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Browns GM hopes to return next season

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Browns GM hopes to return next season

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Tom Heckert has rebuilt the Browns, infusing them with talent and adding depth to a roster with none.

And now, just as the young team he's put together is reaching its potential and still in the AFC playoff hunt, Heckert could be down to his final weeks as Cleveland's general manager.

By season's end, Heckert may be replaced by new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, who are likely to overhaul Cleveland's front office and coaching staff.

``You know, it's going to be disappointing,'' Heckert said Friday when asked about the prospect of not returning. ``But I do get it. It's just one of those things. There's a variety of reasons why that could happen, but I'm OK with that. I don't know how else to react. If it doesn't work out, I can't just sit around and pout about it, I've got to go try to do it somewhere else.

``We'll see what happens.''

These are days of uncertainty for the Browns (5-8), who take a three-game winning streak into Sunday's matchup with the Washington Redskins. Heckert's future is in doubt as is that of second-year coach Pat Shurmur, who can bolster his chances to stay by winning out.

Haslam and Banner won't make any decisions until after the finale at Pittsburgh, and Heckert knows there's a chance they may go in a different direction.

If that's the case, team captains - Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson - said the Browns would be making a big mistake in letting Heckert go.

``It would be really upsetting,'' Thomas said. ``You just look at the track record he had in Philadelphia and he's been such a big part of this upswing that we're on now with all the young talent on this roster. It would be a shame if we let him go anywhere else.''

Said Jackson, ``I'll be the first guy in line to support Tom to stay here with the Browns.''

Heckert doesn't know what's ahead. He expects to have an answer about his future ``right away'' after the season. He doesn't know if Haslam and Banner have already made up their minds.

It's possible that Heckert, who spent four seasons as the Eagles GM, could stay on if he relinquishes some power. He said having control of the 53-man roster is essential, but that it wouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker.

``I'm not going to lie. It's important,'' he said. ``It's why I came here. I'm not saying it's an end-all, but it's very important to me.''

Heckert has ``final say'' authority written into his current contract. It allows him to draft, chase free agents and work with the coach on training camp decisions without intervention. However, Heckert pointed out that most decisions are a collaborative.

``In my 24 years or whatever it's been, I've never had one issue on cutdown,'' Heckert said. ``Now, who has the say on the draft and all the other stuff, it's written in my contract. For me, it's who picks the players and who makes the trades, all of that stuff. That's the stuff that I think is important.''

Banner is restructuring the Browns so that everyone in the front office reports to him. He spent 19 years with Philadelphia, where he worked with Heckert, who said the two still get along.

``It's been great. We talk about whatever,'' he said. ``No matter what happens, Joe and I are fine.''

Heckert said he honestly doesn't have a sense about his future, and he believes waiting is best for everyone involved.

``It's the right thing to do,'' he said ``I can handle two weeks.''

Asked if the Browns should keep him and Shurmur, Heckert nearly came out of his chair with his response.

``YES!!!'' he said, laughing.

Heckert seems at ease despite the unrest around him.

Since joining the Browns in 2010 - he was the first person hired by former team president Mike Holmgren - Heckert has transformed Cleveland's roster through the draft and a few key free-agent signings. This year alone, he selected running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz - who have each started all 13 games - in the first three rounds.

In July's supplemental draft, he gambled and picked wide receiver Josh Gordon, who had been kicked off the team at Baylor for marijuana use and sat out a season in Utah. After a slow start, Gordon has developed into Cleveland's top playmaker with 18 catches in his past three games.

The Browns have turned their season around, and Thomas believes Heckert deserves the credit.

``You can't point to anything he's really done wrong as far as all the moves he's made,'' Thomas said. ``Bringing in talent, building through the draft, everybody he has drafted is a solid contributor and then you find your diamonds in the rough in rounds 4-7, and he's done that. He's really turned this roster over.''

