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Upon further review: Dissecting Wizards' trade for Morris


Upon further review: Dissecting Wizards' trade for Morris

Surprised by the Wizards pulling off an 11th-hour trade for Markieff Morris? The Wizards had been discussing a potential deal with the Phoenix Suns leading up to Thursday's deadline and were able to execute it in the last hour.

The NBA still has to approve the transaction and Morris, a 6-10 power forward with stretch capability despite shooting less than 30% from three-point range this season. The Suns received Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and a protected top 9 first-round 2016 draft pick:

Why Morris and why now?

He can play multiple frontcourt positions, from 3-5, which gives the Wizards versatility behind Marcin Gortat and Nene. That's something they didn't have with the departing players or Drew Gooden. And unlike Ryan Anderson, a hot topic because of his ability to stretch the floor to the three-point line, Morris is under contract for the next two years (2019 is non-guaranteed) and has the versatility edge. If they were going to give up a pick, they needed certainty. They also needed cost control because when the salary cap explodes from $70 million to about $89 million this summer, players like Morris and Anderson will cost a lot more than $8 million per year and that would handicap them from making other moves.

What does Morris bring on the court?

The Wizards have been a soft team all season, particularly on the inside. Coach Randy Wittman has said it. So have players. Morris, despite his penchant for stepping over the line at times, has the type of attitude on the court that they want. In the words of president Ernie Grunfeld, "I think this team needed a jolt." 

Will Morris start?

That's up to Wittman, but the expectation is yes. He's a starter. Jared Dudley would be the backup.

Will Morris be a problem in the locker room?

The expectation, of course, is that he won't be. The Wizards can't talk to a player directly before the trade though they have since then. They consulted ex-teammates (Marcin Gortat, Dudley), former coaches and college coaches, etc. The conclusion was he just needed a change of scenery. He was upset about his brother, Marcus, being traded by the Suns to the Detroit Pistons (and the fact that he took a salary cut to stay to play with his brother). His antics this year -- throwing a towel in the face of then-coach Jeff Hornacek and grabbing a teammate during a timeout, numerous fines and a two-game suspension -- are believed to be an aberration. He was not a problem for Phoenix before then. Marcus has been fine with the Detroit Pistons and the belief is that Markieff will be with Washington, too. A strong locker room should be able to handle one player who can be unruly. It's just not a good idea to have multiple players who fit that mold. 


Why were Humphries and Blair the players who had to go?

First, neither fit the scheme anymore. Rather than go to Blair at center, Wittman opted to go with small lineups that featured Dudley and Otto Porter at center as well as Gooden. Humphries didn't show the ability to adjust to the new pace-and-space system. Plus, both of their salaries made the deal work because in the NBA salaries have to be a close enough match to facilitate a deal. The Wizards are over the salary cap but under the luxury tax so they had to make this deal match almost dollar for dollar.

When will Morris play?

He's on his way to D.C. and should be here Friday morning and could be available to play vs. the Pistons at Verizon Center. All players have to pass their physicals for the trade to be official. That happened late Thursday night. 

Any concerns with giving up a first-round pick?

Allowing picks to walk is always something to think twice about. It's top 9 protected, so the rationale to consider is this: Will a better player than Morris, who'll likely be 20 years old tops, be available in the June draft? That's not likely, especially if the Wizards make the playoffs, because the pick would come outside the lottery. So you're looking at a low-teens to early-to-mid 20s pick. The Wizards already have some young pieces to develop (Kelly Oubre and Aaron White). Because Morris is proven, averaging double figures for three consecutive seasons including 15.3 last year, he was too tempting to pass up. Good teams aren't loaded with young players. Lottery teams are. 

Is the Disabled Player Exception still in play?

Yes. The Wizards moved two players to get back one, which puts them at 14 of the maximum 15 roster spots filled. They have until March 10 to act on the DPE, which means they can wait for players who are currently getting bought out of their deals to hit the open market. Exactly what kind of player they'd be looking for is too early to tell. It could depend on the health of the team. But as I reported yesterday, they have up to $2.8 million of the slot (created when the NBA granted them the waiver by cutting Martell Webster, half of his salary) to bring in one more player. However, the Wizards are an over-salary-cap but under-the-tax team. Before the Morris trade, they had about $2.4 million to offer under the DPE to stay out of the tax. With the Morris deal, that has been reduced to just above $1 million. They still have the advantage because they can offer the full amount, not the pro-rated amount of the veteran minimum that other teams will use.

What did this move have to do with future, such as the free-agent summer of 2016 and Kevin Durant?

That factored into this deal. It keeps the Wizards in play for Durant but it also gives them a core to build around. Of the six players the Wizards will have under contract -- Morris, Gortat, John Wall, Porter, Oubre and Bradley Beal -- five of them are starters. The rest of the roster spots will come open as contracts expire or the Wizards decline team options (Yes, the plan on keeping Beal though he's technically not under contract beyond this season). If luring big-name free agents doesn't work, this makes going to Plan B a lot easier to transition to because better pieces are in place.

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Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players


Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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