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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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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually come into existence. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclamations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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