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Morning tip: Can Humphries evolve into stretch 4? He's trying

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Morning tip: Can Humphries evolve into stretch 4? He's trying

For Kris Humphries to retain his minutes in the future with the Wizards, he realizes where he has to expand his game in the same way Drew Gooden re-invented himself by becoming a three-point shooter.

"I never really worked on shooting threes and stuff. I started working on it this year," said Humphries, a power forward who has a mid-range game and doesn't play much with his back to the basket on offense. "I had a lot of success in the last month (practicing) or so I really working on it every day, continue to work on it next year, add to my game."

Humphries has made just two in his career and those game as a rookie in 2004-05. He was 0-for-7 in his first season in Washington. After the Wizards' season ended in an Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Atlanta Hawks, coach Randy Wittman insisted that playing smaller and faster, meaning using more stretch shooters such as Gooden and Paul Pierce (if he returns) at Humphries' spot, is imperative to be a championship team. 

"I never really got up the attempts or really put the focus on it. Maybe the way this team has been playing I will," Humphries said. "It's only a couple feet difference from where I shoot it really well right now."

While Humphries is a solid rebounder, the spacing on the floor changed for the Wizards after their 31-15 start. The mid-range game didn't work as well and opponents took it away. When they flourished in the playoffs, dealing with the small-ball lineups of the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta that shredded them during the regular season, the Wizards went with Gooden as the backup to Nene. It changed both series and made the Wizards competitive against the No. 1 seed Hawks despite losing John Wall for three games with a broken left wrist. 

Humphries had missed 17 games late in the season because of a left groin strain and despite getting minutes initially to play his way back in the rotation he couldn't. Conditioning was an issue, too.

"It didn't help," said Humphries, who averaged 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in 64 appearances. "I can tell you that much. It's one of those things you just sit back and think about. It's tough to see things that you can do to help and not be out there. It's a game. You got to support your teammates."

The Wizards were so successful in sweeping Toronto, who'd beaten them in all three regular-season games, they stuck with Gooden as the rotations tightened as expected. More of the offense ran through Marcin Gortat with pick-and-rolls with Wall while Nene focused on rebounding and doing more of the dirty work. 

But the series with Atlanta changed in Game 5 when Al Horford's buzzer-beating putback gave them a 3-2 edge. He stormed in to snag the offensive rebound from Nene who shouldered much of the blame. Nene, however, followed the ball into the paint on a drive by Dennis Schroder and had to seal Paul Millsap, who had gotten inside of Pierce for rebounding position. Horford had an unobstructed run at full-speed to recoup Schroder's miss. 

The sequence was difficult to watch for Humphries. He only appeared in garbage time of Game 4 in the first round and never played in the second round. 

"Any time you're a guy who's been a great rebounder your whole career and you see them kind of beating you on hustle plays, stuff around the bucket, it's tough," said Humphries. "I thought I handled it well. It's frustrating. You want your team to win. You want to advance as far as possible, knowing that you've been an integral part of what the team was doing all year so I think it throws you for a loop. It's tough. It's the NBA. Got to prepare for anything. Move forward."

MORE WIZARDS: No excuses: John Wall deserves All-NBA over Kyrie Irving

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Trevor Ariza's changed his reputation, role since last stint with Wizards

Trevor Ariza's changed his reputation, role since last stint with Wizards

There were times when Trevor Ariza felt compelled to let everyone know how he viewed his role in the NBA.

One such occasion came the day after the Wizards concluded the 2013 season, one in which Ariza mainly served as a reserve. 

“Well, I’m a starter. I’m going to let you know that right now,” said a forceful Ariza at the time. “I’m a team player, but I’m a starter. That’s what kept me going. That’s what kept me focused; knowing that I’m a starting three in this league, and nobody’s going to change that. Or nobody’s going to change that mentality, I should say.”

Others bought in. Ariza hasn’t come off the bench since. He started 474 consecutive games including 61 during the playoffs. That streak began the following season in Washington.

"It was nothing personal, nothing against my teammates," Ariza told a reporter one year later as the 2013-14 campaign concluded with a second-round playoff appearance.  "I thought [the Wizards] were going in a different direction.”

The belief proved prescient. After helping Washington reach the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, Ariza entered free agency in the summer of 2014. With the Wizards’ plotting a Kevin Durant future and near-term fixes, he signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Houston Rockets. 

Four years later, Washington’s direction had them seeking a reunion. The Wizards officially acquired the 6-foot-8 forward Monday from the Phoenix Suns for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers.

There’s no confusion over Ariza’s role this time.

The Wizards, 12-18 through 30 games, have struggled in numerous ways. They misfire on 3-pointers to the point coach Scott Brooks recently half-joked he no longer assumed the matter fixable. Opponents comfortably drain deep shots against Washington. Starts are slow. Cohesion lacks. 

