Wizards

Grigson gives Colts winning hand in 1st year as GM

201211141445531565260-p2.jpeg

Grigson gives Colts winning hand in 1st year as GM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Colts general manager Ryan Grigson is more comfortable watching practice in sweat pants and sunglasses than he'll ever be standing behind a podium in a stuffy suit.

It's the perfect style fit for the former offensive lineman who is debunking the NFL's conventional wisdom.

He's winning games with a rookie quarterback and one of the league's youngest teams. He's winning when nobody else thought he could, and he's doing it his way - by instilling a gritty, down-to-earth attitude in a team that has no illusions about where it's been or where it's going.

``Obviously, I'm elated, I'm not going to sit here and lie about it,'' Grigson told The Associated Press as he watched practice Wednesday. ``But we're still only at the mid-point of the season. We know six wins doesn't get you anywhere in the postseason, but we feel the organization is going in the right direction.''

Indeed, it is.

Nine games into the season and barely 10 months into his first gig as an NFL general manager, the 6-foot-6 giant has already achieved things longtime GMs only fantasize about.

Grigson has survived the most publicized parting of the offseason, cutting four-time league MVP Peyton Manning, and the shocking release of a handful of other big-name favorites. He stayed calm when other key players left in free agency and ignored the ongoing debate about which quarterback should be taken first overall pick in April's draft - Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.

When anxious fans pleaded for the Colts to make a bold move in free agency, the 6-foot-6 giant stood pat, locking himself inside an office to study game tapes, budgets and ponder the possibilities of what will likely be remembered as the biggest decision of his career: Cutting Manning.

``First of all, how do you replace him?'' Grigson said as he thanked team owner Jim Irsay for taking responsibility for the controversial move. ``You look at him (Manning) and he's a great player, and he's still a great player. But I knew from a fiscal standpoint and an age standpoint, I knew that we had to have a change if we were going to have success in the future.''

Somehow, it all worked out.

Manning is thriving in Denver. Luck is on pace for a historic rookie season. Receiver Reggie Wayne, one of the few veterans Grigson decided to keep around, is having the best season of his career. Two of the three ex-Baltimore Ravens he signed, Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski, have played key roles on an improving defense, and most of Grigson's draftees have been key contributors, too.

The magnitude of Indy's turnaround has been nothing short of amazing.

A year ago when the Colts headed to New England, they were 0-11 and were surrounded by talk of a winless season. Eleven months later, as they prepare for a return to Foxborough, Mass., they are 6-3 and hold a two-game lead on their nearest competitor for a wild-card spot. They've won despite a rash of injuries, the usual rookie mistakes and even losing their head coach, Chuck Pagano, indefinitely as he battles a form of leukemia.

They've won with a first-time head coach, a first-time interim coach and a first-time GM, who looks nothing like the stodgy front-office folks of years past.

And yet they've done it, in large part, because of Grigson's masterful strokes.

``I think he has to be the executive of the year so far,'' punter Pat McAfee said. ``You look at the wow factor the day of the cuts. Basically, he rebuilt this team in four or five months. We had a great core group of guys here, and the way he picked up the pieces is just amazing.''

How did Grigson do it?

The opinions vary.

McAfee credits the GM for bringing in solid cornerstones to construct the foundation. Redding believes the competitiveness Grigson demonstrates on a daily basis has rubbed off on those inside the locker room. Luck thinks it's all about Grigson's homework and his commitment to making the right calls.

``The first thing that stood out to me is, `Man, this is a big guy','' Luck said, drawing laughter as he explained his experience through the draft process. ``Second, was that you could tell how hard he worked. He was like a tireless worker. He had a great sort of enthusiasm and love for football. Those were the first three things I really noticed.''

Doubters point out that Indy has only beaten one legitimate playoff team (Green Bay) this season as they head to New England (6-3) this weekend.

They contend Grigson has essentially rebuilt the Colts with smoke-and-mirrors in a weak division and against a depleted AFC.

A deeper look reveals something else - Grigson has rebuilt on the Colts with players who were considered top talents when they came into the league.

Luck, of course, provides Indy with the most valuable commodity in football, a franchise quarterback. He's protected on one side by Anthony Castonzo, Indy's first-round draft pick in 2011, and can hand the ball off to Donald Brown, the Colts' first-round draft pick in 2009.

