tie, filled the celebrity void.