Capitals

Arizona appears to be back on track

Arizona appears to be back on track

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) When Arizona won a conference title and came within seconds of reaching the Final Four two years ago, the consensus was that the storied program was back after a couple of down years.

Coach Sean Miller had an inkling the Wildcats weren't quite there. He wanted to believe otherwise, but there were just too many holes in the roster, too many question marks to truly think Arizona had fully recovered from the dark days that followed coach Lute Olson's retirement.

``Anytime you win 30 games and you're a shot from the Final Four, everybody can certainly feel like we've arrived,'' Miller said Wednesday from the McKale Center. ``That was probably preliminary and I kind of knew that deep down.''

Arizona might now actually be back on track - not just this season, but for many to come.

Backing up a stellar recruiting class with one that may be even better, Miller appears to have a foundation in place to resurrect a program that has missed the NCAA tournament two of the past three seasons.

Miller's latest recruiting class includes four of the top prospects in the country - three of them big men - and was rated by some services as the nation's best. He also managed to land guard Mark Lyons, a graduate of Xavier who has a year of eligibility left after helping the Musketeers reach the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.

Two of the four recruits from Miller's previous among-the-best-in-the-country class are gone, but explosive guard Nick Johnson and springy-legged forward Angelo Chol return.

Guiding all these youngsters is a nice core of veterans: All-Pac-10 forward Solomon Hill, multi-dimensional forward Kevin Parrom and point guard Jordin Mayes.

Oh, and next year the Wildcats will add T.J. McConnell, a dynamic, do-everything guard who's sitting out this season after transferring from Duquesne.

``We have a great foundation,'' Hill said. ``A great mix of younger talent and older guys, veterans, who really want to work hard.''

It's been a long fight to get to this point.

A gritty point guard at Pittsburgh, Miller inherited a mess in the desert after leaving Xavier. The fourth coach in as many years at Arizona, he took over a program that had fallen into disarray on the court and in recruiting after Olson took a leave of absence for the 2007-08 season and retired abruptly before the next one.

Miller cobbled the Wildcats together the best he could the first year, leading to a 16-win season that he said was much closer to 10 wins than 20.

Arizona caught a bit of a break the next season, when Derrick Williams transformed from an afterthought in his recruiting class into one of the best players in the country. Behind Williams, the Pac-10 player of the year, Arizona won 30 games, the conference title and came within seconds of knocking off Duke to reach the Final Four.

Despite a stellar recruiting class, Arizona didn't come close to matching that success last season.

The Wildcats took a big blow when Williams opted to leave after his sophomore season and became the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft by Minnesota. Parrom, expected to be a big contributor, had a miserable offseason and wasn't the same player from the season before despite gallantly returning after being shot in the leg and losing his mother and grandmother.

Mayes had offseason foot surgery and re-injured it during the season. Forward Sidiki Johnson, one of the fab four freshmen, never panned out and left the team in December. Point guard Josiah Turner, another freshman, was suspended twice during the season and left the team after it was over.

The Wildcats fought through all the hardships to win 23 games, but were relegated to the NIT after losing to struggling rival Arizona State in the regular-season finale. Even the NIT was a disappointment; Arizona lost at home to Bucknell in the opener.

``We've gone through a lot in three years and a lot of amazing things have happened when you consider we were within a shot of a Final Four, have won a conference championship and have pulled up short, fought hard and learned lessons along the way,'' Miller said.

Stability could come this season.

This year's recruiting class includes 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-10 forward Grant Jerrett and 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley, three of the top incoming big men in the country.

The addition of those three turns what was a weakness last season into a strength this year, their versatility - along with Chol's - giving Miller a chance to interchange players without a drop-off in talent or worrying about anyone wearing out. They also allow Hill to move back to his nature position of small forward, a change that spurred him to transform his body during the summer and enter the season in the best shape of his life.

The Wildcats are equally impressive at guard, the veteran leadership of Lyons and Parrom mixing well with the athleticism of Johnson and Mayes.

And this is a team built to last. Hill, Parrom and Lyons are all seniors, but most of the rest of the roster is underclassmen who should have the benefit of playing with the scrappy McConnell next season if they stick around.

``As you build and do things comprehensively and try to do things the right way, it takes time,'' Miller said. ``I think as we enter our fourth year here, it's exciting to know everybody in our program we recruited and I think the chances of being successful because of that, and some other things, are now in place.''

Not just now, but for the future, too.

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What's next for Barry Trotz?

What's next for Barry Trotz?

