Nationals

Ferrer to play Stepanek to open Davis Cup final

Ferrer to play Stepanek to open Davis Cup final

PRAGUE (AP) Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic will play David Ferrer of Spain in in the opening singles match of the 100th Davis Cup final.

Sixth-ranked Czech Tomas Berdych will face Nicolas Almagro in the second singles match Friday on an indoor hard court.

Defending champion Spain is without injured Rafael Nadal.

The fifth-ranked Ferrer has a career 6-3 record against Stepanek. Berdych, meanwhile, has beaten Almagro in four of their five matches this year.

Ivo Minar and Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic were selected to play Saturday's doubles against Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, who won the ATP World Tour Final title on Monday.

But captain Jaroslav Navratil is expected to bring in Berdych and Stepanek, who are 11-1 in Davis Cup doubles.

The reverse singles are scheduled for Sunday.

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What Bryce Harper's recent comments mean for Nationals' franchise-defining offseason

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USA Today Sports Images

What Bryce Harper's recent comments mean for Nationals' franchise-defining offseason

Relative to how big of a story it is both locally and nationally, there have been relatively few specific comments on Bryce Harper’s impending free agency from the superstar himself.

A few more of Harper’s thoughts were thrown out to the public today in a Washington Post article from Barry Svrluga.

In the piece, Harper both addresses his future and reflects on his past, and he repeatedly mentions that he loves D.C. and hopes to be in the nation’s capital long term.

These sorts of statements fall into the “what else is he going to say?” category, but that doesn’t make them any less true or meaningful. As Harper and Svrluga both mention, Harper really did grow up as both a professional and as an adult with the Nationals, and it’s natural to seek the comfort and familiarity of your first home away from home.

One comment iterated by many free-agents-to-be over the years is something along the lines of “I’d like to stick around, but that’s up to my agent.” It’s a sentiment that’s always bothered me. Your agent works for you, and you can choose to go to any team willing to offer you a contract. At the end of the day, it’s not up to anyone but the player himself (and, by extension, his family).

Harper didn’t make that quote today, but he did offer a variation. Multiple quotes from Harper include a desire to stay around, followed by the question of “am I in their plans?”

Let’s be clear. The *only* reason a player of Harper’s caliber wouldn’t be in a franchise’s plans is money.

Juan Soto is historically good at his young age, and Victor Robles is one of the few prospects in baseball with the talent to one day replace Harper’s production. Adam Eaton, when healthy, is one of the best values in the sport. The Nats have plenty of backup plans in place, but they are just that. Plan B’s.

Harper is one of the most naturally gifted baseball players in decades. He has an argument as the face of baseball, and he would be the face of all sports in one of the country’s largest markets if it wasn’t for Alex Ovechkin. He is the type of player on every team’s wishlist. He is a part of everyone’s plans. That is, everyone who has a chance of affording him.

I don’t begrudge Harper potentially chasing the most money, and it’s hard to imagine a player as competitive and confident as he is taking a smaller contract to sign with anyone, Washington included. It’s interesting to note that in the Washington Post article, Harper mentions just two other teams by name: The Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees. Also known as the two richest franchises in the sport. Harper is eyeing a massive payday, and he’s earned it.

The ultimate question isn’t if Harper is in the Nationals’ plans. The question is are the Nats in Harper’s plans?

Or rather, is the allure of their massive contract offer enough to top the allure of another franchise’s massive contract offer?

At the end of the day, the only person who will decide where Harper spends the rest of his career is Harper.

That’s the entire reason free agency exists. It’s up to him to sort out his priorities, and you can bet that whatever decision he ends up making, it’ll be one he’s thought on for a long time. Nationals fans should be happy for their homegrown star who has earned himself the right to make a boatload of money.

But he’s wrong when he says there’s nothing he can do. There is something he can do, and there’s something the Nationals can do. The only ones who have nothing they can do are the fans themselves. The only thing for them to do is wait with baited breath to see if the allure of “staying home” winds up being enough for a player of Harper’s immense talents.

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Day 1 of Wizards training camp features focus on defense, Mahinmi hitting threes, praise for new facility

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USA Today

Day 1 of Wizards training camp features focus on defense, Mahinmi hitting threes, praise for new facility

The Washington Wizards' new practice facility features all sorts of bells and whistles between a virtual reality room and a sensory deprivation tank. The biggest takeaway, though, from players and coaches after the first day of 2018-19 training camp was the simple fact they have more space.

The Wizards used to practice at Capital One Arena at what was known as the practice court. Notice that 'court' is not plural. They had one, and all the Wizards players had to share it.

Now, the Wizards have two courts in their practice area and technically a third if you count where the Go-Go and Mystics will play their home games. All three are located at the newly-minted Medstar Wizards Performance Center in Ward 8.

Beyond simply having more room to stretch out their NBA-sized frames, Wizards players don't have to share hoops or wait their turn as often while practicing their shot.

"It just makes us better prepared," forward Otto Porter, Jr. said. "I think more guys can get more shots up, more goals. I'm tired of everybody shooting on my goal. I have the freedom to get extra shots up."

There are more courts and more rooms at their disposal. Front office executives even have offices that overlook the practice area. 

"There’s so much space, and there’s so much room for the coaches. It’s like a coach’s dream," head coach Scott Brooks said. "You got a lot of baskets. You got all the facilities, the weight room, the training room, everything, the film room. Everything is outstanding. So, it’s important."

Defensive mentality

A brand new building helps the mindset of new beginnings for the Wizards as they open another training camp with another season on the horizon. Brooks said Day 1 was a productive one, highlighted by tone-setting conditioning drills and a sharp focus on defense.

The first message Brooks wanted to deliver to his team this season was that they have to improve on that end of the floor.

"First thing is defense," Brooks said. "We need to get better defensively. I really believe we should be top 10. I’m not saying we should lead the league in defense, but we should be top 10. Last year, [we were 15th in points allowed and defensive rating], middle of the pack. We don’t wanna settle for middle. We wanna be a top-10 team."

Brooks believes having newly-acquired center Dwight Howard protecting the rim can help that cause. And after the Wizards get their stops, Brooks wants to see more zip up and down the court.

"[Second is] playing with pace. We’ve got a lot of speed. We’ve gotta use that every time down the court, because it can be intimidating. We can score early in the shot clock. We got the fastest point guard in the league [in John Wall], and in order to do that, we need all four other guys running with him," Brooks said.

Mahinmi for 3?

Day 1 of training camp can bring all sorts of goals, some loftier than others. Like, for instance, is it realistic to expect center Ian Mahinmi to develop a three-point shot?

Mahinmi, like the other Wizards' big men, participated in three-point drills towards the end of practice and actually made a few.

Mahinmi has never made a three-pointer at the NBA level and has just eight attempts in his 10-year career. Brooks, though, says it's not all that crazy of an idea.

"Don’t be surprised if he shoots threes. He made 65 out of 100 last week," Brooks said.

Like any season, reality will set in at some point. But don't blame the Wizards, now training in a new facility, for thinking bigger.