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Wizards' attention will turn to 5 key areas to rebuild after 49-33 season

Wizards' attention will turn to 5 key areas to rebuild after 49-33 season

It's that time of year again for the Wizards, who lost in the second round of the NBA playoffs for the third time in four seasons. But they're in a better position now to retool than they were in previous years, when they were older and their best players John Wall and Bradley Beal dealing with repeated soreness and offseason restrictions because of health. 

That's not the case after going 49-33 and pushing the Boston Celtics to Game 7 under first-year coach Scott Brooks.

-- Free agency. They have to extend qualifying offers to Otto Porter and Bojan Bogdanovic before July 1 to keep them restricted free agents, which gives the Wizards first right of refusal to retain them. If they don't do this, they become unrestricted and are free to leave. Locking them in with the qualifier is a cheaper salary cap hit in the short term while they can renegotiate with both or allow the players to field an offer sheet from another team and give the Wizards a chance to match to retain them. Trey Burke is the other restricted free agent, but it's doubtful they extend him a qualifying offer and allow him to find a new home in free agency.

--Top priority. A capable backup point guard for Wall. Burke wasn't the answer and Tomas Satoransky wasn't ready to fill that void. They made the late addition of Brandon Jennings who is unrestricted. Earlier in the season they traded Marcus Thornton. In the playoffs especially, a backup for Wall is vital because it's easier to exploit weak links. Jennings wasn't a reliable shooter, had difficulty getting the offense started though they didn't run a lot of sets and was a major liability on defense as he allowed dribble penetration. Although Ramon Sessions was a shoot-first backup a year ago and had difficulty defending pick-and-rolls, he was light years ahead of what the Wizards had behind Wall this season.  A two-way player would be ideal. A combo guard with the size and three-point shooting ability to slot behind Beal, too, would be even better. 

--Non-guaranteed players. Daniel Ochefu and Sheldon McClellan didn't play much and their salaries for next season are non-guaranteed which means they can be cut without penalty at any time. Brooks is putting a lot into the development but it depends on not just where they're at individually but how the roster will be remade before figuring out if they fit. Chris McCullough, who was a throw-in from Brooklyn in the trade that brought in Bogdanovic, has an option that could be picked up by October. McClellan appears to be the most likely of the bunch to stick if there was room for just one. He played the most.

--Center pieces. Marcin Gortat isn't happy with his role. Ian Mahinmi makes more money per year and has more years left on his deal. The problem, of course, is Mahinmi's health. If Gortat isn't the answer or wants out -- and he left open the possibility he could -- then what's the next move? The Wizards still would need another big but one that has range would be ideal.

--Predraft workouts. The Wizards traded their late first-round pick in the deal that brought Bogdanovic but still have the No. 52 pick in the second round on June 22. They'll bring in a series of players to look at but more often than not they have an idea of what type of player they want already. These workouts are a matter of double checking the homework for accuracy. It's very rare that a player is brought in and goes from off the radar to being drafted because of that workout.

MORE WIZARDS: Otto Porter's teammates want him back with Wizards

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

After a sensational freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, point guard Trae Young plans to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, according to a report by ESPN.

Young will be one of the most fascinating prospects in this class given the extreme highs and lows of his one college season. He vaulted into the top 10 in most mock drafts after beginning his freshman year on fire, but then began to slip over the final months as his shooting percentage dropped.


Right now the Wizards are lined up to be in the late teens, so it's unlikely he falls to their range. But at this point it's difficult to predict where he will go, whether that is top five or later in the lottery.

It really could go either way. Some teams may see him as a Steph Curry-like scorer who can hit shots from unusually deep range. There were certainly times where Young backed up those comparisons.

Teams could see his flaws as a result of opposing defenses honing in on him because they could at the college level. In the NBA he may have more space and therefore be able to play to his strengths.


Or, teams could look at the fact he shot 36.1 percent from three on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game as a sign he is a chucker. He also led the nation in turnovers, commiting 24 more than the next guy. Young averaged 5.2 giveaways per game.

While Curry is the best-case scenario, Jimmer Fredette may be the worst-case. Fredette was the 10th overall pick in 2011 and now plays in China. 

Young will be an intriguing prospect in the draft because the ceiling is high and the basement is low. 

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