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How the Wizards could get two shots at signing Kevin Durant

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How the Wizards could get two shots at signing Kevin Durant

NBA free agency begins today, but the player most coveted by Wizards fans won't hit the market until this time next year. There's a chance he'll be available the summer after that, too. 

Washington native Kevin Durant is entering the final season of his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, making him a free agent in 2016. That's also when the NBA's new TV deal will drive up the salary cap dramatically -- from roughly $67 million in 2015-16 to $90 million in 2016-17. 

Under the current CBA, max contracts are set at a fixed percentage of the salary cap in the year the deal was signed. So if Durant agreed to a multi-year max contract next summer, his base salary would be 30 percent of the 2016-17 cap (~$90 million) in the first season and eligible for incremental raises in each subsequent season of the deal. 

This is where OKC seems to have the advantage: They hold Durant's Bird Rights, so they're able to offer him a max base salary with a 7.5 percent annual increase for up to five years. Other teams can only offer a max with a 4.5 percent annual increase for up to four years. 

But what if a five-year max contract with the Thunder in 2016 wasn't actually Durant's most lucrative option?

Grantland's Zach Lowe laid out a compelling case against it

Max percentage [of the salary cap] increases from 30 percent to 35 percent once a player logs 10 years in the league ... Those little [CBA] quirks rewarding veteran players were never supposed to mean this much.

We’re a year early, but it’s possible no player in league history will have ever had as much incentive to sign a one-year deal as Kevin Durant next summer. Durant is three years younger than [LeMarcus] Aldridge, and as he hits free agency, he’ll have completed nine seasons — one short of the magic number required to snag that juicy 35 percent max. Durant could sign a one-year deal, re-enter free agency when the cap leaps to $108 million in the summer of 2017, and ink a mega-max at that 35 percent level. Durant would rake in about $40 million more going that route than by signing a long-term contract deal next summer.

Short-term deals carry risk, of course, and Durant has undergone three separate foot surgeries in the last eight months. 

Very interesting stuff, folks. Especially for the Wizards. 

Durant could re-sign with Oklahoma City in 2016 for one season or check out a new situation for one season. Either way he would become a free agent again in 2017, when he's eligible to make 35 percent of the $108 million cap. 

Say the former MVP wanted to come home, but was hesitant about the demands and expectations of old acquaintances. He'd have a full season in Washington to consider making a long term commitment.

Even if he's set on staying put, taking a five-year max with the Thunder in 2016 doesn't make as much financial sense as re-upping for one year before inking a multi-year max extension in 2017. This is the same logic behind LeBron James not signing long-term contracts with the Cavaliers. 

Perhaps serious health reservations could induce Durant to choose job security over an extra $40 million. 

If not, the Wizards could get two chances to lure the former MVP. 

MORE WIZARDS: Wizards' playoff foes active on Day 1 of NBA free agency

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John Wall energizes Wizards past Lakers as only he can

John Wall energizes Wizards past Lakers as only he can

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- There’s no secret to the Wizards’ success and struggles this season. When John Wall makes passion plays as he did throughout Sunday’s 128-110 rout over the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington competes. When his energy wavers, the team wobbles.

There’s no denying the direct correlation. Any seasoned basketball observer recognizes the link. Good to great things happen when the Wall Star shines. Wall went beyond good to great against Los Angeles as Washington snapped a four-game winning streak.

He shredded defenders in the open court from the jump as Washington delivered its best start to a game this season. Wall bullied Lance Stephenson for a driving layup and went between the legs for a pinpoint pass to a dunking Sam Dekker. He singular performance included two blocked shots, three steals, four 3-pointers and nearly matched the offensive production for the Lakers’ starting five with a season-high 40 points and 14 assists.

The numbers are cool. The oomph was the wow.

“He's obviously the key,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the five-time All-Star. “Him and Brad [Beal] are the key, they are the best players, they are All-Star players, but they need to bring that energy every night.”

Wall’s up-tempo style makes the Wizards go. The offense appears stuck in first gear when he’s slow out of the blocks. Washington labored in first quarters throughout the season, ranking 28th with 30.3 points allowed per game.

The starters worked the Lakers immediately.

Wall dazzled with 12 points and three assists just seven minutes into the game as the Wizards led 26-8.

Their collective foot remained on the gas. With Wall in attack mode on both ends, the margin never dipped below six. Wall wouldn’t allow it.

“He dictated the game,” Lakers star and traditional Wizards nemesis LeBron James said. “He had energy and we did not. He kept us on our heels all night. John that is what he is, one-man fast break. … He had us on our heels and he saw a few layups go in transition, then his jump shot started going and you are not going to stop him when he does that.”

Wall sank 16 of 27 shots from the field. The Lakers’ starting five made 21 shots combined and only had 10 assists.

