Less than two weeks after the NBA Draft and just days before the team beginsparticipating in the LasVegas Summer League, the Wizards went at it on the Verizon Center practicecourt. Scrimmages run, shots fired, coaching messages conveyed. Rookies andjourneymen invitees competing against those from the previous seasons squad,all at a basic level looking to show they belong.Most summers, this minicamp scene is the norm for an NBA team during the de factobeginning of a new campaign. Due to last year's NBA lockout, that was not thecase. A growth opportunity for a burgeoning roster denied. That'swhy after Monday's morning session, there was no hint of complaining, no talkof the grind. Getting after it on the hardwood is what they do. Doing so with the goal ofdeveloping their ripening talent, that is what the Wizards coaching staff need to do this summer.Its just good to be back out here, Randy Wittman said after Mondays mini-camp session, his firstas the teams head coach. Last year at this time we were pulling our hair out, not being able to have any contact, sitting around waiting for a lockout to end that never ended until December. This is good. Its good for our kids.By kids, Wittman is not simply talking about Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky, a pair of rookies getting their first taste of the NBA game. Rising second-year players Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Shelvin Mack missed a proper summers worth of basketball grooming.Chris and Jan and Shelvin didnt have this opportunity last year. Obviously, Bradley and Tomas from this years draft, Wittman continued. This is invaluable work that were able to get in to continue the development of our young guys.That development is what the summer league opportunity is all about, especially for a team loaded with players still cutting their teeth on the professional level and a team ready for more than another NBA Draft lottery visit.There's always an opportunity when you're able to come together and work as a team, also with the coaches, and get valuable experience I wasn't able to get last year cause of the rookie year, Mack said. Just getting more comfortable with the system. I already know what the coaches expect, so it's just helping me out a lot more.Step one for the coaching staff, gauging which members of the roster, from the core five to any of the 14 players currently on hand, are ready for the rigors of practice followed by game action. The Wizards continue mini-camp thru Thursday then open play in Las Vegas on Friday, starting a five games in six days stretch.I was very pleased, the coach said. We went pretty hard because I do want to see where theyre at, in shape. Going two a days for three days in a row, if they werent in shape, were going to get them in shape.Wittman, who will turn the coaching reigns over to assistant Sam Cassell in Las Vegas, said he had yet to determine the number of bodies the team will bring out west. Obviously, Beal, the Wizards first-round pick, will be among them.It was pretty good actually, the intensity was there, the Florida product said following Mondays workout. I think everybody was happy and excited to actually be able to put on a Wizards uniform and get out there. They threw a lot of stuff at us, but I think we took it all in. I cant wait for summer league, honestly.Getting the 6-foot-4 guard with deep range and textbook form on his jumper familiar with his new teammates and acclimated to the pro ranks stands high on the Wizards list of goals. Continuing to form a cohesive roster and professional locker room, a plan started last season at the trading deadline and continued this off-season, does as well.These guys are people on the team that Bradleys going to be with now for years to come, Wittman said. Relationships, not only on the floor and learning how to play together and knowing each others nuances, but off the court. Theyre going to spend a lot of time here in the next three months trying to learn each other. The better that happens, the quicker your locker room solidifies.
The Wizards will not truly know what they have in John Wall following his Achilles surgery until he returns to game action, and that may not be until the 2020-21 season. He is expected to be out at least 11 months, but there is a chance he misses a full year and owner Ted Leonsis has already endorsed the idea, if it is the best course for his recovery.
The Wizards, though, can start taking measures for Wall's return as soon as this week with Thursday's NBA Draft. Using the draft, trades and free agency, they can begin to build a roster around Wall to increase the odds he comes back an effective player.
Much of the analysis of how Wall will be affected by the injury has focused on the offensive end and whether he will lose some of his trademark speed. But there is an argument to be made that the defensive end will be a larger concern and the best area to find Wall some help.
Offensively, Wall will still have strengths to play to even if he is no longer the fastest, quickest player on the court. He is one of the league's best passers. When committed, he rebounds well for his position. And he could expand his game to the post with a size advantage over most of his opponents.
Would a more consistent three-point shot help? Sure, but he can still be effective.
