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Morning tip: Who will be the Paul Pierce of Wizards' locker room?


Morning tip: Who will be the Paul Pierce of Wizards' locker room?

Paul Pierce might be a bit coarse in his demeanor, but he was every bit as comfortable being the villain in his own locker room as he was on the road when taunting opposing teams and their fan base. He was the one player willing to tell and teach most of the Wizards who still remain about themselves, and he'd even acknowledge it publicly.

If the moment calls for it, who will do this: 

The Atlanta Hawks had ripped through the Wizards 120-89 just two days earlier. The mood going into a Jan. 13 game with the San Antonio Spurs, who'd beaten the Wizards 17 times in a row, was too jovial. It ticked off Pierce. "There was a little bit of laughing in the locker room. There was only a couple guys in there and I told them, 'We just lost by (31). We need to get more focused." -- Pierce

They responded by conquering the Spurs 101-93.

Based on what Jared Dudley has observed -- and he picked up on this quickly after he was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks -- the Wizards were in dire need of such a strong voice. He went to train with them in Los Angeles, after John Wall called a players-only team-building workout before training camp opened.

"You see who’s an alpha dog, who’s not," Dudley said of that experience. "On this team everyone seems a friend. No one seems like they’re the aggressor so I could see why Paul was perfect. He was that guy, that lone wolf. I’m not to that level as Paul when it comes to that but I’m similar when it comes to camaraderie."

The next time Pierce made a public statement about the Wizards' focus was during a first-round series with the Toronto Raptors. He'd witnessed players goof off on the road, which coincided with their 6-14 stretch from Jan. 17 to Feb. 27. Then the Wizards lost three games in a row during a crucial West coast trip, to the L.A. Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. The latter two were by 23 and 31 points. The sluggish performances showed something was amiss, evident in the locker room before a game when some were eating less-than-ideal foods such as pizza to fuel up 90 minutes before tipoff. This isn't college where there's a bed check or curfew. Players have to be professional in policing themselves, and each other. This was Pierce's take on April 25, after the Wizards took a 3-0 lead on Toronto, on how he set everyone on the right path when he'd seen enough:

"Being with a young team sometimes throughout the 82-game season the focus isn't always there on a night-in, night-out basis. You're going to have your mental lapses. The young guys, a lot of them don't have any kids, they have good times on the road, they go out, party sometimes, that's the way it is. When I was a young guy I did those things. Sometimes you'e not locked in for the full 82. That's what it is. That's what the whole NBA is. I told them last week of the season, let's throw all that stuff out the window."

Told of Pierce's comments and about that situation, Dudley shook his head in agreement. It happens everywhere, and when it does something has to be said. He hasn't won an NBA title like Pierce, but he was on perennial contenders with the Phoenix Suns who had consummate pros like Steve Nash and Grant Hill. They pushed the L.A. Lakers to six games in the conference finals in 2010.

"When you deal with the NBA, it’s a fast life. Guys like to go out and stuff like that," Dudley said. "There’s a time when to go out and have fun, and when not. … Who’s working, who’s not? If you’re hurt, who’s in the training room? It’s a way to be a professional. Grant Hill taught me very well when he came in, getting your work done."

On Media Day, an event that precedes the opening of training camp where players do pack interviews, photo shoots and TV/radio spots for various outlets, Wall impressed Dudley in a subtle way.

"John was here early getting shots up," Dudley said. "That’s not something that he has to do. That there sets a precedent, sets a tone of how it is."

When Wall speaks, will his teammates listen? And will they show him the type of respect that they showed Pierce by responding positively? 

Coming back to play in the conference semifinals with a broken and and wrist -- and averaging 18 points and 10 assists in those two games -- is a major building block. The players workout that he arranged on the West coast is another. 

How Wall handles himself every day before, between and after the 82 games of the 2015-16 season will tell the ultimat truth in answering the ultimate question.

And if he does it correctly, the answer will be, yes. 

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 


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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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