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Kevin Durant sounds nice, but he's not why Wizards hired Scott Brooks

Kevin Durant sounds nice, but he's not why Wizards hired Scott Brooks

Scott Brooks was not hired to lure Kevin Durant to D.C., though that was the immediate response by many when he was brought in two months ago by the Wizards.

John Wall offered his opinion in a conversation with Michael Lee of The Vertical this week, and CSNmidatlantic.com can add more context behind the hiring as to why the Wizards chose him in particular as their leader for the next five years.

As noted here, Randy Wittman had lost the respect of his locker room that became indifferent in a 41-41 season.

Durant or no Durant, an unrestricted free agent who was coached by Brooks for eight years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Wizards needed a voice to restore order, communication and gain respect among the troops.

Brooks had experience and succeeded with the sometimes volatile Russell Westbrook and Durant, leading them to a 2012 NBA Finals appearance. Brooks was an assistant coach with the then-Seattle SuperSonics before they relocated. After two years in that role in which Durant was a rookie in 2007 he was elevated to the top job that he held until being fired after 2014-15 ended.

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Managing talent, and Oklahoma City had plenty along with Serge Ibaka and James Harden, isn't easy. Brooks, whatever his shortcomings that led to his firing which remains unclear, succeded.

He's not expected to err in ways that Wittman did. When the Wizards went to pace-and-space, for instance, by starting Kris Humphries over Nene to begin the 2015-16 season, at no point did Wittman make it clear to his players that was the direction he definitely was heading despite speculation of such a move. 

According to multiple players talked to by CSN before and since Wittman’s firing, he didn’t have personal relationships with many of them, including his best players in Wall and Bradley Beal, and not even veterans such as Nene or Ramon Sessions who were perceived to be his favorites

While it made sense for Nene, 33, to have his minutes dialed back and come off the bench as a reserve center rather than a starting power forward, a sit down conversation to pre-empt it might’ve helped. Initiating a sitdown with Marcin Gortat, who ignored Wittman all season after he was called out as a “supposed big man” in November, might’ve helped. Not ignoring Jared Dudley's message about adjustments after an April loss to the Indiana Pacers might've helped. Trusting more in rookie Kelly Oubre, who everyone said in exit interviews should've played more because he is that good, might've helped.

Unless the Wizards ended up in the NBA Finals, there was no way Wittman would've stayed employed anyway with his contract only partially guaranteed at $500,000 for 2016-17. 

But it could've been smoother and his resume looked a lot better when he hit the job market. A screamer, Wittman was known for badgering Kevin Seraphin, who left as a free agent for less playing time and money with the N.Y. Knicks before last season rather than being his chew toy. Seraphin didn't like the treatment but had thick skin and accepted it. He didn't sulk. He was always the first one in the huddle to put his hand on top of Wittman's. There was no Seraphin to take that brunt this past season when the train went off the track.

This won't be Brooks' style. His people skills as well as his defensive acumen are why he’s in D.C. If he ends up helping Durant come -- and that seems like a major reach -- it just would be the icing on the cake.

Brooks is here to win, which he did 62% of the time with the Thunder, whether or not one of the 15 players on his roster has "Durant" on his jersey.

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it

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