Quick Links

Pierce put to rest whether or not Wizards a 'desirable situation'


Pierce put to rest whether or not Wizards a 'desirable situation'

The first major hurdle is over with for the Wizards now that they have Scott Brooks.

The next step is reconstructing the roster around John Wall and Bradley Beal and recent developments point to them being a major player in free agency regardless of what Kevin Durant decides.

Just last summer, David West narrowed his choices upon opting out the final year of his deal with the Indiana Pacers to the Wizards and San Antonio Spurs.

A coveted veteran such as Alan Anderson, though his season was ruined by ankle surgeries, took a one-year deal to come to D.C. Of course two summers ago, Paul Pierce found it worthwhile.

RELATED: Durant comments on Wizards hiring Brooks

"This is a very desirable situation for a lot of people. We have a starting five coming back. We have a young player in Kelly Oubre who has a lot of potential," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said last week. "Bradley (Beal) obviously is a free agent and we hope to get him signed. Very few teams are playoff-ready. We also have a lot of flexibility from a financial standpoint going forward. This is a desirable job and a lot of agents have already called expressing interest for their clients."

Despite the 41-41 finish outside the playoffs, Grunfeld is correct in how he assessed the view from around the league about the Wizards though it'll be difficult for some to share that optimism. The hard truth is almost everyone has cap space and if you're not careful it can be overrated.

The Dallas Mavericks had plenty of it and they won an NBA championship a few years prior in 2011. They put all of their eggs in one basket to chase Dwight Howard in 2013 and came up empty. Last year it was DeAndre Jordan who backed off his verbal commitment to join them in the final hour. The Mavericks still made the playoffs but now have a roster loaded with mid-level players who received bumps in pay to meet the salary cap floor to avoid a collective bargaining agreement violation.

Despite Washington having a down season, this isn't the 29-win team that couldn't lure a single marquee free agent in the summer of 2013 and ended up with Eric Maynor as Wall's backup. Veterans generally want two things once they get around or past 30 years old: Multi-year deal (aka money) or a chance to win. Ideally, they want both but West was willing to take the short end to play for the 67-win Spurs. 

RELATED: Why hiring Brooks makes sense

In a conversation with CSNmidatlantic.com, Jared Dudley, who'll be going into his 10th season and is a free agent, said he wants to play where he can earn the best payday and if that turns out to be the Philadelphia 76ers so be it. He'll be 31 when the 2016-17 season tips. 

Grunfeld is responsible for bringing Brooks, considered "a player's coach," on board with a five-year deal worth $35 million Thursday which upgrades the face of the franchise from Randy Wittman. But the best pieces remain around Wall and Beal in Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter and Oubre.

No one looking at the Wizards' situation on the balance is going to be so dismissive. Since the emphasis is always on what a player does in the postseason, check what Wall and Beal did vs. the All-Star backcourts of the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks. How about winning a first-round series in five games -- including all three games in Chicago against the Bulls who supposedly had the superior coach in Tom Thibodeau -- two years ago? Is that all of a sudden forgotten or irrelevant, or is it just convenient because it would douse cold water on the doom-and-gloom hot take universe?

Representatives for Ryan Anderson, a rising free agent shooter from the New Orleans Pelicans who would've been a target at the trade deadline, contacted the Wizards to gauge interest at that time, persons with knowledge of the situation told CSNmidatlantic.com back then. The problem, of course, was the Wizards weren't willing to give up a first-round pick with no guarantees they could retain Anderson on the open market this summer which is part of the reason why Morris, who is under contract through 2019 at $8 million a season, was the better option.

Wall has a habit of producing career seasons for three-point shooters such as Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza (40.7%) and Dudley while he was a starter before All-Star break (46.6%). All three flourished because of Wall's ability to get to the rim and the screen-setting of Gortat opened up the wings. To be exact, 64.6% of Dudley's buckets were assisted by Wall. Ariza hasn't come close to that mark since he left for the Houston Rockets. Webster was re-signed by injuries derailed him and eventually he was waived. This season, the Wizards were sixth in the NBA in catch-and-shoot points per game (28.7). The reason? Wall.

Ramon Sessions is in line to cash in as a free agent even though he was Wall's backup. Sessions shared the backcourt a lot with him which spread the floor even more and allowed him to get to the rim, too, which is why the backup shot a career high 47.3% from the field. 

What the Wizards need is more roster versatility and that can be had without Durant, who could opt to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the upcoming season and not make his choice until 2017 when the salary cap is greater, his max deal is greater, he'll know the status of teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka who become unrestricted free agents then and he can better assess the NBA landscape.

If Gortat isn't playing well or isn't a good matchup in a particular game, that's where a backup center who can stretch the floor (a Pero Antic-type) or a rim protector who can run and doesn't need the ball to impact the game (a Brandan Wright-type) presents a different look. If Beal isn't in a groove or banged up, that's where a shooter (Jamal Crawford-type) viewed more of a team player than Gary Neal, who generally wasn't well-received by some teammates in the locker room, can be that instant offense. If Porter is being pushed around in the mid-post because he isn't strong enough, that's where a more physical option (a healthy Alan Anderson-type) is vital. If Morris can't find his range from three, there's where a stretch player (a Mirza Teletovic-type) works. 

All of those names mentioned are just an example of how the roster can be reconstructed with attractive, quality role players minus the max-salary demands such as what's expected from Golden State's Harrison Barnes. The name sounds good, though not nearly as good as Durant, and he may turn out to be worth the risk but Barnes has the same career numbers as Porter and rejected a $64 million extension last year. 

RELATED: Will Brooks' hiring lure Durant to DC?

The Durant-or-bust theory is a false dilemma. The Boston Celtics won 48 games and grabbed a top four seed in the East with a roster full of role players expertly coached by Brad Stevens. It's up to Grunfeld to put the right pieces in place by going younger but proven. It's up to Brooks, who'll have input on as many as nine openings with the roster, to make them work. He'll have far greater talent on the floor. 

For all the criticisms made about Wall, he's still a pass-first point guard in a league full of primary ball-handlers who shoot first. And he's a three-time All-Star who has played through a broken hand and wrist in a playoff series.

The atmosphere at Verizon Center leaves a lot to be desired, but the Wizards have a foundation with their core players and Brooks. As long as they position themselves to be in the conversation, they have a chance.

Maybe it won't be enough for Durant. But Pierce was a good start, and retaining players of his standing -- not just being a one-year jump off -- is the logical progression. 

If the Wizards have nothing to show for all of this future planning, then this topic is worth a revisit. It's only April. 

Quick Links

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."


Quick Links

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it