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Why Wittman remains optimistic on Pierce's return, mentor plan

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Why Wittman remains optimistic on Pierce's return, mentor plan

Paul Pierce starred at the University of Kansas during the 1990's. The future Hall of Famer was the Washington Wizards' starting small forward last season. He'll turn 38 before next season.

Kelly Oubre Jr., 19, just completed his lone campaign with the Jayhawks. After completing a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards selected the 3-man in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Perfect world, the old school star mentors the fresh-faced kid, a role Pierce served at times with Otto Porter last season.

"Yeah, and alumni too," Coach Randy Wittman noted shortly after the Wizards selected Oubre 15th overall. "It would be nice to have an old Kansas guy be able to put a foot over a young kid like this and teach him, sure, that would be a great situation."

In the coming days we'll learn if this might happen.

Pierce holds a player option for the 2015-16 season. Recent reports have the Los Angeles native opting out of his final year and eyeing a chance to play for his hometown Clippers. Pierce must let know Washington before July 1 whether he's staying or becoming a free agent, though taking the latter path wouldn't prevent him from staying with the Wizards.

Wittman remains optimistic about the veteran sticking around.

MORE WIZARDS: CONNECTION BETWEEN DURANT AND OUBRE

"Yeah, absolutely," he said.

Team president Ernie Grunfeld said Pierce's decision didn't factor into the team selecting another small forward. Washington dealt the 19th overall pick along with second round picks in 2016 and 2019 to Atlanta.

"It didn't have anything to do with Paul's decision," Grunfeld said. "This was completely different. We felt like (Oubre) was the best player on the board. When we had this opportunity, we felt like it was a really good thing for us to do."

The team president and coach took turns speaking with reporters outside the team's practice court, the court Washington worked out prospects ahead of the draft. Nearly 50 players participated in group sessions. The 6-foot-7 Oubre was not one of them even though there was clear interest from the team. Grunfeld said team officials met with Oubre last month during the NBA combine in Chicago.

"We didn't bring him in here because we didn't realistically think we had an opportunity to get a guy like this," Wittman said. "When (the trade) was presented, that's why we jumped on it."

Porter, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 Draft, played heavy minutes during the postseason. The former Georgetown star would likely step into the starting small forward role should Pierce exit, but the depth chart becomes murky from there. The combination of Porter and Pierce would allow Washington to bring Oubre along slowly.

With impressive athleticism and a playmaking style, Oubre oozes potential; ESPN ranked him the No. 11 recruit in the 2014 class, ahead of Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell, who went second overall to the Los Angeles Lakers. Both Grunfeld and Wittman cautioned about the inexperienced prospect making an immediate impact. Oubre averaged 9.3 points and 21 minutes with Kansas.

The coaching staff will diligently work with the small forward starting next month as the team prepares for the Las Vegas Summer League. We'll know before then whether Oubre gets to learn from Paul Pierce as well.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller look ahead to the biggest questions the Wizards need to answer after the All-Star break. They also explain why Bradley Beal proved a lot in his first All-Star Game appearance.

They also unveiled a new segment involving guessing Wizards players based on their social media captions.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

The Wizards experienced a wild ride before the All-Star break, but came out of it on solid ground, fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 33-24 record. With 27 games still remaining until the postseason, here is a look at the biggest storylines moving forward...

Who will they sign?

The Wizards are close to signing a new player as they were left with open roster spots following the trade deadline when they dealt guard Sheldon Mac to Atlanta for a second round pick. The Wizards have keyed in on the backup point guard position and are likely to go in that direction with the move. But they could still be in the market for other players, possibly someone at the backup wing position, even if they sign a point guard.

The Wizards only have a few days left to make a move because they need to get their roster to 14 players within 14 days of the Mac trade on Feb. 8. Their next game is on Thursday against the Cavaliers, so they could have someone in the building in time to play in that game.

RELATED: WIZARDS DID WELL IN FIRST HALF DESPITE OBSTACLES

When will Wall return?

Wall had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Jan. 31 and was prescribed a recovery timeline of six-to-eight weeks, meaning he still has about another three weeks to go before a return is possible. It could be another five weeks before he's back on the court. That puts him in the range of missing another 10-to-17 games.

The Wizards have played nine games since he went down and have won seven of them, but they aren't even halfway there yet. They have a long way to go. Because it's Wall and his return will have a domino effect, this is the most important storyline to watch for the Wizards moving forward.

How will Wall fit back in?

Wall's return will of course be a big deal for the Wizards. They will be adding an All-Star back into their lineup with just weeks before the start of the playoffs. But at the moment, they have a good thing going and are playing much better than they were in the last week or two before he was shut down. That, of course, had a lot to do with Wall playing injured.

It will be interesting if the Wizards are still winning at anything close to their current rate when Wall comes back. That would be the ideal scenario because they could ease him back into the lineup and take their time getting him up to speed. But it will also create a complex situation for head coach Scott Brooks, who will need to make adjustments to his rotation. The alternative would be if the Wizards aren't playing well when Wall returns and the concern there would be the urge to rush him back in any capacity.

PODCAST: BREAKING DOWN THE WIZARDS' FIRST HALF

Tough schedule

The Wizards have fared quite well for themselves so far with a 33-24 record despite injuries to Wall, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter to varying degrees. But they have done so while enjoying the easiest schedule in the NBA, 30th out of 30 teams. It is about to get a lot tougher coming out of the All-Star break.

All in the next five weeks the Wizards will see the Cavs, Bucks, Warriors, Raptors, Pacers (twice), Timberwolves, Celtics, Spurs (twice) and the Nuggets. Of their next 17 games, 15 will be against teams currently in the playoff picture. They could be without Wall for all of them. That won't be easy.

Can Oubre get back on track?

While Wall has been out, just about everyone on the Wizards has stepped their games up to compensate. Though he still impacts games in other ways, Kelly Oubre, Jr. has been one exception on offense. In his last 11 games, Oubre has averaged 9.4 points and shot just 31.2 percent from the field and 23.2 percent from three. In his previous 46 games, he averaged 12.4 points while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three.

That is a major difference and the Wizards certainly want to get the early-season version of Oubre back. At his best he is one of their most consistent scorers and an excellent three-point shooter. When he's contributing on both ends of the floor, the Wizards are tough to beat.

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