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DeJuan Blair predicts 'great year' ahead with Wizards


DeJuan Blair predicts 'great year' ahead with Wizards

PHILADELPHIA -- A smile on the face of DeJuan Blair comes as often as a solar eclipse. It certainly never made an appearance last season with the Wizards, but he's confident enough to predict a much better 2015-16.

"It's going to be a great year, man," Blair said after posting 15 points and seven rebounds in the Wizards' 127-118 victory vs. the 76ers on Friday night. "That's my goal."

By default it'll be an improvement for him over 2014-15. Blair appeared in a career-low 29 games. He sat in street clothes during the playoffs because he was inactive. He was out of shape. He pouted. He never could work his way into coach Randy Wittman's good graces. But with Kevin Seraphin gone and Nene likely to be in and out of the lineup with aches and pains, Blair will have more chances like this. And it helps that he lost 30 pounds coming into training camp.

"This is probably the best I looked since I've been in the league, for real," Blair said after playing in his just second preseason game and heading into his third tonight at the Milwaukee Bucks. "It's time to switch it up a little bit, trying to better myself in every way.

"It's my body (that's the difference). Last year was a big wake-up call coming from Dallas, went from playing in the playoffs to not playing at all ... This year I worked all over the summer."

Unlike when he had 12 points in six minutes of mop-up duty vs. the Sixers two weeks ago, Blair came off the bench early with Nene sitting out because of a sore right calf. 

He was light on his feet, getting to the rim, finishing reverse layups, launching the one-hand floater, catching difficult passes in traffic and making nifty touch passes of his own.

"Both games he's played in, I thought he's been really good," Wittman said. "Really effective being a big body, rolling to the basket. He's got any uncanny soft touch on his in-between game if doesn't get all the way there."

To keep up with the new way they're playing, pushing the ball at every chance to heighten the pace and possessions, Blair has to remain fit to play. His 25 minutes on the court Friday were his most in any appearance for the Wizards, preseason or regular season.

"It's something that I just got to get used to. But I'm ready though," Blair said. "I'm not far away. I'm just trying to work hard, get in the best shape I can. It's going to be a great season."

[RELATED: Wall gets legendary praise for off-court charity work]

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Trading Jodie Meeks gives Washington Wizards much-needed salary cap relief

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Trading Jodie Meeks gives Washington Wizards much-needed salary cap relief

With a luxury tax bill of approximately $19 million on the way, the Washington Wizards gave themselves some salary relief on Monday by trading veteran guard Jodie Meeks to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Wizards attached a future second round pick and cash to the deal and in exchange received a future second round pick of their own, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed. ESPN first reported the news.

Though Meeks, 31, was due to make $3.45 million this season, his departure saves the Wizards about $7 million because of projected tax penalties. That's a lot of savings in a deal that got rid of a player who had become expendable.

Meeks had fallen out of favor with the Wizards for a variety of reasons. He was due to serve a 19-game suspension to begin the season due to performance-enhancing drugs. The ban was announced the day before their first round playoff series against the Raptors was set to begin in April.

Meeks also underperformed last season in the first year of his contract with the Wizards and requested a trade in February. This summer, Meeks exercised his player option to remain with the team.

The Wizards were not likely to count on Meeks much at all this season because they traded for Austin Rivers in June to add depth at the shooting guard position. Meeks' role was made clear by the fact he did not appear in any of the Wizards' four preseason games against NBA opponents.

Meeks' tenure in Washington was a significant disappointment. The Wizards signed him last summer in hopes he could shore up the shooting guard spot on their bench. 

Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he never earned the trust of his coaching staff. The Wizards opted to rely more heavily on starter Bradley Beal, who logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player last season.

Now, they are moving on.

Meeks leaving the organization should have little effect on the Wizards, though it does leave them with a hole on their roster that needs to be filled. They currently have 13 players, one below the league minimum. The Wizards now have 14 days to add a 14th player.

They could sign a free agent, convert one of their players on two-way contracts (Devin Robinson and Jordan McRae) or make a trade. The Meeks deal gives them a $3.45 million trade exception.


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Dwight Howard practices for first time with Wizards, raising likelihood he plays in opener

Dwight Howard practices for first time with Wizards, raising likelihood he plays in opener

On Monday, for the first time since 2018-19 training camp began, the Wizards were complete.

Dwight Howard, who missed three weeks due to a strained piriformis muscle, participated in his first full practice with his new team. The 32-year-old signed a free agent deal with the Wizards in July, but had yet to take the court due to the injury, which began bothering him shortly before camp began on Sept. 25.

Howard had a setback on Oct. 6 and saw a specialist in New York. He received a pain injection on Tuesday and on Saturday began shooting again.

After clearing that hurdle, he was ready to be a full-go with his new teammates.

"It felt pretty good. I really gotta catch my wind and learn some of the offense. But other than that, it felt pretty good," Howard said of Day 1.

Howard practicing on Monday gives him two more days to work with before the Wizards open their season on Thursday at home against the Miami Heat. Both he and head coach Scott Brooks say it's too early to tell if he will be available.

"We'll see how it feels. I will do everything I can to make myself available for all 82 games," Howard said.

Howard not only has to play himself into game shape, he has to develop chemistry and timing with his new teammates. He missed all five of their preseason games.

If Howard can play, that would certainly be a positive turn of events for the Wizards. As of the end of last week, it seemed highly unlikely he would be ready when the regular season began.

But Howard turned a corner and now appears to be coming along quicker than once expected. 

"It was probably our best practice of training camp," Brooks said Monday after finally getting Howard into the mix.

"He has a natural feel. His IQ was pretty high, I was impressed with that. He picked things up."

Howard signed a two-year contract worth $11 million to join the Wizards in July.