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Visit by wounded warriors gives Wizards' perspective

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Visit by wounded warriors gives Wizards' perspective

When Chris Powell and Darryl Fletcher were dodging bullets and land mines in Iraq, neither dreamed of someday shooting hoops with Sam Cassell and John Wall of the Wizards.

In fact, it’s fair to say the only thing they dreamed of was waking up alive.

“My experience over there was one of those experiences that you say you’d probably never go through again if you didn’t have to,” said Powell, a 26-year-old army sergeant from Riverdale, Md., who was among a handful of war veterans invited to attend the Wizards’ practice at Verizon Center on Monday.

“Every day you wake up and you’re not really too sure what’s going to happen,” Powell said. “… A lot of people talk about fear. I get that question a lot. Are you afraid? Were you afraid? And I tell them, ‘Yeah, in the beginning I was.’ But then after a couple months go by, you kind of get used to it. So the fear never really goes away, but the showing the fear kind of goes away.”

Cassell understands. The former NBA all-star and current Wizards assistant coach grew up in Baltimore in a military family. He said he appreciates the service of men like Powell and Fletcher, each of whom is recovering at Walter Reed from injuries suffered in Iraq.   

“It’s tough on your family,” Cassell said. “You never know what may happen or you may get that phone call. I have an uncle that’s been in the Navy for 30 years.

“He told me a long time ago that it could be a long time before this war ends. And that was six years ago. Right now, we still have troops over there and it won’t be over until every single troop is home. It gives closure to that family that has a son or daughter over in Iraq, to come home safely. Until the last American solder comes home, it’s not over.”

Fletcher, 39, is a Staff Sergeant from Trenton, N.J. who had his arm badly injured in Iraq in 2010.

“We were extended an invitation to view a controlled demonstration, which went awry,” Fletcher said of his injury. “There were corners that were cut. But in lieu of that I survived, but the guy that was next to me did not. But through God’s grace and mercy I’m here today.”

If nothing else, meeting Powell and Fletcher put into perspective the Wizards’ worst start in team history. They own the NBA’s worst record at 1-13.

“Sometimes you worry about wins and losses and what’s affecting us,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman, who will spend the next 24 hours game planning to beat the defending champion Miami Heat. “And then you see guys at a young age putting their lives on the line to make the world a better place. It kind of opens your eyes a little bit. We’re thankful for these people for what they do for us. They’re more than welcome to come out here any time they want.”

Wizards rookie Bradley Beal said it’s as much an honor for him to meet our nation’s wounded warriors as it is for them to meet him.

“It just helps you realize the blessing that you have,” Beal said. “And at the same time it shows what you're thankful for. These guys are selected to defend their country and they're blessed to be able to come back. Some of the people didn't make it [home from] over there and they're blessed to come back, even if they're wounded.

“That’s a blessing in itself and you still have your life to live. We're just so thankful for that, especially myself. That just touches me because they represent us. And it’s just crazy because they actually know who [we] are and we have no idea who they are besides the fact they're in the army.”

Beal said one of the soldiers asked him if the lifestyle of an NBA player is everything people say it is.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, it is. It’s pretty amazing,’” Beal said. “He was like, ‘Don't get too Hollywood on us. If you see us in the street just say hey.’”

Cassell says a word of thanks is the least every American can do for the men and women who serve their country.

“I don’t think we can thank them enough,” Cassell said. “They are fighting for our freedom and everything this country stands for. You can tell these guys have sustained some serious injuries over there. I just thanked them for fighting for our freedom. Everyone on the streets that sees these individuals should show their gratitude.”

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Markieff Morris' season...

Player: Markieff Morris

Position: Power forward

Age: 28

2017-18 salary: $8 million

2017-18 stats: 73 G, 27.0 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 48.0 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 82.0 FT%, 53.6 eFG%, 116 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 12/1 vs. Pistons - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, zero turnovers, 10-for-16 FG, 2-for-3 3PT

Season review: It took quite a while for Markieff Morris to get healthy in the 2017-18 season. He was sidelined to begin last offseason with the ankle injury he suffered against the Celtics in the playoffs, then in September had surgery on both his abdomen and groin. The sports hernia surgery was known, while the groin procedure was revealed once the season was over.