That's not all.

Indy signed the oft-injured Donnie Avery, the first receiver taken in the 2008 draft and used its second and third round draft picks this year on the top two tight ends (Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen). Grigson also traded up to get speedy receiver T.Y. Hilton in the third round and made trades for right tackle Winston Justice, Philadelphia's second-round pick in 2006, and cornerback Vontae Davis, Miami's first-rounder in 2009. He even signed free agent Darius Butler, this week's AFC defensive player of the week, New England's second-round choice in 2009.

Some of those players say Grigson's belief has provided motivation to perform.

``I think it means a lot when you have someone that believes in you that much,'' Justice said. ``It makes you want to play harder.''

The question, of course, is whether the Colts can keep it going.

Players insist they can, and Grigson will have tens of millions of dollars to spend in free agency during the offseason.

But Grigson won't just spend that money on some big-name guy. No, he wants somebody who is willing to fit in with the rest of these gritty guys, who are willing to work sweat it out on blustery November days.

``I'm always thinking about the future and how we can get better,'' Grigson said with a smile as he stared into practice through the sunglasses. ``The players know that, I know that and we want to be the best. As I mature in this role, because I am still a newby GM, I still have a lot to learn. But if we can get better, we will. I'm also sensitive to the chemistry we're building. I don't want to make a splashy signing, I want to make a decision based on what's good for the team.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

The Toronto Raptors' best player has become a serious problem for the Washington Wizards, as they now face a 3-2 series deficit and the bleak reality that one more loss means their season is over.

DeMar DeRozan, who began this first round series with a modest 17 points in Game 1, has since raised his game to a new level to beyond even what we have seen in the past. In Games 2-5, DeRozan has averaged 31.8 points, including his 32-game outburst in Game 5 that tilted the series in Toronto's favor.

DeRozan is averaging 28.8 points through five games against the Raptors. That's up considerably from his 22.5-point career playoff average.

DeRozan scored his 32 points in Game 5 with efficiency. He shot 12-for-24 from the field and even made three of his four shots from three.

He didn't even need the free throw line like he normally does. DeRozan shot six free throws, less than his regular season average.

The Wizards are having trouble with DeRozan particularly in the first half. DeRozan is averaging 14.8 first-half points during the playoffs, second only to LeBron James. 

DeRozan had 20 points by halftime in Game 5.

"DeMar was in his element tonight," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "He got it going early. It was kind of hard to shut him off."

The Wizards are paying for disrespecting DeRozan's three-point shot. He shot just 31.2 percent from long range in the regular season, but is shooting threes at a 45.5 percent clip in the playoffs.

If DeRozan is knocking them down from outside, his offensive game is as complete as just about anyone in the NBA. He has shown in this series an impressive ability to not only get to the rim, but finish through contact or draw fouls.

DeRozan does a good job of maintaining body and ball control going straight up against Wizards' big men and is often rewarded by the referees. He shot a playoff career-high 18 free throws in Game 4.

The Wizards are actually doing a decent job of taking away his midrange shots, which usually account for much of his points. Though DeRozan is hitting an impressive 66.7 percent from 5-to-9 feet, up from his season clip of 47.6, his numbers are down from further out.

DeRozan is shooting 40 percent from 10-to-14 feet out, down from 41.5 percent in the regular season, and just 28.6 percent from 15-to-19 feet, down from 43.7.

DeRozan is hurting the Wizards from long range and within nine feet of the rim. He is taking what the Wizards are giving him and Washington has to adjust.

"We’ve gotta pretty much get it out of [his] hands. Make sure we take care of everybody else," Oubre said.

The Wizards should look to how the defended him in Game 4 as a good example of how to limit his impact. DeRozan had 35 points, but required 29 shots from the field and 18 free throws to get there. 

Washington forced DeRozan into an inefficient night and forced others to try to beat them. The result was the Wizards' best defensive game overall, as the Raptors scored a series-low 98 points.

DeRozan isn't the only defensive concern for the Wizards as they look ahead to Game 6 on Friday. Backup point guard Delon Wright scored 18 points for the second time this series and Toronto hit 11 threes in the game.