Heckert has been touched by the support he's gotten from Browns fans, some of whom have begun a campaign to keep him. The uncertainty has been hard on his scouting staff and family, including his parents, who fly in from Florida for every home game. Heckert's father, Tom, spent five seasons as a scout for the Browns in the `80s.

Cleveland seems on the cusp of a long, successful run.

Heckert started it, and he wants to finish it.

``Of course,'' he said. ``I really enjoy the city and I really enjoy this team, so that would be the ideal situation.''

NOTES: Speaking for the first time since he was hospitalized, guard Jason Pinkston feels grateful to be alive following a health scare that ended his season. Pinkston was hospitalized in October following a game against Cincinnati with blood clots in his lungs. He said doctors told him if he had taken a hit in the game that ``I could've probably died then so I'm all happy about it that I'm still here.'' He has been working out and plans to play next season. .... For the second week, the Browns did not have any players listed as ``out,'' ``doubtful,'' or ``questionable'' on their injury report.

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NCAA president Mark Emmert says fall champions can't happen at this time

NCAA president Mark Emmert says fall champions can't happen at this time

While conferences and schools across the nation are withdrawing from the 2020 fall sports season due to the coronavirus pandemic, others remain adamant that games and seasons can be played.

However, for those who are planning on having a fall campaign, their hopes of competing for a championship could still be derailed. According to NCAA president Mark Emmert, all Division I sports besides football --- which operates on the bowl schedule -- are in jeopardy of losing a title season due to the lack of teams involved.

“We cannot, now at this point, have fall NCAA Championships because there’s not enough schools participating," Emmert said during the NCAA Social Series on Thursday. "The Board of Governors also said, ‘look if you don’t have half the schools playing the sport you can’t have a legitimate championship.’”

Emmert noted that the fall can still be beneficial to universities as programs can put all their focus into safety protocols and maintaining the health of players. Additionally, players can still remain on campus and prepare for the spring season.

As for actual competition in the coming months, Emmert has begun to look ahead to 2021 with the hope that teams have the opportunity to compete when the spring comes around. Specifically, he wants to make sure that winter and spring sports -- who already lost a season in 2020 -- are not forced to suffer through the same fate again.

In order to do that, he's considering numerous altercations to sports such as modified bubbles and smaller brackets for postseason play. The procedures will become clearer in the coming months as more questions about the virus and its impact are answered.

For now, Emmert is optimistic that the NCAA has the capability to bring sports back in a safe way. But to do so, a lot of work still needs to be done.

“There’s a way to do it. Will it be normal? Of course not, you’ll be playing fall sports in the spring. Will it create other challenges? Of course. But is it doable? Yeah, it is doable and we want to do that," Emmert said. "We want to, again, make it work for these students.”

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5 biggest 2020 offseason questions for the Wizards, like will Davis Bertans re-sign?

5 biggest 2020 offseason questions for the Wizards, like will Davis Bertans re-sign?

Now that their 2019-20 season is finally over after nearly 10 full months, the Wizards' offseason is going to pick up very soon. The draft lottery is on Aug. 20, so just one week after their season finished.

The Wizards are entering one of the most important offseasons for them in recent memory. Here are the five biggest questions they will need to address...

Will Davis Bertans re-sign?

The No. 1 question for the Wizards this offseason centers around their most prominent free agent. Bertans enjoyed a breakout season in Washington after coming over in a trade from the Spurs last summer. But he is an unrestricted free agent and he won't be cheap, as he is now legitimately one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. He can impact games dramatically despite barely touching the ball.

The WIzards made a bet that they could re-sign Bertans by not trading him at the deadline in February. Now it will be up to general manager Tommy Sheppard to seal the deal. The good news is that there is mutual interest. Bertans likes playing in Washington and is intrigued by the role he could play next season with John Wall and Bradley Beal back. Bertans could be a perfect complement to them and help supercharge the Wizards' offense into one of the very best in the NBA. Re-signing him is the top priority for the team this offseason, as NBC Sports Washington has reported, now they just have to get it done.

