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Wizards rebuilding with veteran blocks

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Wizards rebuilding with veteran blocks

Note: This is the latest installment in a ten-part series on the top storylines facing the Wizards this season. Check CSNwashington.com daily for additional entries.

The Wizards rebuild is now in to year three and the plan remains to grow with a young roster, but the team sprinkled in veterans this summer by adding forwards Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. This clearly indicates the organization is tired of being a lottery team and believes now is the time to make a playoff push. With center Nene already in the fold, as a trade-deadline addition last season, the Wizards likely will go with all three in the starting lineup when the season kicks off later this month. The rebuild has taken a bit of a new look.

Okafor has averaged a double double for his career and brings a rugged presence to the Wizards frontcourt, while Ariza is a smooth shooting swingman. Both players, had sub-par seasons with the Hornets last year. Ariza averaged 11 points for New Orleans but shot only 41 percent from the field, while Okafor struggled with injury and played in only 27 games, averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds a game. Production and leadership is what the Wizards hope these two can bring to the team as the franchise tries to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

When Nene was healthy last season, the Wizards went 7-4 with him in the lineup. The big Brazilian center, averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds in 11 games for Washington, brings a calming presence offensively.

"Obviously with Emeka and Nene we've got guys that have been around the block, have been to the playoffs, have been on good teams and understand what it takes to do those things," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.

Nene's foot issue will be a season-long concern because he missed 11 games with plantar fasciitis last season and he will miss training camp with the same injury. The team hopes he is ready for the season opener later this month, but it's a huge question mark for the Wizards -- and will Nene be able to hold up?

Another concern is will these veteran additions stunt the growth of younger players like Kevin Serpahin, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker? All of these players head into either their second or third seasons and have logged considerable playing time. Now their playing time will be cut back now with Nene, Okafor and Ariza on the team.

"I think the more competition you have, whether it's one-on-one at your position or as a whole, makes you a better player and makes the team better," Wittman noted.

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Washington Wizards hire assistant coach Michael Longabardi to Scott Brooks coaching staff

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Washington Wizards hire assistant coach Michael Longabardi to Scott Brooks coaching staff

The Wizards sought to add an assistant coach with a strong defensive track record this offseason and they did just that Saturday evening by hiring Michael Longabardi, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes. 

Longardi, 46, has spent the last three seasons as a defensive coach on the Cleveland Cavaliers' staff. He was initially hired by former Cavs' head coach Tyronn Lue in 2016 when the team claimed their first championship in franchise history. 

Before joining the Cavaliers, Longabardi held assistant coaching roles with the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, and most notably the Boston Celtics, in which he and Lue served under head coach Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau from 2007 to 2013.

Longabardi was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and attended Xaverian High School, a private Catholic school. He then went on to play basketball at Newberry College where he earned the nickname "Mr. Defense."

Just a day after reports broke that Tommy Sheppard would be promoted to a permanent general manager position, the organization is making yet another move in hopes of improving overall culture and team defense.

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Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

Why the Wizards chose Tommy Sheppard as their new general manager

The process took nearly four months, yet the Wizards ultimately didn't look far for their new general manager, as the team is removing the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard. The longtime NBA executive will now finally get a chance to run his own operation.

Sheppard may not have been the first choice among fans initially when it was announced he would fill in for Ernie Grunfeld, who was dismissed from his post as team president on April 2, but over the past few months he has acclimated himself well, showing in many ways he is prepared to lead a team as the top person in charge. He cleaned up the Wizards' salary cap situation as best he could, giving them some newfound financial flexibility beyond next season.

Sheppard did that while flooding the roster with young, cheap and high-upside players. And he did so by making some tough decisions, ones that helped demonstrate he can provide an organizational reset despite his role in the previous regime. 

Sheppard allowed Tomas Satoransky to walk in free agency despite being central in bringing him to the Wizards, first by scouting him overseas and then by convincing him to join the NBA ranks. He let Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker leave even though he was part of the braintrust that traded for them. And he traded Dwight Howard, again despite playing a role in bringing him to Washington.

Sheppard has operated with impartiality when the team needed him to. What he has done this offseason looks a lot like it probably would have if the Wizards had hired someone from the outside.

How Sheppard navigated the Wizards through the draft and free agency was central in why managing partner Ted Leonsis decided to elevate him to the long-term post. The last several weeks were treated as a "trial run," according to a person familiar with the process.

Sheppard worked closely with the team's ownership group, giving them written proposals for his plans that addressed goals, budget and contingencies. It was a collaborative effort to make the Wizards' roster younger, cheaper and harder working. They also set out to add more international players and accomplished that by drafting Rui Hachimura and by trading for Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga.

Sheppard impressed Leonsis especially during the effort to re-sign Thomas Bryant. Bryant has become a favorite of Leonsis' for his consistent effort, character and enthusiasm. Sheppard and the Wizards were able to agree with Bryant on a new contract the night free agency began. It was quick and painless.

Sheppard himself will be signing a new contract, NBC Sports Washington was told. And there will be major changes to the organizational structure announced this coming week. In the basketball operations side, the team will heavily expand their investment in analytics, by "triple" according to a person familiar with their plans. They will also beef up their scouting department with an eye on Africa and Latin America.

Sheppard has done a nice job for the Wizards but the real work in many ways about to begin. Dismantling an NBA roster is not as difficult as building a contender. Now he has to find pieces to build around John Wall and Bradley Beal that can help the team win something of substance. 

Sheppard will have to do that within the constraints of Wall's supermax contract. And he will have to sort out Beal's future, which could take a turn later this month. 

On July 26, the Wizards can officially offer Beal a contract extension worth approximately $111 million over three years. But there is a long list of clues that suggest he will not take the offer.

How Sheppard, Beal and the Wizards handle the fallout in the event he turns them down would be a test in itself. Maybe they spin it simply as Beal betting on himself. If he makes All-NBA next season, he could make well over $200 million with a five-year supermax.

For Sheppard, the hard work is about to start. He is set to guide the Wizards into a new era, one he and the team hope can reach a higher peak than the last.

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