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Wizards put themselves, credibility on line with all-black ploy vs. Celtics

Wizards put themselves, credibility on line with all-black ploy vs. Celtics

For the Wizards to wear all-black as a statement for tonight’s game (6:30 p.m. on CSN) with the Boston Celtics seems like quite a reach. This is just Game No. 45, but Bradley Beal insisted that they do it.

A 13-game home winning streak is on the line and so is the advantage in the season series which is tied 1-1.

These teams just can’t stand each other. The Jan. 11 game ended with an altercation between Jae Crowder and John Wall and the league fined them both.

Crowder instigated by getting in Wall’s face after the final buzzer and poked him in the nose. Wall countered with a quick left-hand slap to his jaw. The NBA fined Crowder more for what happened, an indication that he deserved the larger share of the blame.

There are a lot of key moments and subplots between these teams, too: Wall and Isaiah Thomas are fighting for reserve spots on the East All-Star team; Beal received a technical foul in the last game for getting tangled with Marcus Smart, who broke his nose and gave him a concussion with a blow to the face last season; Wall was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul after blowing out the Celtics in the first meeting; Crowder bad-mouthed the Wizards in the offseason and got in an argument with the bench that drew a technical a year ago, too; Wall had an emotional win over the Celtics that he dedicated to a young cancer patient he befriended; and Crowder hit the game-winning layup on Washington off an inbounds play.

Wall has felt disrespected at every turn, from the Wizards not getting much national attention, finishing sixth in All-Star voting despite being the only one in the East averaging a double-double, not getting a single vote from 29 other GMs in a preseason survey of the NBA’s best passers and the list goes on

This decision to treat a regular-season game like Game 7 of the playoffs has brought the attention that they've all craved, but now they’re under pressure to produce. 

That type of confidence has been absent since Paul Pierce’s one season in Washington, when he called the Toronto Raptors soft – a team they couldn’t figure out in the regular season -- before a playoff series as the Wizards proceeded to beat them into submission via sweep.

[RELATED: Celtics not impressed with Wizards wearing all black: 'That's cute']

Following that up with a 41-41 season when players admittedly checked out on then-coach Randy Wittman long before it ended contributed to the lack of belief in who they were at that time.

Starting this season 2-8 added onto what could’ve been a dumpster fire under new coach Scott Brooks. But this gesture suggests the Wizards are being incredibly naïve or will fully turn the corner before the All-Star break.

To think that for the home opener vs. Toronto, after losing winnable games at the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies on the road, it was considered an overstatement by Marcin Gortat to call that a must-win game.

The frequent complaint about today’s game is that good old-fashioned rivalries and animosity are gone. That players are too friendly with one another.

But Brooks has emphasized all season that he’d prefer his players treat every game equally. He doesn’t want them to play harder against the Celtics, for instance, than they do the Philadelphia 76ers. In theory, that’s how it should be but human nature tends to win out.

Wall wears his emotions on his sleeve which is why he has nine technical fouls which is fourth-most in the league. Beal is trying to prove he’s worth the $128 million he was paid in the offseason and make his case for being an All-Star, too, with DeMar DeRozan of Toronto being the only shooting guard reasonably ahead of him.

Beal emerged from his 1-for-21 three-point shooting funk in Charlotte last night to go 4-for-9. He was the hot hand in the 117-108 loss to Boston when he had 16 points in the first quarter. 

Only 23 total fouls were called then (10 on Boston), Brooks was openly irritated by the officiating and for the first time this season cracked about the inconsistency in how some games are called. By comparison, the Wizards were called for 23 fouls alone in beating the Hornets on Monday. 

Both teams did their share of trash-talking in game that went unpunished which likely contributed to the postgame heat that required police presence between the locker rooms at TD Garden.

It'll be safe to assume that there will be significantly more whistles tonight, and one of the three officials will be Marc Davis. It was Davis who ejected Wall at the end of the Wizards' early-season loss to the Houston Rockets after bumping him during a timeout.

Playing with emotion can be a double-edged sword. A convincing victory will make more people want to watch the Wizards on a wider scale. An epic fail will result in a "nothing-to-see-here" response. The latter, by far, is the worst-case scenario.

If the Wizards want to put themselves on the line like this to prove a point this early in the season, let them. If it's a rivalry and it's real at least to them, then it's real. 

