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Morning tip: Wizards sacrifice again for Kevin Durant

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Morning tip: Wizards sacrifice again for Kevin Durant

For the last week, the Wizards were dead set on Paul Pierce's return to give it another run before retiring and becoming a first-ballot Hall of Fame player. But in the end, they made the same decision regarding him as they did a year ago with the player he'd replaced in Trevor Ariza.

Both are different players at different points of their career, but the reasoning for letting them go quietly to the Western Conference was the same: The Wizards refuse to compromise their position to make a run at Kevin Durant in 2016 free agency, CSNwashington.com has confirmed with multiple persons with knowledge of the situation.

Ariza was a free agent and wanted $10 million for the next four seasons. He took $8 million per to join the Houston Rockets where he doesn't pay state taxes which makes it essentially the same deal. The Wizards offered Pierce, who will be 38 when the season begins, two years with just the first guaranteed and the second a team option at the veteran mid-level exception of about $5.5 million. Instead, Pierce took a three-year deal from his hometown Los Angeles Clippers -- the first two guaranteed -- which when aggregated is higher salary.

The Wizards weren't locking themselves into such a deal and made the prudent decision to allow Pierce, who they'll always revere for what he did last season in bringing them to the cusp of the Eastern Conference finals, to walk. Pierce knew that with a team option in Year 2 of a new deal in Washington likely wouldn't have been picked up. The Wizards got word from Pierce at the same time the rest of the country, early Wednesday evening on the first day of free agency.

They huddled late at offices in Verizon Center with an eye on Plan B with a pair of trade exceptions, a mid-level exception and a bi-annual exception available to retool:

  • A stretch 4: This remains their No. 1 priority. The problem here is there aren't many options on the open market.

  • A combo guard is the next need on the list, with Rodney Stuckey among those on the short list. However, he'll require the mid-level which is the larger of the exceptions at roughly $5.5 million.

When Pierce didn't immediately tell the Wizards that he was returning, the writing was on the wall. There are no hard feelings towards him because they can't fault him for wanting to play at home with coaches (Doc Rivers and Sam Cassell) he already had close relationships with before coming to Washington.

Pierce wasn't going to do much to help the Wizards during the regular season anyway because he paces himself and has to nurse aches and paints. They won just two more games than the previous year without him (46) but Pierce's boldness and big-shot making in the postseason was magical.

They swept the Toronto Raptors behind Pierce's daggers from long range to steal home-court advantage. They took the lead after three games in a second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks because of his game-winning shot. 

That, however, is where it ends. The responsibility for this now will rest on the shoulders of John Wall, the leader and $80 million designated max player, and his backcourt mate Bradley Beal who is in line for a hefty extension. Otto Porter is now on the clock at small forward, unless someone else is acquired this summer. Kelly Oubre, the Wizards' first-round draft pick last week, will be given time to learn but if he figures it out sooner rather than later that'll be all the better. 

Just as it was during the February trade deadline -- and it will be for this upcoming one -- every move that the Wizards make or ignore is with Durant 2016 in mind. That means no long-term contracts. No marginal players making $7 million and up for multiple years to come will be accepted in transactions that might help them now but infringe on their cap situation for 2016-17. Unlike the Sacramento Kings, who change their vision at the owner's whim every week, the Wizards prefer a unified vision and will see it through whether or not a game-changing superstar is at the end of that rainbow.

If they can land the NBA's most lethal-scorer in Durant when he becomes a free agent from the Oklahoma City Thunder, would it matter that they whiffed on Ariza and Pierce? This is the long game and it has another year to play out before drawing any real conclusions. And going 1-for-3 in this situation would be a home run.

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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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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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