Defensively, it might be a struggle and especially early on. He will be tasked with staying in front of cat-quick point guards like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker. Wall already had his defensive issues before the surgery and matters will only be more difficult now after an injury known for affecting lateral quickness.
What the Wizards can do is try to build a defensive foundation around Wall to mitigate those potential problems. They can surround him with physical perimeter defenders and install rim protection behind him. Then, Wall would be asked to do less. He could focus on playing sound team defense and directing his opponents into traffic created by his teammates.
The problem is that the Wizards will essentially have to build their defense from scratch. Though they have some capable defenders like Bradley Beal and Troy Brown Jr., and though Dwight Howard's rebounding will help, the Wizards are coming off a year in which they had one of the worst defensive units in the league.
The Wizards were 27th in defensive rating and 29th in points allowed. They gave up the fifth-most three-pointers and at the fourth-highest percentage. And they surrendered more field goals within five feet of the rim than any other team.
Defense has been highlighted as a major long-term need by the Wizards' current staff, though they still hold the 'interim' label until further notice. Under head coach Scott Brooks, the team has made strides on offense but has lost their way defending the ball. They want more balance moving forward.
Several of Brooks' assistants are not under contract for next season and the team has explored hiring a defensive specialist, according to a person with knowledge of their plans. One assistant who could be replaced is Maz Trakh. He is in contract limbo and has not been present at the team's pre-draft workouts.
NBA coaches, though, can only do so much. A defensive renaissance will have to come from the players.
The Wizards will have some options that could help when they are on the board with the ninth overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft. It could be a shot-blocker like Bol Bol, Brandon Clarke or Jaxson Hayes. Nassir Little would add toughness to the perimeter. Sekou Doumbouya would give them versatility.
Revamping their defense probably wouldn't include re-signing Bobby Portis or Jabari Parker, the latter of which has a team option the Wizards are likely to decline later this month. Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky aren't lockdown defenders, either, but do offer some upside on that end.
With limited money to spend, free agency won't offer any quick fixes for the Wizards. The best they could likely do is find cheap players to help begin an overall culture change.
When it comes to the draft, the Wizards do not have the luxury to draft solely for need. They have to get the best player available, no matter the position. That could even be a point guard, despite Wall being due $170 million over the next four years.
But it might be smart to favor defense over offense and the same applies to free agency and beyond. That approach could come in handy once Wall is ready to go.
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As soon as the clock hit zero in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and cemented the Toronto Raptors as the 2019 NBA Champions, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the Wizards were preparing to make a lucrative offer to Toronto GM Masai Ujiri.
ESPN Sources: The Washington Wizards are preparing to make a prolific offer to Toronto's championship architect Masai Ujiri -- as much as $10M annually -- to run its basketball operations. https://t.co/KQf18YUkLN— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 14, 2019
NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig confirmed that Washington was prepared to give the Raptors top front office executive a deal that would be hard to refuse.
The rumored interest in Ujiri became the topic of the most recent Wizards Talk Podcast discussion, and Monday, NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh spoke on the potential pairing.
"If you're Ted Leonsis and the ownership in D.C., you're hoping that the Raptors are out [of the playoffs] early so you can start the talks and you can try to lure Masai Ujiri over a few days or a week but they dont have that time before Thursday's draft," Haberstroh said.
"I just don't know if the timing is right for Masai to make such a huge decision in his career in the next couple of days."
Ted Leonsis' offer isn't the only factor trying to bring Ujiri to the nation's capital. The Raptors' executive has a relationship with former President Barack Obama, which could weight in the Wizards favor, and Ujiri's wife, Ramatu, attended high school in the D.C. area as well.
"If he takes this job, it is not about the basketball reasons, its all about the off-court reasons, whether it's Barack Obama recruiting him, or it's his wife who is from the area," Haberstroh added.
While Wizards fan would welcome Ujiri to Washington with open arms and hope that he is the missing piece to set the franchise in the right direction, Haberstroh isn't sure that Ujiri bolts from Toronto so soon.
"I just don't know if the timing is right for Masai Ujiri to leave a champion in Toronto," Haberstroh said.
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