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Why Wittman remains optimistic on Pierce's return, mentor plan


Why Wittman remains optimistic on Pierce's return, mentor plan

Paul Pierce starred at the University of Kansas during the 1990's. The future Hall of Famer was the Washington Wizards' starting small forward last season. He'll turn 38 before next season.

Kelly Oubre Jr., 19, just completed his lone campaign with the Jayhawks. After completing a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards selected the 3-man in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Perfect world, the old school star mentors the fresh-faced kid, a role Pierce served at times with Otto Porter last season.

"Yeah, and alumni too," Coach Randy Wittman noted shortly after the Wizards selected Oubre 15th overall. "It would be nice to have an old Kansas guy be able to put a foot over a young kid like this and teach him, sure, that would be a great situation."

In the coming days we'll learn if this might happen.

Pierce holds a player option for the 2015-16 season. Recent reports have the Los Angeles native opting out of his final year and eyeing a chance to play for his hometown Clippers. Pierce must let know Washington before July 1 whether he's staying or becoming a free agent, though taking the latter path wouldn't prevent him from staying with the Wizards.

Wittman remains optimistic about the veteran sticking around.


"Yeah, absolutely," he said.

Team president Ernie Grunfeld said Pierce's decision didn't factor into the team selecting another small forward. Washington dealt the 19th overall pick along with second round picks in 2016 and 2019 to Atlanta.

"It didn't have anything to do with Paul's decision," Grunfeld said. "This was completely different. We felt like (Oubre) was the best player on the board. When we had this opportunity, we felt like it was a really good thing for us to do."

The team president and coach took turns speaking with reporters outside the team's practice court, the court Washington worked out prospects ahead of the draft. Nearly 50 players participated in group sessions. The 6-foot-7 Oubre was not one of them even though there was clear interest from the team. Grunfeld said team officials met with Oubre last month during the NBA combine in Chicago.

"We didn't bring him in here because we didn't realistically think we had an opportunity to get a guy like this," Wittman said. "When (the trade) was presented, that's why we jumped on it."

Porter, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 Draft, played heavy minutes during the postseason. The former Georgetown star would likely step into the starting small forward role should Pierce exit, but the depth chart becomes murky from there. The combination of Porter and Pierce would allow Washington to bring Oubre along slowly.

With impressive athleticism and a playmaking style, Oubre oozes potential; ESPN ranked him the No. 11 recruit in the 2014 class, ahead of Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell, who went second overall to the Los Angeles Lakers. Both Grunfeld and Wittman cautioned about the inexperienced prospect making an immediate impact. Oubre averaged 9.3 points and 21 minutes with Kansas.

The coaching staff will diligently work with the small forward starting next month as the team prepares for the Las Vegas Summer League. We'll know before then whether Oubre gets to learn from Paul Pierce as well.

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Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Most nights, with little variance, the Wizards know what they are going to get from John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. They are consistently what they are, both good and bad, and mostly good.

The same cannot always be said about Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. Both are capable of brilliance, it's just those moments come and go and sometimes with mysterious timing. Both players help the team more often than not, but can be unpredictable and enigmatic.

Monday night saw both Morris and Oubre at their best as the Wizards topped the Blazers 125-124 in overtime at the Moda Center. It was a worthy reminder of how much the two of them can change the outlook for the Wizards as a team on any given night.

Let's begin with Morris because this may have been the best game he's played with the Wizards since joining them in a Feb. 2016 trade. On both ends of the floor, he  was a force, but particularly on offense.

Morris erupted for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from three. His six threes were a career-high. He also had 10 rebounds, a block and a steal.

It was the most efficient night in Morris' career and, by one measure, one of the most efficient in franchise history. His 28 points were the most by a Wizards or Bullets player in 25 minutes or less since A.J. English dropped 30 points in 23 minutes in 1990.

Morris' threes were well-timed. He hit two in the extra period, including one with 38.5 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up four. He also made one with 1:04 left in regulation and another right before that with 1:39 to go, both to give the Wizards a lead at the time. 

The clutch threes invoked memories of a game-winner Morris hit in the very same building two seasons ago. That also happened to be his best year with the Wizards.

Morris has improved his three-point shooting in recent years with a career-best 36.7 percent last season. When he's knocking them down, the Wizards can be uniquely good at spacing the floor, as Wall and especially Beal and Porter can be dangerous from three.

What Morris did against Portland was a major departure from a pair of uninspired games to begin the season. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds total in his first two games, both losses, as he failed to compensate for Dwight Howard's absence. On Monday, he stepped up and helped lead the Wizards to victory.

Like Morris, Oubre had been scuffling through two games. A different version of him showed up in Portland.

Oubre amassed only 17 points in his first two games and shot just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 from three. Against the Blazers, Oubre scored 22 points and shot 9-for-13 overall and 3-for-3 from long range.

Oubre added six rebounds, a block and a steal and a host of winning plays that didn't show up in traditional stats. He drew a loose ball foul on Mo Harkless early in the fourth quarter and took a charge on C.J. McCollum with under two minutes in overtime.

Oubre played pretty much exactly how head coach Scott Brooks often says he should. He ran the floor in transition and attacked the rim when the ball swung his way. He was more selective with his three-point attempts than usual. He wreaked havoc on defense with deflections, didn't gamble for steals and he hustled for rebounds. 

Monday night showed the perfect version of both Morris and Oubre. The Wizards need that to be the model for how they aspire to play every single night. If they do, this team's ceiling is significantly higher.



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10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. We will get to the game, and we will get to many things done by the Wizards, but we begin with a moment from pregame. Apparently, it was Halloween costume night for the Blazers and Moe Harkless stole the show by dressing up as Tyrone Biggums from Chappelle's Show:

Adam Silver, if you're reading this, please institute a rule requiring every team to do a Halloween costume arrivals night. You owe us this.

2. Okay, now for the game. Kelly Oubre Jr. was one of the stars of the night with 22 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal.

Here is one of his first buckets, a shot off the glass that was not an easy one to get to go down:

3. In the first half, Bradley Beal picked up right where he left off last time he was in Portland when he dropped a career-high 51 points. He had 19 of his 25 total points in the first half, including this baseline drive after a nasty crossover:

4. Markieff Morris also had himself a night. He popped off for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and a career-high six threes. This was an athletic move around the rim you don't often see from Morris:

Was that some jelly from Keef? Not bad.

5. John Wall had a relatively quiet night for his standards with 16 points on 5-for-16 from the field with nine assists. Here was his best play, one of his signature chasedown blocks:

6. Back to Oubre. He was feeling it and even got Steve Buckhantz to drop a 'Tsunami Papi' reference on the broadcast:

For Buckhantz, as Oubre would say, "the wave is free."

7. Beal went cold in the third quarter, missing his first seven shots of the second half. But he got his groove back when the Wizards needed it most.

This three answered a go-ahead shot by Nik Stauskas and forced overtime:

Beal was super pumped:

8. Two of Morris' six threes came in overtime, including this one to help seal the victory. Morris knocked one down with only 38.5 seconds left and it put the Wizards up by four:

9. Wall helped put the Blazers down for good with a bank shot from the elbow. Some might say it was lucky, while others would say he called game:

Wall even had to hit the Blazers with a Jordan shrug. Portland has seen that before.

10. The Blazers had a chance in the final seconds, but Otto Porter Jr. put the finishing touches on the win with this block on Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater attempt. Though Porter didn't have huge numbers - he scored 16 points - his fingerprints were all over this win:

What an incredible game. We can all agree the Wizards and Blazers should play more often. Well, maybe not the Blazers. The Wizards have had a lot of fun at their expense in recent years.