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What could have been with Al Horford not John Wall's concern going into Boston series

What could have been with Al Horford not John Wall's concern going into Boston series

BOSTON -- The Wizards almost looked like a very different team with their courtship of Al Horford, now the centerpiece for the Boston Celtics heading into their semifinal series that begins Sunday at TD Garden.

They were one of the three teams that Horford, who had decided to leave the Atlanta Hawks after nine years, to make the final cut along with the Houston Rockets. President Ernie Grunfeld and vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard hopped a flight to Atlanta to try to woo the 6-10 big man to D.C. even though they already had Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris in place. 

In the end, it all worked out for everyone as both teams are now in the conference semis, where the Hawks eliminated the Wizards two years ago with Horford in the middle. He averaged 14 points and six rebounds with the No. 1 seed in the conference.

"Me and him had a great conversation. He told me it was down to (us), them and I think Houston. He made his final decision after that, you've got to move on," Wall said of Horford. "It would've been great to have him on our team but he's with the Celtics. They had a great season this year. He had a heck of a season and we're competring against him now so all that texting, all we had is out the window." 


Horford will present a much different challenge for Gortat. He's not a traditional big who will bruise under the rim and collect double-digit rebounds. He can shoot threes and put the ball on the floor. Morris could end up spending extended time on him, too. 

"He was already a (spread) five when guys wasn't doing that in the past . That's where he played," Wall said. "He did a heck of a job of that. He does a great job of shooting the ball. He's spreading his range to three. Just bring a lot of physicality and toughness. He gives every thing he has every time he's on the court. 

"It's going to be a different type of matchup. Dwight didn't come out on the permiter. He was always trying to get rebounds and score in the low post. Does a great job of catching lobs but Horford, he does a great job of picking and popping. Rolling at times. He's a big guy that can put the ball on the floor like (Paul) Millsap."

Millsap gave the Wizards fits in a first-round series they won in six games on Friday night. But even though Millsap was listed as the power forward during his last year with Horford and was the better three-point shooter, it was Horford who played more on the perimeter. 

He sets high-post screens to free cutters and guards like Isaiah Thomas which is why Horford averaged 5.0 assists during the regular season. In a six-game series with the Chicago Bulls, Horford's assists rose to 6.5 per game. And when the Wizards lost the crucial Game 5 in Atlanta in 2015, it was the more mobile Horford who swooped in for the game-winning putback dunk at the buzzer over the other plodding bigs. 

Wall wanted to play the Hawks because he said he owed them from that series in which he missed three games with a broken hand. Horford was a key piece to that misery and he surely remembers his role in that disappointment, too, regardless of friendship.


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Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

The Wizards closed their 2019-20 preseason schedule with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, which means up next is the regular season opener on Wednesday night in Dallas. Now that the exhibition schedule is (finally) over, here are five takeaways from what we saw...

Injuries have added up

The Wizards entered this preseason with a lot of things to sort out in their rotation due to the significant roster overhaul they went through in the summer. But injuries complicated things further for head coach Scott Brooks, who wasn't offered anything close to a full cupboard to work with.

The most notable injuries were to Isaiah Thomas (thumb) and Troy Brown Jr. (calf). Both players will be key members of the rotation when they recover, but are each on track to miss the start of the regular season. The same goes for C.J. Miles, who has a foot injury. There is also Ian Mahinmi, who has an Achilles issue, though he is not likely to play a big role on the team this season.

Hachimura looks the part

The early returns on rookie Rui Hachimura have been good. The 2019 ninth overall pick has not looked timid or out of place on an NBA floor. He has shown he can attack the rim assertively and has even made a few threes. Those two areas will be key to watch for him this season; how he can adapt to NBA interior defenders and shooting threes from a longer distance.

Hachimura is a likely starter for the Wizards this season and should get ample shot opportunities. He is going to have a chance to be a focal point of the Wizards' offense and probably a long enough leash to play through his mistakes. As a young player, you can't ask for much more than that.

Also impressive this preseason were Moe Wagner, who was much better than he showed in the Las Vegas Summer League, and Thomas Bryant, who looks like he is going to take another step from his breakout season last year. Bryant is more confident knocking down threes and has been a force on the glass. Don't be surprised if he averages a double-double this season.

Small forward is a question

The Wizards had Brown penciled in to be their full-time starting small forward, according to a person familiar with their plans, but his injury is expected to keep him out to start the season. He did a post-practice workout the other day and wasn't moving very quickly, either due to discomfort in his calf or to be extra cautious in fear of a setback.

Either way, he is still rehabbing and so is Miles. The Wizards also released Justin Anderson, leaving them with no obvious choice to start at the three. At this point, it looks likely they will have to either put someone there that is probably best suited for another position like Hachimura, Davis Bertans or Jordan McRae, or roll with someone who is very inexperienced like Bonga or Admiral Schofield. The odds seem better they choose the former.

Final roster spot?

The Wizards now have until Monday at 5 p.m. to decide who gets their final roster spot. The safe money at this point is probably for point guard Justin Robinson to get that spot and for Chris Chiozza to have his contract converted to a two-way deal.

The Chiozza part has been speculated for weeks and it is the direction the team is leaning, NBC Sports Washington was told. If Chiozza did get the two-way contract, he could remain with the team to start the season and help fill the void at point guard while Thomas recovers from his left thumb surgery. Chiozza would have 45 days allotted at the NBA level, but that clock would not begin until Oct. 28 when G-League training camps open.

Beal's commitment

This season took on an entirely different tone with Thursday's news Bradley Beal would sign a contract extension with the Wizards. This year had the potential to be overshadowed by Beal's uncertain future, but now that has been put to rest. The trade rumors can be set aside as Beal has made it official his commitment to the Wizards' plan.

Now, that could get interesting late in the year if losses are piling up. He ultimately wants to win and it will bear watching how he shows his frustration if the team isn't playing up to his standards.


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Wizards and Mystics join Game Growers to help boost girls participation in sports

Wizards and Mystics join Game Growers to help boost girls participation in sports

The Washington Wizards and Mystics join in on Nike’s NBA and WNBA Game Growers program. The Game Growers program is meant to provide eighth grade girls with the skills and assets they need in order to grow their participation in sports in their communities. 

With this new program, the Wizards and Mystics can contribute to expanding the game of basketball for young DMV girls. Along with that, the Washington Mystics just won the WNBA Championships, this is perfect timing for them to introduce the sport to the next generation.

Today, the Game Growers Program officially was put into action, on a YouTube video stream. The video stream had Las Vegas Aces forward A’Ja Wilson, actress Sky Katz, the Director of Operations for the Women’s National Basketball Players Association Terri Jackson featuring in it. They discussed the advantages of being an athlete beyond going professional and encourage girls to apply.

In order for the future basketball stars to get in on the action, they must apply to GameGrowers.com by submitting their ideas on how to grow the game of basketball in their communities. The application opened today and will close on November 15, 2019. The winners will be made public in December 2019. 

By January 2020 two girls will join alongside the Wizards and Mystics in going to Training Camp at Nike’s World Headquarters in Washington County, Oregon. This event won’t only be run by Nike and professional basketball players, but will also have GENYOUth (a youth empowerment organization) tag along as well. At the Training Camp, the girls will have an opportunity to polish up their ideas with Nike and NBA and WNBA teams. 

If lucky, some Game Growers teams will be chosen to exhibit their ideas at the 2020 WNBA Draft, which will be in New York City this April.