Make no mistake, wearing all black indicates a funeral. The Dallas Mavericks wore it before Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals and put the Miami Heat out of their misery. The N.Y. Knicks did it in 2013 vs. the Celtics for Game 5 and lost though they did get the job done in Game 6. 

The Mavericks kept their gesture private until the series was over. The Knicks didn't. That's why the Wizards are going out on a limb by putting the pressure on themselves to win.  It's just one game. Then again, with this context, not really. 

[RELATED: Have the Celtics become the Wizards biggest rival in the East?]

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The Wizards' biggest offseason needs and the most realistic ways to address them

The Wizards' biggest offseason needs and the most realistic ways to address them

Back on April 2, the day Wizards owner Ted Leonsis addressed the media after firing Ernie Grunfeld as team president, he said he would commence an evaluation process of his organization to determine the next step. He said this process would take approximately three weeks.

Well, three weeks have now passed.

Though there has been little news about their plans, that means things should start picking up in terms of their targeting of candidates and the interview process.

Whomever takes over the Wizards will have a long to-do list. Paramount will be working around a cumbersome salary cap situation in light of John Wall's injury, few trade assets and the presence of just one draft pick this June. 

The Wizards also only have six players currently under contract for next season and that includes Wall, who will probably miss at least 50 games. That also includes Jabari Parker, whose $20 million team option is highly likely to be declined, and Ian Mahinmi, who can't really be counted on for a rotation spot given how things went last year. 

There is also Troy Brown Jr., who is only 20 and still finding his way, as well as Dwight Howard, who missed the final five months of last season after having back surgery. Outside of Bradley Beal, it is a bunch of unknowns.

Here is a look at the Wizards' biggest on-court needs and how they are most realistically going to be able to address them.

Wizards' Biggest Offseason Needs

1. Rim protection

This tops the Wizards' wish-list seemingly every summer but never before has it arguably been this bad. They posted the worst defensive rating in franchise history last season (113.9), ranking 28th among NBA teams in the category and 29th in points allowed (116.9/g). 

Though the Wizards had a litany of problems on the defensive end, protecting the rim was arguably their worst. No team allowed more field goals per game within five feet than the Wizards (22.1) and only two teams allowed a higher percentage (64.2). 

This year's draft is thin on big men at the top and in the Wizards' likely range. If they luck into the No. 1 pick and draft Zion Williamson, that would certainly help. But outside of him, the best options for rim protection are probably Texas freshman Jaxson Hayes and Maryland sophomore Bruno Fernando.

Per usual, the free agent crop of shot-blockers isn't deep. Brook Lopez and Nerlens Noel may be the best fits based on their likely price range. Still, it seems more likely they find some help in free agency.

2. Wing defense

One thing that can help rim protection is preventing opponents from getting there and the Wizards weren't good at that, either. Only two teams allowed more field goal attempts from within five feet of the rim than the Wizards (34.4). Washington was also bottom-five in the league in three-pointers allowed (12.1) and opponents three-point percentage (37). 

The numbers paint an ugly picture and the eye test didn't do them any favors. The Wizards just aren't a physical team on the perimeter. 

The good news is that they might be able to find help in the draft. If they find some lottery luck and vault into the top three, Duke's R.J. Barrett has the athletic tools and competitive drive to be a perimeter pest. 

The guy who stands out the most defensively is Virginia's De'Andre Hunter. He was the ACC defensive player of the year and a driving force in the Cavs' national title run. He is big and rangy and can guard multiple positions, a guy who has All-Defense potential at the NBA level.

In free agency, it will be hard to find a real difference maker given the money they are currently set to have. It's hard to see them affording Patrick Beverley, for instance, much less Malcolm Brogdon or a top tier guy like Jimmy Butler.

So, the draft is probably the best avenue.

3. Point guard depth

With Wall out of the picture for the foreseeable future, the Wizards need to stock their roster with some point guards to make do while he is out. The question will be how many resources do they want to apply to what is an important position. It could be seen simply as 'how badly do they want to win in 2019-20?'

If making the playoffs is the goal, then re-signing Tomas Satoransky is probably their best option. It is hard to see them doing any better than him in free agency or via trades. 

