Wizards

Syracuse ranked No. 9 in preseason; ready to roll

Syracuse ranked No. 9 in preseason; ready to roll

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim decided last season to redshirt a promising freshman guard and break from the norm by giving his bench plenty of playing time. Just thinking ahead, apparently.

The Orange lost its top four players from last year's team, which won a school-record 34 games and lost only three, and yet as the new season looms Syracuse is ranked No. 9 in the AP preseason poll.

The sky's the limit, it seems, for Boeheim's 37th year as head coach. Even without top scorer Kris Joseph, spiritual leader Scoop Jardine, Big East sixth man of the year Dion Waiters and big man Fab Melo, the defensive player of the year in the conference in 2011-12.

``We've never had a team, that I can remember, lose this many guys who were such important parts of what we did, and if we had a team that had lost even close to what this team did, we certainly weren't picked in the top 20 the next year,'' Boeheim said. ``It's really a credit to the returning players ... that people think pretty highly of them.''

The 2012-13 season will be like no other in Boeheim's reign. It is Syracuse's final year in the Big East before the school moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Jim Calhoun has retired at archrival Connecticut, and it's the first time Boeheim will start a season without assistant Bernie Fine, who was fired a year ago amid allegations of sexual abuse lodged by two former ballboys.

Boeheim, soon to be 68 and just 10 wins shy of 900, says everything seems pretty much the same as it's always been.

``It does not feel different,'' he said. ``Next year I'm sure will feel different because you're in a whole different league. There will be an adjustment period. But this feels like a normal Big East season.''

Probably because the Orange is loaded again and ready to challenge for another conference title. Syracuse finished 19-0 at home in 2011-12 and won the Big East regular season with a 17-1 record.

A projected starting lineup: senior guard Brandon Triche, 6-foot-6 sophomore Michael Carter-Williams at point guard; hulking freshman DaJuan Coleman (6-9, 288 pounds) and sophomore Rakeem Christmas (6-9, 242) at the back of Boeheim's signature zone defense; and 6-8 junior C.J. Fair at small forward. Throw in 6-8 senior forward James Southerland, junior center Baye Moussa Keita, freshman forward Jerami Grant, and guard Trevor Cooney, that sharpshooting redshirt from last season who's primed to contribute after an intense year of training, and you have an imposing group.

``Last year we had so many veteran guys coming back, they had come off a successful season,'' said Boeheim, whose Orange last year was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 for the final two months of the season. ``There was no reason to think they wouldn't be very successful at this stage of the year.

``This team is different. I'd say these guys are as advanced as any group we've ever had at this stage. They have done as much work or more work as any group we've ever had, and I'm very confident they're as well-prepared as they could be. I'm as ready to go as I can remember.''

So, too, are the players.

``I think this team can be very good starting up top with Mike and Brandon and then down to our bigs,'' said Fair, who started nine games last season and averaged 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds. ``A lot of people are sleeping on that this year, but that's something we use in our favor. I'm very confident in this team. I think we can go deep in the tournament and maybe take it all the way. I'm very excited for this season to start.''

Not only did the Orange lose a lot of scoring - the core four combined to average 41.2 points on a team that averaged 74.1 and won by an average margin of 13.1 - it lost a big dose of leadership with the departures of Joseph and Jardine.

Triche and Southerland are prepared to assume the roles of elder statesmen.

``I am one of those guys who says what needs to be said,'' Triche said. ``I don't say anything extra, but I'm going to pick my teammates up and say what I need to say.''

Added Southerland: ``My goal is to be an impact player as one of the two seniors. There's going to be a lot of attention on us, and we have to get the younger guys going.''

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Owner Ted Leonsis says the Wizards' best course is not to tank this season. Is he right?

Owner Ted Leonsis says the Wizards' best course is not to tank this season. Is he right?

Shortly before his team took on the New York Knicks in a global showcase game in London, England on Thursday, Washington Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis addressed reporters and dropped a line that created a swift and strong reaction on social media.

When discussing the state of his team, Leonsis said in no uncertain terms that the goal this season is to make the playoffs. He has no interest in looking towards the draft lottery, despite the desires of some fans who have visions of Zion Williamson throwing down lobs from John Wall.

"We will never, ever tank," Leonsis told reporters.

That quote seems like one that will be revisited periodically in the next several years. But, like all quotes, it requires some context. 

What Leonsis went on to explain is that his franchise is not in a position to lose on purpose. They have too much talent, even with injuries to Wall, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris, to pack it in and look towards next year. They also have too much money committed with what currently ranks as the seventh-highest payroll in basketball. They already went through a rebuild, he said, and it's not time yet to go through another one.

As Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington in September, there are "no excuses" for falling short this season.

In many ways, what he said in London was not surprising at all. The Wizards have been in win-now mode for several years. Anyone paying attention to their personnel moves should understand that.

Take the trade for Trevor Ariza in December, for instance. Though some speculated that was about trading for a guy who could be dealt elsewhere months later, that was never the Wizards' intention, according to people familiar with their plans. Getting Ariza was about improving the defense and retooling their locker room culture. It was about making the playoffs this spring.

