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Obvserations from NBA All-Star weekend with eye towards trade deadline

Obvserations from NBA All-Star weekend with eye towards trade deadline

NEW ORLEANS — Another All-Star weekend is in the books, and now it's all about the trade deadline as teams have been as active as ever going into the stretch run of the season.

In the East, a lot of it has to do with the Cleveland Cavaliers being viewed as vulnerable.

They're still the favorites to advance to another NBA Finals but the Raptors, Wizards and Celtics believe they have a chance to make them uncomfortable. 

There will be drama.

My takeaways:

RELATED: NBA POWER RANKINGS AT THE ALL-STAR BREAK

1. Russell Westbrook is the Silky Johnson of All-Star Games. If you don't know who that is, see Chappelle Show.

What Westbrook did in taking 26 shots in 20 minutes for 41 points is try to lift the MVP from Anthony Davis, who was playing at home.

Davis wound up earning it with an All-Star record 52 points. Maybe Westbrook was just playing hard, but he came off the bench as a reserve and really wanted that trophy. He has no off button, but if that's not hatin' I'm not sure what is. Everyone on the West team was on board with helping Davis shine -- except Westbrook. But in a way, I respect that.

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2. James Dolan and the New York Knicks can be thankful for the Sacramento Kings, who makes their incompetence as an organization pale in comparison.

The Kings gave up a three-time All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins for a rookie whose ceiling is unknown (Buddy Hield), a known quantity who is a role player at best (Tyreke Evans) and future draft picks with value that only can be gauged by the success of those picks. In other words, whatever Cousins' flaws -- and he has many -- draft picks mean little if the Kings don't draft well. And they don't have a history of doing so. The most difficult thing to project is the celing for players who are 19 and 20 years old.

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3. Pelicans GM Dell Demps, who has been undermined at almost every turn in his tenure because of ownership issues, pulled off a deal that should solidify his spot if not in New Orleans with a future organization. He knocked this deal for Cousins out of the park. It's a risk worth taking to pair him with Davis. A playoff berth is in reach as the West isn't as strong at the bottom as it used to be.

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4. Some semblance of defense needs to be played to resemble an actual game.

Then again, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and Isaiah Thomas rarely play defense in actual NBA games so in an exhibition it's all downhill.

Bradley Beal, who would've been a first-time All-Star, would've played harder. A vet like Anthony, in his 10th apperance and admittetdly didn't want to be there after he was named as a commissioner's pick, is too concerned with not getting hurt. The last All-Star Game at Verizon Center in 2001, the final score was 111-110. That's 131 fewer total point scored than Sunday and an indication of how far the effort has waned.

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5. Not buying that the Westbrook-Kevin Durant rivalry is over just because they passed the ball to each other. It's a nice, warm and fuzzy storyline for now.

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6. To spice up All-Star Saturday night, sprinkle in some of the better D-League players compete with NBA players in the three-point shootout, skills competition and dunk contest. They'll take them more seriously which makes for a better product. NBA players won't want to be shown up and will try harder and lead to a better product.

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7. Given that the East had so many guards, the idea that they needed another frontline player in Anthony to "balance" the lineups is ridiculous.

It's a jump-shooting and dunking contest. No one is calling for iso post-ups in an All-Star Game. So Kevin Love's replacment didn't have to be Anthony (Yes, I'm beating the Beal shouldve been an All-Star dead horse).

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8. How great is it to have an All-Star weekend free of labor strife and jockeying for postion over a new collective bargaining agreement?

That baby was put to bed long ago and it's a signal at how new leadership for the league (Adam Silver) and players (Michele Roberts) have led to a more common sense approach to doing business.

A lockout benefits no one.

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9. Draft picks have become so overvalued.

As with the Kings, they're only as good as the selections that are made.

If it's a weak year (see 2016) then those picks aren't that big of a deal as it would be in a strong year (see 2017). All of this, however, is about projections. It's not an exact science. You can put a tape measure on things like height, weight, vertical leap but not heart, will and work ethic. When a variable such as millions of dollars enters the picture, it's impossible to tell how it will impact those traits positively or negatively. Therefore if I'm trading an All-Star, I want certainty in return for his services as in a proven impact player (though not necessarily an All-Star) and a pick or two. 

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10. Did I mention that the Kings' front office is the worst in basketball? 