Adding Ariza serves to address these matters even if just a short-term fix.

“He’s a great player. He’s a champion,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played with Ariza during Los Angeles’ 2009 championship season, on Sunday. “He knows what it takes to win. … [Trevor] can guard multiple positions. He knocks down big shots. He makes winning plays.”

Those traits were in plain sight during his first stint in Washington. Ariza’s reputation was different. He played for six teams during his first nine seasons. The journeyman perception included sidecar mention when the Wizards acquired him and Emeka Okafor from New Orleans in 2012. 

Despite Ariza’s productive run in Washington, the Wizards had contingency plans. Ariza lost his starting job that first season in Washington to Martell Webster, who signed a contract extension the following offseason. 

During that summer of 2013, the Wizards also selected Otto Porter third overall in the NBA Draft. Paul Pierce signed almost immediately after Ariza latched on with Houston in 2014.

Drew Gooden, a 14-year NBA veteran, played in Washington during the 2013-14 season when Ariza shot a career-best 40.7 percent on 3-pointers.

“Yeah we missed Trevor, but we added Paul Pierce, a Hall of Famer. He was great for us,” Gooden, now part of NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast team, said. “[Ariza’s value] wasn’t as noticeable at the time until he started winning in Houston.”

Ariza’s 3-and-D work keyed Houston’s 2018 Western Conference Finals appearance. Analysts note what Ariza bolting this offseason to Phoenix for a one-year, $15 million contract meant to his former team when assessing the Rockets’ struggles this season.

“You saw how he made Houston kind of gel,” Gooden said. 

The league’s evolution toward deep shooters and those capable of defending the arc increased Ariza’s value. Playing two slender forwards together like Ariza and Otto Porter seemed far-fetched in 2014. That’s exactly the Wizards’ plan once Porter returns from his knee injury.

Despite a statistical drop in 26 games with Phoenix (37.9 field goal percentage), the Wizards weren’t alone in coveting Ariza this time. Other teams including the Lakers were reportedly in the mix when Washington swooped in.

“I think all NBA teams look at themselves and think they could be that much better with Trevor Ariza on their team,” Gooden said.

Part of Ariza’s local appeal involves helping former teammates John Wall and Bradley Beal elevate their performances. The Wizards go as their star backcourt goes. Just like most aspects of this frustrating season, their work hasn’t been good enough.

"We needed a change," Beal said of the team broadly. "Hopefully this is the change that sparks some energy out of us, some life out of us, that will get us to play the way we know we're capable of playing."

“It’s always great to add a guy like Trevor back, one of the best veterans and teammates I had,” Wall said. “We know what he brings to the table.”

Leadership is expected from the new oldest player on the roster. Don’t expect demonstrative acts. 

“How hard he works after practice. How he takes care of his body. His leadership will be shown out on the court,” Gooden said. “When younger players see this, it’s going to be a template of an actual true pro.”

Ariza long ago believed his traits meant NBA starter. He never shied away from putting in the work to prove his point.

“I just always had confidence in myself,” Ariza said in 2014. “I always know that I have to work for everything. Nothing is ever going to be given to you period. With that in mind, I just worked hard and told myself that I was going to do everything to be the player that I think I am.”

That’s precisely the approach current Wizards desire. They made their move. The subtleties of Ariza’s game no longer require self-promotion.

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Washington Wizards to re-sign guard Chasson Randle, while Suns release Austin Rivers

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Washington Wizards to re-sign guard Chasson Randle, while Suns release Austin Rivers

The Wizards are expected to re-sign guard Chasson Randle to a non-guaranteed contract ahead of Tuesday's road game against the Atlanta Hawks, a source confirms with NBC Sports Washington.

Washington's roster dropped to 13 players after Saturday's trade that sent Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to the Phoenix Suns for Trevor Ariza. Teams are required to have a minimum of 14 players.

The 6-foot-2 Randle participated in the Wizards' training camp and later signed with Washington on Oct. 30. He never played for the Wizards and was released on Nov. 12. Meanwhile, Randle, 25, spent time with Washington's G-League team, averaging 23.1 points in seven games for the Capital City Go-Go.

Right now the Wizards lack guard depth behind John Wall, Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky following the trade. While first-round pick Troy Brown, seldom used this season, could receive more minutes, Randle offers specific point guard depth.

News of Randle's addition came on the heels of an ESPN report that the Suns have agreed to release Rivers, who averaged 7.2 points in 29 games with the Wizards. The veteran's $12.6 million salary was necessary for the purposes of the trade for Ariza, but Rivers' playing style and approach entering a contract year seemed poorly suited for a young Phoenix team. 

Rivers can sign with another team once he clears waivers. Though Washington has another open roster available, per league rules, Rivers cannot re-sign with the Wizards. He never quite clicked in Washington anyway after coming off a career season with the Clippers.

The Washington Post first reported Randle's signing.

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