There are, though, some solid options in the draft. If they get lucky and land the second or third pick, that could mean Murray State's Ja Morant. If they fall in the seven-to-nine range in the first round, 6-5 North Carolina guard Coby White could be the guy.

This free agent class is deep with point guard options, but they would have trouble finding a starter-level player in their price range. You are probably looking at a group that includes Beverley and Cory Joseph. Beyond them, it's a bunch of players like Elfrid Payton, Jerian Grant and Jeremy Lin.

The best option is probably to just bring back Satoransky and hope Brown can continue to develop his point guard skills.

4. Rebounding

Rebounding was the Wizards' most glaring weakness in 2018-19. It affected both ends of the floor and made matters much more difficult defensively. Even when the Wizards would force missed shots, they couldn't complete their stops by rebounding the ball. That also affected their ability to start fastbreaks and play up-tempo.

Last season, the Wizards ranked 27th in total rebounds and defensive rebounds. They were 28th in rebounds against and 29th in offensive rebounds allowed. They gave up 14.1 second chance points per game and only five teams allowed more.

Though they were 32-50 on the season, they were 16-6 in games in which they rebounded their opponents. That means they were 16-44 when they lost the category, a huge difference.

Among draft prospects, Williamson, Barrett and Fernando are the best options, depending on where the Wizards land. But free agency will be deep with rebounders including DeAndre Jordan among the longshots and Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh among the potential bargains.

Even if the Wizards have Howard back and re-sign center Thomas Bryant, using what money they will have to acquire a rebounding power forward may be the smart move here. 

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Jeff Green 'would love to come back' to Wizards, add stability to journeyman career

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Jeff Green 'would love to come back' to Wizards, add stability to journeyman career

With six different teams in the past five years, Jeff Green has become one of the NBA's most itinerant journeymen.

Including his early-career move from Seattle to Oklahoma City, when the franchise transitioned from the Sonics to the Thunder, Green has played in eight different cities. Among active players, only Ish Smith (10), Marco Bellinelli (nine), Shaun Livingston (nine) and Anthony Tolliver (nine) have played for more teams.

Being in Washington this past season, though, was different. That's because Green is from the area, having grown up nearby in Maryland. He starred at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, then at Georgetown University in Northwest D.C.

At 32 years old (he turns 33 in August), Green does not prefer being a basketball nomad. He would like to stay with the Wizards this summer as he aims for a new contract in free agency.

"I would love to come back," Green said. "Great set of guys on this team. I loved playing with Brad [Beal], John [Wall]."

Green also mentioned playing for head coach Scott Brooks, for whom he played in Seattle and Oklahoma City. Brooks was an assistant on the Sonics staff when Green was a rookie, then took over as head coach in the middle of Green's sophomore season. Green left the Thunder after his third season and, 10 years later, was reunited with Brooks in Washington.

The biggest draw for Green to the Wizards, though, is the fact it is his hometown team. Though playing at home is a drawback for some players, Green found major benefits in being around family and in the town where he played college ball.

"Being in front of family every night was great for me. It allowed me to see my daughters more than a couple of times a year, which was great," he said. 

"Being in a familiar setting from my Georgetown days was great. Being able to go up to Georgetown and watch the guys get better, it was great. [Those are] things I haven’t been able to do since being in the league."

On the court, Green found individual success with the Wizards amid a disappointing season overall. He averaged 12.3 points and 4.0 rebounds while setting a career-high in effective field goal percentage (55.5). 

He did all of that while making the league minimum of $2.4 million. On a Wizards team that was in some ways defined by bloated salaries, Green proved a bargain. 

Hoping to come back to the Wizards was a familiar refrain from impending free agents during the Wizards' media exit interviews. Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Thomas Bryant and others all suggested they would like to return. 

But with a new front office leadership structure set to be installed, certainty isn't offered for anyone. For Green, the Wizards' new general manager will need to evaluate whether he was part of their problems. 

While Green probably exceeded expectations this season, he was on the floor when the team struggled to rebound the ball and defend just like his teammates were. The Wizards were 27th in the NBA in defensive rating this season at 112.8, according to NBA.com. Green's defensive rating was 112.6.

The Wizards and Green may ultimately not prove a fit in the eyes of the new GM. If that is the case, Green could move on to play in a new city, the ninth of his career. 

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