Morris only missed nine games in the entire season, but took time to find his rhythm early. He averaged just 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14 games in the month of November. He picked it up after that, though he never quite reached the level we saw from him in 2016-17 in terms of volume production.

Morris played less minutes, took less shots, scored fewer points and grabbed less rebounds than the season before. On the other hand, he was more efficient than ever. Morris shot 48 percent from the field, his best since 2013-14, and posted career-highs in three-point percentage (36.7) and effective field-goal percentage (53.6). 

The Wizards could use more scoring from Morris moving forward, especially at times when one of their primary options is injured, as was the case in 2017-18 when John Wall missed 41 games. An active and engaged Morris changes everything for the Wizards. 

When Morris scored 15 points or more this season, the Wizards went 15-8. The season before, they went 22-9 when he got to the 15-point mark. 

It's a bit difficult to project Morris' role for the 2018-19 season at this point, given the fact he's entering a contract year and the most logical area for the Wizards to make significant changes (if they choose to) is in their frontcourt. Also, as Morris discussed in his exit interview, he knows more time at center in small-ball sets could be in his future.

Regardless of what happens with the team, it's a huge summer for Morris individually. If he sets himself up well for a big year in 2018-19, he could earn a nice payday in what might be his last long-term contract given his age.

Potential to improve: Rebounding, screens, scoring

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Marcin Gortat, C

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Marcin Gortat's season...

Player: Marcin Gortat

Position: Center

Age: 34

2017-18 salary: $12.8 million

2017-18 stats: 82 G, 25.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 51.8 FG%, 67.5 FT%, 51.8 eFG%, 112 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 10/18 vs. Sixers - 16 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, assist, 7-for-12 FG

Season review: Marcin Gortat is self-aware enough to know that what happened to him in 2017-18 was inevitable in many ways. He even publicly called it before the season.

He was one year older, with Ian Mahinmi healthy and in the rotation, and with the NBA continuing to move towards small-ball and big men who can play on the perimeter. As a result, Gortat saw his role in the Wizards rotation pared down noticeably.

Though he still started all 82 games, his minutes went down from 31.2 per game the year before the 25.3. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who played the majority of the season coming off the bench, logged more minutes than Gortat, though he was a starter.

Gortat's minutes were his fewest since the 2009-10 season, when he was a 25-year-old bench player for the Orlando Magic. His numbers this season followed suit. Gortat's points and rebounds per game were both the lowest since that 2009-10 campaign.

Gortat averaged a career-best 10.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17, but the minutes had a direct effect on his volume of boards. He pulled in 2.4 less per game this season despite his rebound percentage (17.0) being close to his career average (17.5). That career average, by the way, is 30th-best all-time an eighth among active players.

Not getting the same opportunities he had in years past, plus public misunderstandings with teammates, combined to make for a frustrating year for Gortat. He said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast midseason it was the worst year of his career. Gortat, though, did continue to make an impact setting screens for the Wizards and he rallied to finish relatively strong.

He had several solid outings in the playoffs, including his 16 points in Game 3 and his 12 rebounds in Game 5. The question is whether that is the last time we will see Gortat in a Wizards uniform.

Washington has played with the idea of trading Gortat for a while now. He popped up in rumors around the trade deadline in February, but remained on the roster. Now he has an expiring contract working in his favor, making it a bit more likely he gets dealt.

Gortat knows his future in Washington is uncertain, though he said following the season he would like to stay. It would not be surprising to him or anyone if he were traded this summer. If not, he's got one year left with the Wizards and could very well have his role decreased even more.

Potential to improve: Rim protection, midrange shooting, free throw percentage

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!