Carson anxious to finally play for Sun Devils

Carson anxious to finally play for Sun Devils

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Jahii Carson leaves a defender stumbling and staggering with a crossover. Then another. And another.

Seconds later, he whips a bounce pass through traffic to hit a teammate in perfect stride, does it again from a different angle to a different teammate. He drops in 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, reverse layups.

And the dunks: a head-above-the-rim, double-pump reverse, an almost indescribable around-his-back tomahawk after catching a bouncing lob pass off the floor.

Nearly half a million hoops fans have watched the highlight reel of the 5-foot-10 point guard with the bouncy legs and blurring quickness on YouTube.

His Arizona State teammates have seen similar eye-bugging displays on the practice court.

Now, after a year on the shelf, the Jahii Carson show is going live. If it's even half as good as the hype, it'll be a sure hit.

``I'm ready,'' Carson said on Tuesday. ``I wish the game was tomorrow.''

Arizona State fans wished it was last year.

One of the most highly touted basketball recruits in school history - certainly under coach Herb Sendek - Carson was viewed as a program savior, a point guard with ridiculous skills and a swagger to match who would lift Arizona State out of mediocrity.

His resurrection project got put on hold for a year, though, when he didn't meet the NCAA's academic eligibility standards.

All that did was add to the hype.

With Arizona State struggling and Carson's highlight reel racking up the hits, the hyperbole reached a manic pitch, Sun Devils fans wondering WWJD - What Would Jahii Do? - as the season wore on and the losses piled up.

Carson's Twitter followers ballooned over 6,000 and his reputation swelled to superhero proportions even though few people outside Arizona State had seen him play since he averaged 32.2 points and 6.6 assists during his senior season at nearby Mesa High School.

The long wait over, Sun Devils fans, coaches and players are anxious to see what he can do when the lights come back on.

``He's got a lot of confidence, he can score in many different ways, so it'll be exciting to watch him play,'' said Evan Gordon, who will team with Carson in what's expected to be one of the country's best backcourts after sitting out as a transfer from Liberty last season. ``Watching him in practice and guarding him in practice, he's an amazing player.''

Carson is certainly a singular talent, blessed with a crossover that often leaves defenders falling over, a deft outside shooting touch and pogo-stick legs that allow him to not just get to the rim, but finish over bigger players.

He also has plenty of a confidence, a swagger in his voice and body language that lets everyone know he can handle anything that comes his way.

Still, asking a player who's barely out of his teens to carry the hopes of an entire program and fervor-fueled fans is asking a lot, even for someone with a skill set like Carson's.

``The danger is because of the legendary reputation, the fervent interest, there's some of us perhaps expecting him to take the court with an S on his shirt and a cape on his back, and that really wouldn't be fair to him,'' Sendek said. ``That doesn't mean we don't want to have high expectations for him and all the players on our team, but there comes a point where we have to stay on earth, too.''

But part of what has stoked anticipation for Carson's debut is the belief that he's the kind of player and person who can handle it.

On the court, he was often one of the best players during Arizona State's practice last season, wowing teammates with his quickness.

He used his redshirt season wisely, working on his game, adding about 15 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame, studying opposing players and NBA point guards like Tony Parker, Steve Nash and Ty Lawson.

Carson also matured during his year away from the spotlight, vowing not to take anything for granted after his ``dumb mistake'' of slipping up academically.

There's a self-awareness, too, a realization that if he gets caught up in the hype and pressure, it will take him down.

``I just try not to think about it,'' Carson said. ``I know it's something that's there, but the more I think about it, the more it's going to affect me. So the more I don't think about it and just keep focus, the better I'll play and the more I'll keep that out of the way.''

The bow on Carson's got-it-all package is the confidence that holds it all together.

His is not the hollow bravado of a doesn't-know-any-better youngster. He truly does believe in himself, a trait that initially caught his teammates off-guard the first few practices last year.

The swagger is in the way he strokes in jumpers and takes the ball to the rim without hesitation.

It's in the way he talks, the calmness and inflection of someone much older, not a year removed from high school.

It's in his desire to be in the spotlight, to rise up to the brightness of so many eyes watching, not shrink away from them.

``He's a pretty cool, calm customer,'' Sendek said. ``That's the one thing about sports to me is how some of these guys are able to perform at such amazing levels in the crucibles we put them in. Whether it's Mary Lou Retton needing a 10 and getting it in the Olympics or a quarterback needing to take a team 80 yards in the final two minutes in front of 80,000 people and millions more on TV, the ability to just block everything out and perform at a high level is something that I have tremendous respect for.

``I think Jahii, along those same lines, will have that ability.''

Arizona State and its fans sure hope so. They've been waiting over a year for this show to start.

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Expect Wizards trade rumor reboot with upcoming arrival of LeBron James, Lakers

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Expect Wizards trade rumor reboot with upcoming arrival of LeBron James, Lakers

LeBron James is coming to town. Normally the focus remains with the four-time MVP whenever he makes an appearance. Those looking beyond Sunday’s Lakers-Wizards meeting in Washington might split their concentration. Think trade.

