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LeBron, Wall on same team when it comes to helping young fans


LeBron, Wall on same team when it comes to helping young fans

LeBron James dominated the Wizards with 34 points and 10 rebounds in the Cavaliers' 121-115 win Wednesday. He also played 40 minutes, a significant increase over his average per game.

Turns out he was inspired by a bigger purpose -- impressing Leah Still, who was in the audience to watch her favorite basketball player and friend. 

Well turn up then boo! she was hype they came out with the win tonight #LeahStrong she a true fat girl tho everything stopped when that popcorn dropped lol

A video posted by Devon Still (@man_of_still75) on Jan 6, 2016 at 8:29pm PST

"Absolutely. I knew she was going to be there tonight," James said when asked if her presence gave him extra motivation. "Her and Zhuri, my baby girl, are my two favorite women in the world."

"I know my mom and my wife will be a little bit jealous, but they got to take a back seat to those two. Just her strength and her courage and what she's been through over the last few years, man, it's uplifting to all of us."

The King befriended Leah after learning of her battle with pediatric cancer.

The now-5-year-old daughter of former Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma in 2014. Her father documented the family's courageous fight against the disease on social media, drawing press attention and generous support from around the sports world. 

Today Leah is in remission and has only one more treatment left in her ordeal (scheduled for Friday). To celebrate, she and her grandmother traveled to Washington to see James play -- a first for Leah. 

Her father Devon had intended to accompany her, but more happy news changed his plans: The Texans signed him to a futures contract after he'd spent the 2015 season without a team. 

Had got tix to the Wizards vs Cavs game tonight so Leah could see her favorite bball player in action before her treatment. Ended up not being able to go because I had to fly to Houston but as you can see Leah wasn't about to let that stop her from seeing @kingjames tonight #iCantBlameHer #iStillLoveYouEvenThoYouWentWithoutMe #ThoughtWeWasATeam lol

A photo posted by Devon Still (@man_of_still75) on Jan 6, 2016 at 3:53pm PST

James elaborated on why he was so touched by Leah's story. "I've got a daughter," he said.

"Being a father and seeing what Devon was going through at the time, to keep that strength and keep composure when his daughter was going through what she was going through, it just resonated, man. And from that point on, we became good friends and I'm good friends with Devon."

His relationship with Leah is reminiscent of Wizards guard John Wall's friendship with Miyah Telemaque-Nelson.

Wall met his "buddy" Miyah while she was fighting Burkitt's lymphoma. He kept in touch with the 6-year-old Wizards fan throughout her treatment, spending time with her and checking in with video calls. He even helped arrange for her to meet her favorite musical artist, Nikki Minaj. 

Wall and Miyah's friendship was cut short when the little girl succumbed to the cancer on December 8, 2014.

Wizards fans will remember that night well. Wall put up a spectacular 26 points and 17 assists to will Washington to a double-overtime victory. He then broke down sobbing in a postgame interview with CSN's Chris Miller

Touched by his display of emotion, Leah's father Devon reached out to show support. 

@johnwall man to man I respect the hell out of you for everything you did for Miyah and her family. I know from going through the battle myself that making memories with these kids are something you hold on to forever. No kid should have to go through this fight smh #RIPMIYAH

A photo posted by Devon Still (@man_of_still75) on Dec 9, 2014 at 11:33am PST

Wall's commitment to Miyah never wavered even after her death. He spoke at her funeral and kept in close contact with her family.

This past October, he got permission to miss a preseason game so that he could participate in the Light the Night Walk to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He'd helped organize a team of fans and loved ones to walk in Miyah's honor. 

So while James and Wall may have suited up for opposing teams on Wednesday night, they're on the same side when it comes to supporting their youngest, most vulnerable fans. 

MORE WIZARDS: Wall loses ground to Irving in 2nd round of All-Star voting

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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