Will Scott Brooks be back?

This isn't really much of a question, barring something unforeseen. But it is worth addressing solely because Brooks only has one year left on his contract and that can often force decisions to be made with coaches. The overwhelmingly safe bet is for Brooks to enter the final year of his deal and for both sides to play it by ear. If they reach expectations next season, or exceed them, maybe he sticks around beyond 2020-21. If they don't, both sides can part without calling it a firing.

Back before the pandemic hit, like right when it hit, I was working on a story involving Brooks' contract where I interviewed his agent, Warren LeGarie. The world has changed quite a bit since then, but LeGarie made some interesting points at the time. One is that Brooks has been down this road before, coaching out the final year of a contract. He did that in Oklahoma City once. LeGarie, who has also represented Sheppard, called Brooks "re-energized" by the team's youth movement and "all-in" on their future. He said they would "be open" to continuing the partnership beyond next season if that's where things went. Basically, both sides seem ready to keep it rolling at least into next year and see what happens.

Who will they draft?

If they do re-sign Bertans, they will not have a ton of money left to spend in free agency thanks to the max deal for Beal and the supermax contract for Wall. That leaves trades and the draft as the best way for the team to make significant improvements to their roster. And because they missed the playoffs, the Wizards will have a high first round draft pick, which will give them a chance to add another blue chip young player on a cheap contract.

They have the ninth-best odds in the lottery, which gives them a high possibility of selecting in the top-10 and a 20.2 percent chance of picking in the top-four. If they pick around 10th, then it could be tough for that player to contribute right away, unless they find another Rui Hachimura-type, whom they got at No. 9 last summer. But if they move up closer to the top, they could land an instant impact player like Anthony Edwards of Georgia or James Wiseman of Memphis. Given his position, athleticism and shot-blocking ability, Wiseman seems like the obvious best fit for the team in a dream scenario. There are also some intriguing options like LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes, Obi Toppin and Tyrese Haliburton who could be in the mix at the top.

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Who starts at forward?

The Wizards have some parts of their roster that are settled going into next year. We know what their backcourt will look like and, unless something shocking happens, we know Hachimura and Thomas Bryant will likely be in the frontcourt. Now, Troy Brown Jr. or Isaac Bonga or even Bertans could fill that fifth spot, but for several reasons it appears to be the most likely area they could find an upgrade.

Brown and Bonga are young players who could be best placed on the bench. Bertans also fits well there given his ability to change games as a microwave scorer and the defensive concerns you would have with him and the rest of the starting lineup. So, if the Wizards do want to use the rest of their money on a free agent, or target something significant in a trade, forward is the place to look. Whether that's a three or a four depends on how they view the short-term future of Hachimura. One name my colleague Chris Miller has thrown out there that makes a lot of sense is Jerami Grant of the Nuggets. He defends multiple positions and defense is a major need for the Wizards. His brother, Jerian, also happens to already be on the team.

Will they swing big or stay measured?

We know the timeline is going to speed up for the Wizards considerably this offseason with Wall coming back and Beal entering another year of his prime. They can't take the longview like they did a year ago. They want to win and that will dictate how they operate this offseason, which means veterans will likely be favored over young players to an extent. But to what extent, we don't know. What the Wizards have to balance is the possibility Wall and Beal do not work out once they reunite. And if things ever did go south, you wouldn't want to leave yourself in a position where you mortgaged the future and are left with nothing to show for it.

Also, when it comes to making win-now moves, there are different degrees of that. There is the method of putting together an experienced, playoffs-worthy bench. And then there is the method of thinking much bigger and trying to obtain another star on the level of Wall or Beal, or one that is even better. That, of course, is easier said than done, but the Wizards do have some options now with all the young players they have and the high draft pick they are set to receive. They have some trade assets to to work with. Stranger things have happened.

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