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Free agency could derail Hawks' future


Free agency could derail Hawks' future

When it comes to the Atlanta Hawks, it's far more interesting looking at the future rather than analyze their current, one-sided head-to-head matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There isn't much worth discussing in the Eastern Conference Finals unless the Hawks win Game 3 Sunday night in Cleveland. They would do so without 3-point shooting threat Kyle Korver, who is out for the rest of the series with an ankle injury; with a gimpy DeMarre Carroll and sans any momentum after losing the first two games in the best-of-seven series. Plus, there is that James fella. Best of luck with all that.

Therefore let's look forward to the offseason. Like the Wizards, the Hawks have plenty of decisions, the kind that could alter their title-seeking hopes. Unlike Washington, Atlanta's center on some of its frontline talent. 

Two starters are unrestricted free agents - forwards Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. Millsap, selected an All-Star in each of his two seasons with the Hawks, has turned into one of the game's most versatile power forwards. Teams looking for a stretch-4 type --yes, like the Wizards -- would surely have interest in the 6-foot-8 forward who can score on the perimeter and inside. That's if the Hawks truly let Millsap test free agency rather than just hand the 30-year-old a fat contract. Expect the latter, but never assume anything in free agency.

RELATED: Report: Magic targeting ex-Bullet for vacant coaching job

Carroll, 28, dramatically upped his value with a dominant performance during the first two rounds of the postseason. The energy forward with a 3-point shot served primarily as a complementary piece up front next to Millsap and Horford during the regular season. He turned into a leading man during the playoffs with a six-game streak of at least 20 points. That included Game 1 and 2 against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Any hopes that the Hawks could keep Carroll for a reasonable deal likely evaporated with that stretch.

One report states a "long list of teams" are expected to target the small forward, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, a scenario that could drive his per year salary into the $15 million range. That seems a bit rich, though teams might be willing to spend more with the salary cap set to rise in 2016. Trevor Ariza, a comparable player to Carroll, signed a four-year deal for $8 million per last summer. Atlanta would need to find a replacement during the draft or free agency if Carroll doesn't return. 

Reserve forward Pero Antic, part of Atlanta's primary rotation, is a restricted free agent. Deep reserves John Jenkins and Elton Brand are unrestricted free agents.

The Hawks blitzed the East during the first half of the season and cruised to the conference title and their most wins (60) in franchise history. Millsap, Korver, Jeff Teague and Horford, a free agent in 2016, were selected All-Stars this season. Dennis Schroder is a scoring threat off the bench with plenty of room for growth. Keep this core together, return a healthy Thabo Sefolosha and the Hawks should remain one of the favorites even against a likely deeper crop of contenders.

But if other teams around the league go hard for Millsap and Carroll, Atlanta might need to come up with Plan B.

MORE WIZARDS: Hawks squandering opportunity against James, Cavaliers

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 


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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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