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Morning tip: Morris takes matchups 'personal' with likes of Kristaps Porzingis

Morning tip: Morris takes matchups 'personal' with likes of Kristaps Porzingis

The difference that Markieff Morris makes for the Wizards, despite a record that suggests it's not big enough, can be seen in how he handled Kristaps Porzingis in the 119-112 win over the New York Knicks. He unnerved him just as he did Paul Millsap in their first win of the season over the Atlanta Hawks. 

The Wizards (3-8) don't have any issues defending stretch fours anymore because of Morris. Regardless of what his stat line read -- eight points on 4-for-11 shooting and eight rebounds against New York -- he's a much better option than Kris Humphries or Jared Dudley from year ago. 

"We needed this win bad so we came out and played like we needed it," Morris said. "Just be physical. Take it personal. Every time I step on the court, I'm taking it personal. I'm just not going to let guys go out there and do what they want to do agaisnt me. We needed this win bad and we got it."

At 6-10, Morris has enough size to defend the position under the basket against more physical fours and agile enough to step away from the rim on smaller ones. He also can flash the occasional three-point shot to spread out the opponents' defense.

Millsap had been a thorn in the Wizards' side for years, but Morris held him to 5-for-14 shooting when they won for the first time. Porzingis had scored 35 points the previous night for the Knicks, but that wasn't happening. 

Morris prevented Porzingis from getting the ball where he wanted, fighting him off the block for position and turning to his right shoulder. 

"I'm just playing the scouting report," Morris said. "He's a great player. He has a lot of different dimensions in his game. Quite hoenstly I'm just taking it personal. It's not going to be an easy matchup (for him)."

The Wizards dealt a first-round draft pick in 2016 to the Phoenix Suns for Morris, and it has been one well-spent. They went from being at the bottom of the table in rebounding last season when they were 41-41 to sixth. With Morris entrenched all of this season, the Wizards are no longer getting pounded inside.

"Point-blank, period, guarding Millsap, guarding those guys, he can guard one-on-one without us having to white (double team), leaving wide-open shooters," point guard John Wall said of Morris' value that doesn't always register in a boxscore. "He does a great job of just being physical with guys. When he's not getting in foul trouble he does a great job of staying between them and the basket."

When the Wizards went south in Philadelphia, a 109-102 loss to the league's worst team Wednesdady, Morris picked up two fouls in the first 54 seconds. When they made a run from 24 down, it was with Morris stretching to the three-point line to spark the comeback that fell short. 

The one player in the locker room who keeps a constant edge and doesn't hide it, Morris wasn't pleased with how the game ended. The Knicks scored 47 points in the fourth quarter to give themselves a chance in a game they trailed by as much as 27.

"We gave up 47 in the fourth? That's unacceptable," Morris said. "We're a lot better than that."

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' blowout win vs. Knicks]

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Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”


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Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

The Washington Wizards have reportedly offered their vacant general manager position to Tim Connelly. The news was first reported by the Athletic.

Here are five things to know about him...

1. Connelly is a Baltimore native who transferred to Catholic University in D.C. during his junior year in college, graduating from there in 1999. 

2. Connelly began his NBA front office career with the Wizards, starting as an intern in 1996. He spent a decade with the organization, holding such roles as assistant video coordinator, head scout, and director of player personnel. 

3. After leaving the Wizards, Connelly spent three seasons serving as the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. 

4. Connelly joined the Nuggets organization in 2013 as the executive vice president of basketball operations. He was promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2017. Connelly has been part of a Denver front office that has drafted the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris over the last five years. 

5. Connelly has six siblings, including four brothers: Joe, Pat, Dan and Kevin. All four of them have also worked in basketball in some capacity, Joe, Pat, and Dan all following Tim into the NBA ranks.