Barry Trotz is no longer the head coach of the Washington Capitals and, after resigning Monday afternoon, he is officially free to pursue other opportunities.

So what's next for the now former Capitals head coach?

For those who believe Trotz will simply retire, that seems unlikely. Trotz is only 55 years old.

General manager Brian MacLellan indicated the main issue in the contract negotiations between him and Trotz was term. If Trotz was, in fact, seeking a five-year contract, that doesn't sound like someone who is ready to walk away from the game.

There is only one head coaching vacancy left in the NHL, that of the New York Islanders. New President of Hockey Operations Lou Lamoriello cleaned house after getting hired and fired both general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight earlier in June.

Now, suddenly, there is a Stanley Cup-winning coach on the market.

While it certainly makes sense for the Islanders to pursue Trotz, there's one big reason why Trotz, or anyone, would likely be hesitant to accept the job on Long Island and that is John Tavares.

New York's franchise player is a pending free agent and, until his contract situation is resolved, convincing anyone to take the head coaching job with the Islanders is a tough sell. If the Islanders re-sign Tavares, improve the defense and bring in a dependable starting goalie, then there is no reason to think they cannot be a playoff team.

But those are a lot of "ifs" and Tavares is a big one. If he goes, suddenly the situation on Long Island is much different. Tavares' decision could be the difference between the Islanders being a playoff team or getting a high lottery pick.

For Trotz to walk away from a team that just won the Stanley Cup to go to a New York team that may or may not have its best player back next season does not make a lot of sense.

But just because there may be only one head coaching vacancy open doesn't mean Trotz does not have any options.

The 2017-18 season saw no head coaching changes made during the season for the first time since the league expanded in 1967. Chances are jobs will begin to open up during the season especially if those teams believe they can land a Cup-winning coach as a replacement.

If you're Trotz, you just won a Stanley Cup. There is no reason to rush into another opportunity. Trotz will instantly be near or at the top of every wish list for teams in need of a head coach.

Don't just assume that Trotz will be on Long Island to start the 2018-19 season just because it is the only opportunity currently available. He can wait for the perfect opportunity to come to him.

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Cavaliers are gunning for Kawhi Leonard, though it's doubtful they have enough to interest Spurs

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Cavaliers are gunning for Kawhi Leonard, though it's doubtful they have enough to interest Spurs

With word out that Kawhi Leonard wants a trade from the Spurs, teams are lining up with offers to San Antonio and one of the NBA’s best teams has reportedly already made a call.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have contacted the Spurs about a potential Leonard trade, according to Cleveland.com. Terry Pluto wrote on Sunday that multiple teams have done the same. That is to expected, of course, as Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA. He's a two-time defensive player of the year and he's only 26.

Let's look at Cleveland as a potential destination. It should first be noted that it's questionable whether they have enough to land a player of Leonard's caliber. They have the eighth overall pick in Thursday's draft, but it may take a lot more than that to get Leonard.

They also have Kevin Love, who is an All-Star still in his prime. But if they gave him up, they would then need to seek more help to surround Leonard and LeBron James, if James decides to stay. Though James and Leonard are both top-five players in the NBA, they still likely wouldn't be able to beat the Warriors unless they had another running mate. Those two plus Love and then you're talking.

Whether the Cavs have the goods to land Leonard or not, it's no wonder why they are trying for him. Getting Leonard, a two-time All-NBA selection, would likely be enough to retain James, the best player in the game. If James were to look around the league for a top-shelf running mate, he would be hard-pressed to find one better than Leonard.

That is assuming Leonard is healthy, of course. He did miss all but nine games this past season with a quadriceps injury. That injury was central in a saga of discord between him and the team. Until he hits the court again, Leonard offers no guarantees. Still, he may be worth the risk for Cleveland, as the alternative is potentially seeing James walk. 

If the Cavs got Leonard, that would probably solidify their standing as the best team in the Eastern Conference, even if they lost Love in the process. Leonard is better than Love and they would arguably have the two best players in the East. They may not have enough to beat the Warriors, but that would likely give them the edge over the young teams like Boston and Philly that have been nipping at their heels.

Sending Leonard to the Cavs would get him out of the Western Conference and that might be enticing to the Spurs. If they send him to the Lakers, his reported preferred destination, that could come back to bite them much more often than it would if he was traded to the East. Though putting him in Cleveland would form another very good team, they wouldn't affect the Spurs directly but for two regular season games, unless they were to meet in the NBA Finals.

The Spurs haven't indicated they will actually trade Leonard, but it does seem to be heading in that direction. It sounds like Cleveland will at the very least give it a shot. 

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