The Wizards held the Raptors to just seven threes in Game 4 and it was no coincidence they won that game. They have to lock down the perimeter and, as this series has shown, that includes DeRozan even though he isn't known for making threes.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

WALL IS BOYCOTTING DRAKE'S MUSIC DURING SERIES

WIZARDS WENT ICE COLD IN 4TH QUARTER OF GAME 5

WALL HAS REACHED PEAK FORM AMAZINGLY QUICK

Quick Links

Wizards go cold late to drop Game 5, as Raptors take 3-2 series lead

Wizards go cold late to drop Game 5, as Raptors take 3-2 series lead

The Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 108-98 in Game 5 of their first round playoff series on Wednesday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Ice cold: When the Wizards needed it most, their offense failed them. With John Wall running the show, they can traditionally score with the best of them. But from the 4:05 mark in the fourth quarter, they went scoreless for a stretch of three minutes and 49 seconds.

Meanwhile, the Raptors converted turnovers into points to close the game on a 14-5 run. The Wizards shot brick after brick from long range and missed 11 of their last 15 shots. It was a shocking collapse in a game that had been going well for the Wizards.

By beating the Wizards in Game 5, the Raptors took a 3-2 series lead which historically means they have nearly an 83 percent chance of winning the series. Those aren't good odds for the Wizards, who can look at one area of the court to blame.

The Wizards made only five threes on 26 attempts. The Raptors, conversely, went 11-for-25 (44%) from the perimeter. The Wizards' five threes were their fewest in a game since Jan. 12.

DeRozan was a killer: As has been the case this entire series, DeMar DeRozan led the charge for Toronto. The perennial All-Star came out on fire with 20 points in the first half alone.

This time, it wasn't just free throws. He was 4-for-4 at the half, but 7-for-13 from the field and 2-for-2 from three. Usually, threes aren't his game.

DeRozan kept it up in the second half to score 32 points on 12-of-24 from the field. That's a pretty efficient night.

Otto looked a bit hurt: Otto Porter, who was held to nine points and four rebounds, didn't appear to be moving very well. He was running around with a limp, which suggests his right lower leg strain is still bothering him.

Head coach Scott Brooks said last week that Porter is 100 percent, but that doesn't seem like the case, unless there was some sort of setback in the time since. Porter, however, is such a smart player and such a good shooter that he can still make the most of his time on the court.

Solid start: The Wizards aren't used to playing well in the first quarter this series. They entered Game 5 with an average deficit of -7.2 points in the first quarter. In this game, however, they led by one point after one.

That was thanks to a buzzer-beater by John Wall (26 points, nine assists, nine rebounds). Ian Mahinmi got the offensive rebound and it set up Wall for a last-second shot. He got to one of his spots and sent it in:

It was just the second time in five games this series that the Wizards have been leading after one. The other time was Game 3, when the Wizards beat the Raptors handily to earn their first win.

The Wizards, though, couldn't finish. They also couldn't protect the ball. At least Wall couldn't, as he committed seven turnovers, one short of his playoff career-high.

Backup PGs: The Raptors again played without point guard Fred VanVleet, their best bench player and a guy who is arguably one of the best backup point guards in basketball. The loss has been evident for the most part, despite his replacement Delon Wright doing a solid job, including with 18 points in Game 5.

On Wednesday, Washington's backup point guard also shined. Despite not playing a single game during the regular season, Ty Lawson continues to make smart plays and create scoring opportunities for others.

He had four assists in this game and made one of the best plays of the night. Check out this move he put on to set up Ian Mahinmi:

And this dude was playing in China like two weeks ago? If he keeps this up, there will be an easy case to make that the Wizards should re-sign him for next season.

Clearly, they want Tomas Satoransky to play more off the ball and the coaching staff hasn't gained full trust in him. Lawson and Satoransky could make a solid reserve backcourt if they have some time to develop some chemistry.

Up next: The Wizards and Raptors are back at it on Friday night in Washington for Game 6. The tipoff time has not been announced, but the game will be aired on NBC Sports Washington.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

WALL HAS REACHED PEAK FORM AMAZINGLY QUICK

WALL IS BOYCOTTING DRAKE'S MUSIC DURING SERIES

OUBRE IS HELPING THE WIZARDS WIN IN MANY WAYS