“We just came out with a lot of energy,” Wall said. “We did a great job on both ends of the court – knocking down shots and being aggressive defensively.” 

He didn’t mean it this way, but there’s a royal we aspect to Wall’s statement. The Wizards came out and remained energized because the role players take their cue from the five-time All-Star along with Beal.

“It goes on them and then our roles players need to be stars in their roles. That's what makes good teams go,” Brooks said. “We have been banged up, we are playing different lineups but that is no excuse to play hard. That's your job, you have to do that. Hopefully this type of game can get us to do that consistently.”

The Wizards played a third consecutive game without starting forward Otto Porter (right knee contusion). This was their first game since Saturday’s trade that shipped out Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers for ex-Wizard Trevor Ariza. One of the league’s top 3-and-D performers, Ariza’s veteran presence ideally helps Washington find a consistent performance level.

The Wizards (12-18) didn’t enter this season aiming for a .500 record. If that’s their mark now, it’s unlikely the organization executes the Ariza trade. Some spark was required. The roster pieces largely made sense but simply didn’t click.

They are ways of sending a message without trading players. Whether that was part of the organization ploy or not, Wall didn’t believe the team revved up against the popular Lakers because of the deal.

“Everybody out there just played with a lot of energy probably because we were shorthanded and knowing we could get embarrassed playing against LeBron,” Wall said. “Knowing it’s going to be a lot of Lakers fans (in the arena). I think we got up for the game."

“I think we have to find a way to get up for those teams that are not the Lakers or the Warriors, those dominant teams in the East and the West. When we figure it out then we’ll be one of those teams that people start taking seriously and start being consistent.”

Ariza should join the group Monday when the trade becomes official. His debut Tuesday when Washington visits the 6-23 Atlanta Hawks, also known as not the Lakers or Warriors. Ariza's arrival alone won’t help the team author a comeback. It’s not solely on Wall either. 

He’s just the player the others feed off. When he figures out how to keep the energy consistent, good bet the Wizards would as well.

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LeBron James had his worst-ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

LeBron James had his worst-ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

No Wizards fan needs to be reminded of the torment their favorite team has suffered at the hands of LeBron James for the last decade-and-a-half. He has eliminated them from the playoffs three times, scored 57 in their building and hit a variety of game-winning shots.

So, it should be considered no small feat what the Wizards did on Sunday night in their 128-110 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. They held James, arguably the league's best player, to only 13 points. That's his lowest scoring total ever against the Wizards franchise.

James has played the Wizards 65 times over the years, between the regular season and the playoffs. His previous career low vs. the Wizards was 14, back on Feb. 7 of 2004, when he was a rookie.

While in the Eastern Conference for his first 15 NBA seasons, James played the Wizards four times a year and often had the upper-hand. In his career, even with Sunday's loss, he is 30-19 against them with a 26.9 points per game average.

Usually, James powers his way to the rim against the Wizards and scores at will. Not on Sunday night.

"I have no clue," head coach Scott Brooks said when asked for the secret to shutting him down.

"It seems like every night it's 40 points here. He makes shots. Last year, here I think he averaged [39.9 points, 11.0 assists and 10.0 rebounds]. He's a pretty good player."

James shot just 5-for-16 from the field on Sunday, good for 31.3 percent. He was 0-for-2 from three and had four turnovers with only three assists. He was a -21 in the box score.

Some of James' struggles could be attributed to fatigue, as the Lakers played the night before in Charlotte. And James did have an off-night with some missed shots he would otherwise make.

But the Wizards had a plan and it worked. They deployed Jeff Green to guard him in isolation. Green is not only the Wizards' best match from a physical standpoint, he knows James well having played with him last season with the Cavaliers.

Green did an excellent job matching James' physical style without fouling. He had only one foul on the night despite playing bump-and-run coverage on many of James' drives to the basket.

Green and the Wizards also took away his three-point looks by closing early and making him pass to teammates. James' two three-point attempts were a season-low.

"Give a lot of credit to Jeff. Jeff did a great job," guard John Wall said. "It was one game. We know he is how he is. Just gotta tip your hat for us, making him make tough shots and make plays tonight."

The Wizards wanted others to beat them from long range and James' teammates didn't come through. While James didn't get off many threes, other Lakers did. They just didn't hit them.

Josh Hart went 0-for-5 from long range. Lonzo Ball went 2-for-7 and Kyle Kuzma went 0-for-4. 

“I think we did a good job of making it difficult on [James], showing him a lot of bodies, active hands," guard Bradley Beal said.

With James in check, the Wizards took advantage. They forced 22 total turnovers and that allowed Wall to feast in transition. He scored a season-high 40 points and dished 14 assists.

For one night, the Wizards had James' number. After 16 years of domination, it was about time.

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