Redskins

Usually slow-starting Grizzlies lead NBA at 13-3

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Usually slow-starting Grizzlies lead NBA at 13-3

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Sitting atop the NBA standings is new territory for Memphis. Getting off to a winning start is just as unusual for the Grizzlies.

Memphis, which tends to stumble out the gate, is a league-best 13-3. The Grizzlies never have had a better record at this point of the season. They were 11-5 in 2005-06 and 10-6 last season, the only other times they have had a winning record after 16 games.

Coach Lionel Hollins and his Grizzlies list several reasons for this great start, ranging from scheduling to preseason preparation to better chemistry. Point guard Mike Conley said it started with the way the Grizzlies approached the beginning of training camp.

``Guys were already shape, using training camp to get ready for the first preseason game,'' Conley said. `` We were just taking it step-by-step. But the first game, I thought guys' minds were in mid-season form, and we were clicking in so many different areas as opposed to the past seasons where we started out sluggish and slow.''

So far, so good.

The Grizzlies are the NBA's best after a 108-98 overtime win over Phoenix on Tuesday night.

That's a stark contrast to some of their other starts. Some of the worst included a 1-11 start in 2001 and losing the first 13 to open the 2002-03 season.

Chemistry has been a big key. The starting group was set at the end of last season when the Grizzlies finished with the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

Forwards Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay and center Marc Gasol have been intact for more than three years, though injuries have caused first Gay, then Randolph to miss significant time the past two seasons. Gasol and Randolph give Memphis one of the NBA's more potent big men combos.

Conley has improved, and guard Tony Allen provides the defensive mindset that created the Grizzlies' grit and grind mantra.

``We didn't have too much to learn, and our bench came off great early, which we haven't had in the past,'' Gay said.

Jerryd Bayless, in Toronto last season, has provided sound help backing up Conley, allowing Hollins to play his starter fewer minutes. Wayne Ellington, a trade pick-up from Minnesota in July, hit a career-high 7 of 11 3-pointers against Miami to lead the Grizzlies to a win.

That started a week where they not only defeated the defending NBA champs, but Oklahoma City, last year's other NBA Finalist, and handed the New York Knicks their first loss this season.

Quincy Pondexter and Marreese Speights return from last year, and Memphis finally got forward Darrell Arthur back recently from a broken bone in his leg he suffered in September after missing last season with a torn right Achilles tendon.

``At every single position, they're a challenge,'' Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said before the Pistons' 90-78 loss at Memphis last Friday. ``There's a reason why these guys are the best team in the league record-wise. There's a reason why over the last, basically going on a year and a half, why they are one of the better home teams in the league.''

The Grizzlies now are a league-best 9-1 at home this season, the only loss coming to Denver 97-92 on Nov. 19. That snapped a 15-game regular season home winning streak for Memphis dating to last season.

The schedule also has helped because the Grizzlies haven't had to take a long road trip yet. Memphis opened at Los Angeles against the Clippers, then went to Golden State. From there, it has been one-night stops in Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Charlotte and last weekend in San Antonio.

Memphis finished November with a five-game home stand - its longest of the season - by going 4-1.

``It's easier, better to start the season at home, regardless of who you play, and we've been fortunate to get those wins,'' said Hollins, named Western Conference coach of the month through November. ``We've come together as a team. We've matured. As to how and why we started quicker? It probably has a lot to do with scheduling.''

No matter the reason, the Grizzlies are enjoying themselves after so many losing starts.

``We've been good at that for the last five years,'' Gay said. ``Now, we don't have to do it. It's a lot easier.''

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One thing doesn't make sense about Washington's dismissal of Alex Santos and Richard Mann II: The timing

One thing doesn't make sense about Washington's dismissal of Alex Santos and Richard Mann II: The timing

In a move that seemingly came out of left field, Washington fired two longtime front office members on Sunday -- Alex Santos and Richard Mann II -- just 16 days before training camp begins.