Leonsis' comments should make the Wizards' plans for the Feb. 7 trade deadline a bit easier to ascertain. The goal to make the playoffs doesn't necessarily mean they will be buyers, but it strongly suggests they won't be sellers. They are only two games out of a playoff spot in the still-pedestrian Eastern Conference with 37 games left to play. After winning six of nine, the playoffs are a realistic goal.

That still won't assuage the Wizards fans out there pining for them to make the long-term play, of course. And there is an argument to be made that their future would be better off if they take a step back this season to take two steps forward the next. If they tanked and got a top draft pick, it could help them immensely down the road if that player becomes another franchise cornerstone.

But, as Leonsis argues, gunning for top draft picks can be unpredictable. People often cite the Sixers as a tanking success story, and their future does appear to be bright. 

But the Sixers are an exception to the rule, as tanking is by no means a fool-proof strategy, even in long-term rebuilds. Teams go years and years without luck in the draft. Just look at the Sacramento Kings.

Or, you could look at the Wizards, one of the least successful franchises in the NBA historically. Only five NBA teams have a worse winning percentage all-time than the Wizards, who have been around for 58 years. They haven't won 50 games or reached the conference finals since the 1970s.

If the Wizards were to make the playoffs this season, that would be five times in six years, arguably their best stretch of postseason success since the 70s. Consider the fact they made the playoffs just once from 1988 to 2004.

Sure, the Wizards should set their sights higher than losing in the first or second round, but there is something to be said about stability for a team that hasn't really had it since the Carter administration. And there is also something to be said about trying to build on what they have, rather than tearing it down and starting over.

It's not easy to go from middle of the road to great, but other teams have done it. In fact, most of the top teams in today's NBA didn't get there by tanking. 

The Rockets made trades for James Harden and Chris Paul and drafted Clint Capela 25th overall. The Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick.

The Bucks got Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton in trades and Malcolm Brogdon with a second round selection. The Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round and got Gary Harris with a trade for the 19th pick.

The Warriors, though they had some lean years before their meteoric rise, basically built their team without any really high draft picks. They took Stephen Curry seventh, but also got Klay Thompson 11th and Draymond Green in the second round.

What Leonsis hopes to happen is a parallel to his Washington Capitals of the NHL. When it appeared they had hit a wall, some minor changes helped them break through to win a Stanley Cup in 2018.

The NBA is different, and the Wizards aren't a few small tweaks from toppling the Warriors, but perhaps Leonsis' patience will pay off. Maybe the Wizards will get a healthy version of Wall back, and the ascension of Beal and Porter will lead to them winning 50 games or going to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979.

There are fans out there who want dramatic changes. They want more than a first round playoff exit. Leonsis, of course, does as well, but he believes staying the course is the best path forward to getting there. Only time will tell if he's right.

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    Would Ravens fans welcome Steelers WR Antonio Brown?

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    USA Today Sports

    Would Ravens fans welcome Steelers WR Antonio Brown?

    If there’s one Raven who knows just how difficult it is to cover Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, it’s Marlon Humphrey.

    The second-year cornerback out of Alabama rose to the top of the team’s depth chart in the secondary this season and was rewarded with the chance to cover the consensus top pass catcher in football over the last half-decade.

    It’s not newsworthy to tell you that Antonio Brown is an elite receiver. In Week 14 of the 2017 season, with top CB Jimmy Smith on the bench, Brown roasted the Ravens secondary for 213 yards on 11 catches. And in two games this past season with Humphrey following him, Brown combined for 104 yards on 10 catches and a touchdown in each game. 

    What is newsworthy is the Steelers potentially shopping Brown, after numerous reports of locker room struggles and diva qualities from the star. And since he knows just how dangerous Brown can be, it makes sense that Humphrey would prefer to see him in purple and black.

    Fans of every team have imagined what it would be like to see Brown in their colors, scoring touchdowns and racking up big yardage. It’s no surprise that players would imagine it as well.

    He hasn't had fewer than 1,284 yards or 8 touchdowns in any season since 2012, but Brown will be 31 by the start of next season, so there probably aren't too many elite seasons left. For the time being, however, Brown would be a major addition for any team.

    That goes double for the Ravens, who would A) take a playmaker away from their biggest rivals, and B) finally give themselves a star receiver, something they haven’t had on the roster since Anquan Boldin during the Super Bowl run.

    While no team wants to add an alleged diva to their locker room, the Ravens have historically believed in the strength and leadership of their veterans, and therefore haven’t shied away from problematic players.

    With John Harbaugh running things and Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs in the locker room (none of whom are guaranteed for 2019, to be fair), the Ravens will likely trust their infrastructure and focus on talent when adding to the roster this offseason, and Brown certainly is talented.

    Even Humphrey recognizes it’s a longshot, however. Not only would it take a massive haul in draft picks and young talent, but the Ravens would need to create some cap room that’s already needed to fill other holes on the roster.

    Plus, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers allowing their best player to go to their most hated rival if they can help it, so Baltimore would likely be forced to overpay even more than other teams to pry away Brown. Even if they could make it happen, how would fans react to adding a player they've hated for so long?

    When asked about potentially bringing in both Brown and star running back Le’Veon Bell from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, Humphrey could only laugh.

    Some things really would be too good to be true. It’s still fun to speculate, though, and Lamar Jackson throwing up long touchdowns to Brown would be a sight to behold.

    If anything else, it’d just be nice to get Brown out of the black and gold. Just ask Marlon Humphrey.

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