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Flip Saunders: Wizards almost drafted Klay Thompson

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Flip Saunders: Wizards almost drafted Klay Thompson

NBA fans in the D.C. area recognize the Golden State Warriors are the shoulda, woulda, coulda Washington Wizards. Flip Saunders' recent comments on Klay Thompson reemphasized the point.

The ex-Wizards coach now serves as coach and general manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Kevin Love as bait last summer, Saunders attempted to pry the 6-foot-7 Thompson away from the Warriors before ultimately making a deal with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. As explained in a new article about Love from Grantland NBA writer Zach Lowe, Saunders' interest in the perimeter threat bloomed ahead of the 2011 NBA Draft.

Thompson had blown Saunders away during a pre-draft workout in 2011, when Saunders coached the Wizards. The Washington brain trust considered reaching for Thompson with the no. 6 pick before going the safe route with a big man — Jan Vesely, who ranked higher on most draft boards but is now out of the league. “We toyed with it,” Saunders says, “but heaven forbid you go out of the box and pick someone you’re higher on than anyone else.”

Oops. Thompson eventually went 11th to the Warriors, one pick behind Jimmer Fredette. Redo the draft again and the Washington State product lands somewhere in the top 3 along with Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard. 

Before dissecting that quote, a dispassionate look back. It's easy to mock the selection of Vesely now, but the selection was lauded at the time. As Saunders notes, many around the league believed in Vesely's size and athleticism.

ESPN's Chad Ford gave Washington's entire 2011 class, including Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely, an "A" grade. "Vesely was one of the most athletic forwards in the draft and should be great flying up and down the floor with Wall," Ford wrote. As for Golden State selecting Thompson, Ford wrote that he can "see the appeal," but added, "The Warriors went safe, but safe doesn't get you an "A" grade."

Ford wasn't alone. CBS handed the Wizards a "B" grade for the Vesely pick. As for Thompson, CBS deemed the selection a "head-scratcher" in that the Warriors passed on Leonard for "a backup guard." Yahoo's "Ball Don't Lie" blog only handed out one "A+" team grade for the entire draft. Yep, the Wizards. 

These writers and evaluators weren't alone. Also, mistakes happen and we've all discussed the Vesely one plenty.

What's perhaps most interesting about Saunders' comments is the notion that Washington passed on Thompson in some part because the organization feared going out on a limb. "Heaven forbid you go out of the box and pick someone you’re higher on than anyone else" is some statement.

One could easily interpret that as Saunders taking a shot at the man who was in position to make the final decision, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld. Perhaps Saunders simply laments he didn't speak up more during the process, especially since he was fired seven months later. Maybe he misremembered the scenario altogether and now views the process in the best possible way. 

Regardless, Thompson is with Golden State and Vesely is playing in Turkey. Meanwhile, Saunders is trying to get the Timberwolves out of the NBA cellar and Grunfeld is presiding over a Wizards team that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals two straight years with John Wall and Bradley Beal, players that might not be on the team if Washington made different choices in previous seasons. 

Nobody now argue's Vesely over Thompson was the way to go. In the moment, a different story. Perhaps one day we'll learn if the Wizards passed on Klay because their bold streak was stuck in the mud of NBA conformity or simply because they viewed the draft board like most others.

MORE WIZARDS: CAMERON PAYNE A FIT FOR THE WIZARDS?

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

After already making significant changes to their roster, the Wizards may not be done this offseason, as according to a new report by ESPN, they have been in talks with the San Antonio Spurs about a potential trade for superstar Kawhi Leonard.

Read this from Adrian Wojnarowski:

Still, the bidding war among Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers never materialized. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Toronto and Washington are among teams who've talked with San Antonio, league sources said.

The Wizards certainly make sense as a Leonard suitor. They are in the East, meaning the Spurs could trade Leonard to them and not have to worry about facing him as often. Plus, they have a solid group of tradeable assets and ones that seem to fit the Spurs model.

Otto Porter is a versatile, young player under team control who plays an unselfish style and would likely embrace playing in a small market. He also has a salary ($26M in 2018-19) that isn't far off from Leonard's ($21M in 2018-19), so the money could be easily matched.

The Wizards also have Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr., two young and up-and-coming players. Plus, they have draft picks, though ones that are unlikely to convey as lottery selections.

The Spurs have reportedly been more interested in getting players that can help now rather than draft picks to rebuild. That makes sense, as they still won 47 games last year despite Leonard only playing in nine of them due to injury.

The question in any Wizards and Spurs talks would be whether they would want one of Washington's All-Stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. It would be tough to imagine the Wizards parting with either guy for Leonard, who carries some risk not only because of his quadriceps injury but also because he can opt out of his contract and leave after next season.

Just because the Wizards have talked to the Spurs doesn't mean they are serious contenders for Leonard, but it does show they are serious about improving their roster this summer. If they got Leonard and didn't part with Wall and Beal, that would be some team.

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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually come into existence. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclamations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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