The Wizards (11-17) are still trying for a foothold after early-season wobbles. Now 9-8 since a 2-9 start, they enter Friday’s game at Brooklyn having lost three in a row. The notion of adding help or breaking up the band exists. There are also salary cap concerns going forward.

Possible trade partners vary, but the Lakers may target All-Star level help to pair with James. The rumor mill is aware of those factors and constantly churning out ideas typically involving John Wall or Bradley Beal. All will take the court together this weekend.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith offered his own Washington-centric take to NBC Sports Washington following Wednesday’s Celtics-Wizards overtime thriller.

 “You have to trade Bradley Beal,” Smith said.

“The reason why you have to trade Bradley Beal is he’s three years younger (than Wall), he’s got two years less left on his contract, and if you scour the league every executive will tell you he’s the higher commodity because John Wall’s game is predicated on athleticism and speed and conditioning. Usually, father time says that dissipates, which means you’re going to lower in value.”

Wall’s four-year, $170 million contract extension begins next season. Beal, 25, signed a five-year, $128 million contract in 2016. Otto Porter is the highest paid player on the roster this season ($26.011 million). His deal includes a player option for the 2020-21 season.

Those salary numbers combined with production shines a light on Beal.

“He’s a shooter in a game where shooting is incredibly important in this day and age,” Smith said of Beal. “His value will only elevate. The fact is with Wall the perception is there’s a bad contract. In Porter, the perception is there’s a bad contract. In Beal, no one has called it a bad contract.

“So when you look at it from that perspective, he’s the guy that you may need to move in order to acquire the attributes that you need in order to make this team better down the line or at least get enough cap space so you can somewhat start over because you’re not going to get anybody to take John Wall’s contract right now.”

The Lakers may seek immediate help with the West wide open beyond the dominate Warriors. They also may not want to add long-term money or trade potential player assets including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball or Josh Hart. Los Angeles is expected to make plays for headliners Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard this summer.

As for the Wizards, reports of potential deals does not mean the team is actively shopping Wall and Beal or even considering such moves. Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia are the only Eastern Conference teams with at least two All-Stars from last season. If the Wizards are going to rally, those are the types of players needed. Does such thinking change if 11-17 turns into 22-28 as the Feb. 7 trade approaches? We’ll see.

All we know for sure is that James and crew will be in Chinatown Sunday night. We should probably just focus on that. Good luck with that.



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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

Injuries and a suspension to Tom Wilson have kept things interesting for Todd Reirden in his first season as head coach of the Capitals.

At first, that meant figuring out an optimal lineup out of the players who were still available. But now there will be another challenge Reirden faces as the team continues to get healthy and that’s figuring out who to take out of the lineup.

On Tuesday, that player was Burakovsky.

“I just felt like going into [Tuesday’s] game that the other players had taken more advantage of the opportunity than he had recently,” Reirden said before Tuesday’s game. “For me, it's a rewards/earned ice time situation where there's a lot of competition. What happens is when players get opportunities and they play well, then it creates competition. Some have to win, some have to lose in that competition. Right now, that's what we've chosen to go with.”

Burakovsky’s career has been plagued by up-and-down play and scoring slumps. For the season, he has managed only eight points in 29 games. He did manage to score the game-winner against Arizona on Dec. 6, but that goal came after two very lackluster period of play by him.

“It's part of sports, I guess,” Burakovsky said Wednesday. “It is a tough sport. You're competing against the best players in the world. That's just how it is right now and I've just got to battle through it.”

Burakovsky has been cycled throughout the lineup this season, but has not gained any traction with any line or with any particular linemates so far. Thus, a player with top-six skill finds himself on the outside looking in at the lineup.

“I think guys on the team has been playing really well and deserve to play and have done a little bit more than maybe I have in the past now,” Burakovsky said. “We've been winning so that's most important thing and when I get the chance, I'm just going to go in and do my thing, play my game.”

Reirden said he was impressed by how Burakovsky has responded in practice. Given Reirden’s “rewards” system of coaching that should mean Burakovsky gets back into the lineup sooner rather than later. But if he continues to struggle to keep his production up, he will have a hard time staying in.

With both Oshie and Wilson now back from injury, the Caps have 14 forwards on the roster meaning two forwards will have to be scratched each game. There’s no one currently in the top six you would take out for Burakovsky and considering how well players like Brett Connolly are playing plus the chemistry the fourth line has found, there is not much room to plug in a struggling winger who still cannot find any consistent production.

This also calls into question what Burakovsky’s future on the team may be. Burakovsky is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will take a qualifying offer of $3.25 million from the Caps just to retain his rights as an RFA meaning general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to determine if he is worth that much.

As dire as his contract situation may appear from the outside looking in – especially for a player who has had confidence issues in the past – he says his next contract is not something he is thinking too much about.

“I'm not worried about my future,” Burakovsky said. “I know what I can do out there. I think I've proved what I can do and sometimes you just have to battle a little bit harder than you wanted to and it's going to happen. Right now, I think it's kind of what I'm doing.”