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Bills staying put after agreeing to new lease

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Bills staying put after agreeing to new lease

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Bills aren't going anywhere any time soon, and the team's CEO, Russ Brandon, guaranteed it Friday.

``Guaranteed,'' Brandon said at a hastily called news conference, announcing the Bills had agreed to sign a new 10-year lease with the state and county to continue playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

``This is a monumental day for us,'' he added. ``The Buffalo Bills are right here in western New York, where we're going to be for many decades to come.''

It's a $271 million deal, of which $130 million will be committed to upgrading an aging stadium that opened in 1973. And the agreement includes a commitment to put aside funds and establish an advisory group to explore the potential of building a new stadium for the franchise.

Just as important, the agreement includes a provision that essentially locks the Bills in for the next seven seasons. The franchise would have to pay $400 million if it decides to leave before 2020. The team then has the option of buying out the remaining three years of the lease for $28 million.

``This is an investment that the state is making. It's an investment in the Bills. It's an investment in western New York. And I'm proud to make that investment,'' Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, speaking via a satellite television hookup from New York City because stormy weather prevented him from flying upstate.

A memorandum of understanding with the terms of the agreement was signed Friday, with the actual lease still to be finalized. It's subject to review by the NFL and during budgeting by the state and Erie County.

The deal was reached before the Bills' existing 15-year lease expires at the end of July. And the price tag for renovations is significantly lower than the $200 million Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz projected it would be when talks first began last spring.

In a breakdown of costs provided by officials, state and county taxpayers are on the hook for $226.8 million for the duration of the lease. That includes a series of annual payments for annual capital and game-day expenses.

Of that total, the state and county are committed to making a one-time payment of $94.5 million next year for stadium upgrades, which will include getting new scoreboards, widening concourses and building a new plaza. The Bills' share for those upgrades will be $35.455 million.

``Those that would criticize the state and Erie County for investing taxpayer money to keep the Bills here would be the same ones criticizing if the Bills left,'' Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said. ``If we were to lose them, that would be a shot into the morale of this community and this state that could not be understated.''

The deal comes at a time when fears were again being raised about the long-term stability of a team based in the United States' 56th largest television market, and in a Rust Belt region.

The Bills often have been mentioned as being a target for relocation. Another issue is the status of the team's Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, who turned 94 in October and whose health is slipping.

Wilson spent about a week in the hospital in late August because of an undisclosed illness.

Though committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo during his lifetime, Wilson has not made any commitments regarding the team following his death. He has made it clear that he intends to have his heirs sell the franchise, opening the possibility of the team being purchased by someone interested in relocating the team.

Brandon said Wilson's loyalty to Buffalo has never wavered, and he took offense when asked what might happen to the franchise once Wilson dies.

``The question becomes tiresome. I understand it, but it's become tiresome,'' Brandon said. ``Mr. Wilson's loyalty is unmatched as any owner in professional sports. And I think we should be here today to applaud him.''

Wilson was not present for the announcement. He hasn't made a public appearance since attending the Hall of Fame induction ceremony festivities in Canton, Ohio, in early August.

Brandon previously dismissed discussions of the Bills' need for a new stadium, saying the team was committed to continuing to play at its current home.

He's now open to the possibility of a new venue.

``We're going to look at the potential of a new stadium in the next decade or so, and see if it makes sense for our community,'' Brandon said.

With the New York Giants and Jets both playing in New Jersey, the Bills are the NFL's only team based in New York. It's estimated that the state annually earns $20 million in taxes from the Bills.

``This is a forward-looking agreement that thinks about not just today,'' Poloncarz said. ``But it's also forward-looking so that we do what's necessary so that at the end of this 10-year period, we're not just wondering, `What do we do now?'''

The agreement includes a clause limiting the Bills to playing one annual home game and a preseason game once every two years in Toronto. That's similar to the five-year agreement between the Bills and Toronto-based Rogers Communications to have the team play north of the border.

The two sides have been in negotiations and are close to renewing the agreement.

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Associated Press Writer Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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