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Best player, best fit and best bet of the Wizards' free agent targets

Best player, best fit and best bet of the Wizards' free agent targets

As the idea of free agent Kevin Durant considering the Wizards looks bleaker by the minute, the question becomes who are the next main targets.

The latest update from ESPN NBA Insider Marc Stein has the Wizards focusing on Atlanta center Al Horford, Charlotte swingman Nicolas Batum and New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson. None of this is necessarily gospel, but confirms previous reporting and suspicions.

Some quick thoughts on the trio:

Best player: Al Horford

Seeing as Durant and LeBron James are viewed as likely to stay with their current teams, the four-time All-Star becomes the top true free agent in 2016. Horford turned into a stretch-5 last season, sinking nearly 35% of his 3-point attempts while averaging 15.2 point, 7.3 rebound and 1.7 blocks.

Downside: Perhaps 10-12 teams will be in pursuit of the veteran and former University of Florida star, including Atlanta and Orlando. Horford turns 30 next season, so if the Hawks re-sign him to a five-year deal, they (or any team he's traded to) would be paying max money to a 35-year-old. As for the Wizards specifically, adding Horford probably means trading Marcin Gortat. Horford can move around on the perimeter, but having him chase sleek power forwards isn't ideal.

[UPDATE - Saying Wizards would "probably"deal Gortat with a Horford signing is likely too harsh. Horford's versatility means he can play either of the big man positions. However the fit with Gortat isn't ideal if it means Horford spends most of his time on the perimeter. It's also not even close to being a dealbreaker. Just would be interesting if the Wizards, who in this case would be limited financially for other bold moves, pondered moving Gortat's now reasonable contract to help fill out the roster.

Best fit: Nicolas Batum

My opinion may differ from others, but I believe an insightful coaching staff can figure out how to use Batum without sabotaging the growth of Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. The modern NBA requires teams to have two-way wing threats capable of guarding multiple positions. Batum, who stuffed the stat sheets for Charlotte last season while remaining a stout defender, is there now. Porter and Oubre can get there in time. All three lengthy players are in the 6'8" to 6'9" range. There are minutes to be had at the off guard spot behind Bradley Beal and at power forward when the Wizards go small. Batum would also give Washington a playmaker when John Wall sits.

Downside: Batum probably isn't worth a max contract, but that's going to be the cost during this wild offseason. Only Charlotte can offer a fifth-year, which is among the reasons Batum likely sticks with the Hornets.

Best bet: Ryan Anderson

My colleague J. Michael explained this week Washington's interest in the perimeter shooting forward. Get passed the letdown angle of Anderson not being Kevin Durant and you see a good option for a team that has lacked a stretch-4 with size.

Downside: Yikes on the defensive end. That's individually, but also with Gortat (who isn't a true rim protector at center) and without a lockdown wing defender on the team. Mirza Teletovic could provide similar help, but for fewer dollars than the rumored $17 million per year it will cost to snag Anderson.

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.

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For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

 

 

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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USA Today Sports Images

Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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