They clearly believed they couldn't get more in return for Cousins which is why they should've a) traded him sooner; b) held onto him until this summer because they still had his rights; c) not be deceptive and dishonest about their intentions to the player and his representation. That's bad business.

RELATED: WALL EXPECTS WIZARDS TO MAKE A TRADE DEADLINE DEAL

 

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Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

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Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

Drew Gooden was nearing the end of his second 10-day contract with the Wizards in the 2014 season when he went off for 21 points against Brooklyn. 

It was a game that changed his career, led to being signed to the team for the remainder of that season and ending his career as a Washington Wizard two years later. “My career was totally reborn as a veteran leader on the Washington Wizards,” he said. “And that’s something I never would have thought would come full circle.”

And now? Gooden will serve as the game analyst on NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast this season. NBC Sports Washington announced on Wednesday he will join new play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher as part of the Wizards' game broadcast team. Chris Miller will return in his role as sideline reporter.

“It’s a dream and I never thought in a million years I would have retired a Wizard and that out of all my teams that I played for, that Wizards would be the favorite organization that I played for, never thought I would be a color analyst for NBC Sports Washington,” Gooden said. “All of this is a dream.”

And while Kutcher may not have the same playing resume that Gooden does, he promises to bring the same passion Gooden does to broadcasts.

During the early days of his career, Kutcher wasn’t just the voice of (and practice player for) the Boston University women’s basketball team. He was such a passionate fan that he was the one making the most noise on the team bus after a big win or a big loss. Now, after decades in the business, he’s not sure he’ll go to that extreme – but Wizards fans can expect him to be “a fan who’s calling the game,” he said. “I say that about myself all of the time. I think of myself as just this incredibly lucky person that gets to call a sport that I love. When I have a reaction, it’s a genuine reaction. So, I’ll keep everything professional, but I’ll get excited.”

Kutcher has 17 years of experience as a play-by-play announcer, having spent the last seven years at Fox Sports where he led national coverage of NCAA basketball and football, the NFL and MLB. Prior to FOX Sports, Kutcher served as a play-by-play announcer for ESPN for four years. During that time, he led live coverage for a variety of sports, including basketball, football, baseball, softball, volleyball and hockey, across professional, college and high school leagues and conferences. He also appeared on studio shows during his tenure with ESPN. In addition to FOX Sports and ESPN, he has also called collegiate events for CSTV, now CBS Sports Network, for two years, as well as BTN, and contributed to MLB.com digital programming.

“I have known Justin since he was a runner for us at FOX Sports,” said Joe Buck. “He’s gone from working hard behind the scenes to one of the best, young voices in sports. Wizards fans are getting a great broadcaster and a better person .”

Here’s five more fun facts about Kutcher and Gooden.

1.    Kutcher’s worked the past five Westminster Dog Shows. “I get more ticket requests for that than any other event I go to,” he said. But, at first he wasn’t sure he was going to stick with it. The first year, he said, was a little tough. “I called my dad after it airs and he said that it was my mom’s favorite thing that I’ve done.” But, he stuck with it. And now? “I love it,” he said. 
2.    His favorite thing in DC is … the breakfast at Ted’s Bulletin. “They have a breakfast burrito that I get, I eat two of them at a time and people can’t believe it,” he said. Oh, and also his family. His family in the area includes a 3-year-old nephew, who when asked for real estate recommendations in the area, declared “you can live at our house!”
3.    Meanwhile, you can find Gooden at his favorite crab shack. “Quarterdeck in Arlington is my favorite, favorite restaurant,” he said. In the two years he’s known about the crab spot, he’s eaten there, he estimates, “800” times. 
4.    Good news for Wizards fans: He thinks the Wizards will be a team everyone sleeps on – and that’s great for them. “They’re going to have the opportunity to surprise a lot of people early,” he predicted. 
5.    Kutcher expects Rui Hachimura to … “be one of the steals of the draft.” Kutcher covered the new Wizard as a play-by-play announcer during Hachimura’s college career. “I would not be surprised if you see Rui average 15-18 points per game and close to 8 rebounds per game. I think he’s that type of player, he’s a really good kid, when I saw the Wizards drafted him I said that’s a great, great pick,” he said.
 

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Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Though the maturation of the G-League has brought the NBA closer in line with MLB and its minor league farm system, there has been one noticeable element missing for those of us who follow the two sports closely. In baseball, multiple media outlets publish top prospect lists both league-wide and team-specific, yet the equivalents are nowhere to be found in basketball.