Sure, the team had its reasons for these moves. Only the people inside the doors of Redskins Park can explain. But what is a bit odd is the timing. Why now? Why in mid-July with training camp right around the corner?

Since last December, the Burgundy and Gold have made several organizational changes. The team's current staff has few holdovers from 2019.

Longtime team president Bruce Allen was fired on Dec. 30, and head coach Ron Rivera was hired two days later. Head athletic trainer Larry Hess, who had been with the organization for 17 years, was let go, too.

Washington has yet to announce a formal replacement for Allen, but Senior VP of Player Personnel, Kyle Smith, has served as the de facto acting general manager. Smith, along with Rivera, spearheaded Washington's 2020 draft, and the head coach had plenty of praise for Smith following the three-day April event.

Eric Schaffer, the team's VP of football operations, who spent 17 years with the franchise as the organization's respected salary-cap guru and general counsel, was let go in January as well. Rivera brought in Rob Rogers from Carolina to replace him. 

Doug Williams, one of the Burgundy and Gold's iconic players, was even reassigned from the pro personnel department to the player development department this offseason. 

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All of these moves had one thing in common that these recent dismissal doesn't: the timing makes sense. 

Allen's firing in December was, by all accounts, overdue. He had spent 10 years with the organization, and during that span, Washington made the playoffs just twice with no postseason victories. Rivera's hiring in January was customary for when teams replace head coaches. Schaffer's dismissal came a few weeks after Rivera was hired in January, as the head coach was working through the process of which staff members he wanted to hold over.

But for Santos and Mann? The timing, on the surface level, just doesn't make sense. The team had months to make changes at their respective roles.

Should they have been let go in January, that would have made sense. Rivera would still have been in his first few weeks as head coach, figuring out how he wants to build his staff. Or maybe after free agency? That's when their jobs at the pro level would have been complete. 

Should this move have occurred in early May following the draft, that would have also made sense. Many front office staffers are let go across the NFL following the draft, as teams don't want to waste a year of their work by dismissing them prior to the draft itself. There are still priority undrafted free agents to sign and work to do. But, especially in 2020 when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic wiped out rookie minicamp, OTAs and veterans' minicamp. there was an easy gap to make changes. 

But once again, why now? July is usually a dead period in the NFL, as teams have one final break before gearing up for training camp and the upcoming season. Major personnel moves are rarely made in July, if ever.

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Last year, the New York Jets got plenty of scrutiny for firing then-GM Mike Maccagnan in May, just a few weeks after the draft. That was in May, and the organization received major backlash.

Washington didn't get rid of a general manager on Sunday - Rivera is firmly in control there with Smith assuming more power - but it did dismiss two important members of its front office with training camp arriving soon. Those roles will have to be filled and it's not an ideal time to find candidates. Most prospects would have employment by now. Maybe there are internal hires the organization likes? 

With training camp just over two weeks away, the timing of Santos and Mann's dismissal is just plain odd. And with the team's potential name change still at the forefront, these moves will only add to what will likely be another crazy week in Ashburn.

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Capitals release 34-player roster for Phase 3 training camp

Capitals release 34-player roster for Phase 3 training camp

The Capitals released a 34-player training camp roster on Sunday for Phase 3 of the NHL's return to play plan. Training camp begins on Monday. The roster consists of 20 forwards, 10 defensemen and four goalies.

No notable names appear to be missing from the roster so presumably, no one has informed the team if they intend to opt-out of the postseason. The deadline to do so is 5 p.m. on Monday.

In addition to the regular NHL players, this roster includes a number of notable black aces: Forwards Shane Gersich, Philippe Maillet, Beck Malenstyn, Connor McMichael, Brian Pinho, Daniel Sprong, defensemen Alex Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary, Tyler Lewington and goalies Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek.

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For Phase 3, teams are limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies. That number will have to be trimmed down to 28 skaters and 31 total players when the team departs for the hub city of Toronto.

The team has been divided into two squads for training camp with the first practice starting at 10:50 a.m. on Monday. All practices are closed to the public.

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