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Flip Saunders: Wizards almost drafted Klay Thompson


Flip Saunders: Wizards almost drafted Klay Thompson

NBA fans in the D.C. area recognize the Golden State Warriors are the shoulda, woulda, coulda Washington Wizards. Flip Saunders' recent comments on Klay Thompson reemphasized the point.

The ex-Wizards coach now serves as coach and general manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Kevin Love as bait last summer, Saunders attempted to pry the 6-foot-7 Thompson away from the Warriors before ultimately making a deal with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. As explained in a new article about Love from Grantland NBA writer Zach Lowe, Saunders' interest in the perimeter threat bloomed ahead of the 2011 NBA Draft.

Thompson had blown Saunders away during a pre-draft workout in 2011, when Saunders coached the Wizards. The Washington brain trust considered reaching for Thompson with the no. 6 pick before going the safe route with a big man — Jan Vesely, who ranked higher on most draft boards but is now out of the league. “We toyed with it,” Saunders says, “but heaven forbid you go out of the box and pick someone you’re higher on than anyone else.”

Oops. Thompson eventually went 11th to the Warriors, one pick behind Jimmer Fredette. Redo the draft again and the Washington State product lands somewhere in the top 3 along with Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard. 

Before dissecting that quote, a dispassionate look back. It's easy to mock the selection of Vesely now, but the selection was lauded at the time. As Saunders notes, many around the league believed in Vesely's size and athleticism.

ESPN's Chad Ford gave Washington's entire 2011 class, including Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely, an "A" grade. "Vesely was one of the most athletic forwards in the draft and should be great flying up and down the floor with Wall," Ford wrote. As for Golden State selecting Thompson, Ford wrote that he can "see the appeal," but added, "The Warriors went safe, but safe doesn't get you an "A" grade."

Ford wasn't alone. CBS handed the Wizards a "B" grade for the Vesely pick. As for Thompson, CBS deemed the selection a "head-scratcher" in that the Warriors passed on Leonard for "a backup guard." Yahoo's "Ball Don't Lie" blog only handed out one "A+" team grade for the entire draft. Yep, the Wizards. 

These writers and evaluators weren't alone. Also, mistakes happen and we've all discussed the Vesely one plenty.

What's perhaps most interesting about Saunders' comments is the notion that Washington passed on Thompson in some part because the organization feared going out on a limb. "Heaven forbid you go out of the box and pick someone you’re higher on than anyone else" is some statement.

One could easily interpret that as Saunders taking a shot at the man who was in position to make the final decision, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld. Perhaps Saunders simply laments he didn't speak up more during the process, especially since he was fired seven months later. Maybe he misremembered the scenario altogether and now views the process in the best possible way. 

Regardless, Thompson is with Golden State and Vesely is playing in Turkey. Meanwhile, Saunders is trying to get the Timberwolves out of the NBA cellar and Grunfeld is presiding over a Wizards team that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals two straight years with John Wall and Bradley Beal, players that might not be on the team if Washington made different choices in previous seasons. 

Nobody now argue's Vesely over Thompson was the way to go. In the moment, a different story. Perhaps one day we'll learn if the Wizards passed on Klay because their bold streak was stuck in the mud of NBA conformity or simply because they viewed the draft board like most others.


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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 

The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall remains out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.


The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.

The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home-court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.


By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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