Prospect rankings are a great window into the future and they are fun to revisit years later to see who was right and who was wrong. But, so far, they haven’t become widespread in basketball.

The reason why may be rooted in semantics. Generally, basketball players are considered prospects before they are drafted. After they join teams, they just become regular players.

Part of that perception is simply because NBA players can impact their teams at a much younger age. While it is very rare to see a 19-year-old in the majors, it is commonplace in the NBA.

The Wizards, though, may be the perfect team to get this started with. They have a collection of players that are now out of college but have yet to establish themselves in the professional ranks. They are essentially prospects by baseball's definition.

So, in the interest of doing something new here, let's rank them...

1. Rui Hachimura, F

Age: 21
Strengths: midrange shooting, offensive versatility
Areas to improve: three-point shooting, passing

The ninth overall pick this past June, Hachimura is the highest draft pick the Wizards have selected since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. He is 21, but young in basketball years because he didn't pick up the sport until Age 13. Yet, with three years of college under his belt, he comes in with the experience to likely make a difference right away. And with the Wizards' current roster state, he should have a big opportunity for minutes and shot attempts as a rookie.

Hachimura appears to have several NBA-ready skills, particularly on offense. He makes smart decisions with the ball in his hand and can score at all three levels. His outside shooting needs to be more consistent, but he can knock it down enough to be a threat. Defensively is where he will need to grow the most, but the potential seems to be there for him to develop until a versatile player on that end of the floor. 

Passing is another area he can improve. He didn't record many assists at all in college or in the Summer League. 

2. Troy Brown Jr., G/F

Age: 19
Strengths: rebounding, passing
Areas to improve: outside shooting, turnovers

Though Brown was drafted one year before Hachimura, he is still a year-and-a-half younger. He also didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until late in his rookie season. That makes him still very much a prospect as he enters his Age 20 campaign looking to make a much bigger impact in his second season than he did in his first.

The good news for Brown is that the minutes should be there. At this point he looks like at-worst the second small forward behind C.J. Miles and he should have a chance to battle for the starting job in training camp. With Isaiah Thomas' checkered injury history (he only played 12 games last year), there is a good chance Brown sees time at point guard as well, maybe even some starts there. We'll see.

Brown's passing and rebounding are up-to-speed for his size and position, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his three-point shot. Though he dominated in his brief time in the Summer League, he still only shot 40.6 percent from the field. Also, the Wizards could really use a leap from him on defense because he has a relatively high ceiling on that end of the floor and most of their players do not.

3. Moe Wagner, C

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, free throw shooting
Areas to improve: defense, rebounding

The path to minutes isn't quite as clear for Wagner, who is probably going to be stuck behind Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. But the way he can crack the rotation is by hitting his threes, something he was not able to do as a rookie for the Lakers last season or in the 2019 Summer League for the Wizards.

Wagner presents intriguing long-term upside because of his shooting and his knack for getting to the rim off pump-fakes. But he needs to learn how to affect more shots around the rim, even if he can't block shots. And his rebounding could use some improvement, as his 9.8 rebounding percentage last season wouldn't even stand out for a wing player, much less a seven-footer.

4. Admiral Schofield, F

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, team defense
Areas to improve: defense against taller players, ball-handling

The expectations should be low for Schofield in his rookie season, despite the fact he played four years in college and has an NBA-ready frame. Most second round picks don't make much of an impact early on and he is slotted to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Schofield's fastest way to NBA playing time is through his defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest reasons the Wizards drafted him. If he can provide toughness and an edge in the midrange, it will give the Wizards something they have lacked in recent years. And he shot at both a high percentage and for volume from three at Tennessee, and you can't have enough perimeter shooting these days.

5. Justin Robinson, G

Age: 23
Strengths: outside shooting, passing
Areas to improve: finishing around rim, turnovers

Like Schofield, Robinson is probably going to spend a good deal of his time with the Capital City Go-Go this season. But working in his favor is the team's lack of depth at point guard. They have Thomas, who again has some injury concerns. And they have Ish Smith, but there appears to be an opening at the third point guard spot.

Brown could fill the void and so could Jordan McRae. The Wizards could even give Bradley Beal more of an extended look running the offense. But the door seems to be open for Robinson to make an impact and early. He needs to focus on taking care of the ball, playing physical defense and making his open threes. The Wizards don't need Robinson to be a big-time scorer, but he can add spacing if he shoots from three as he did in college.

Honorable mention: Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga

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