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After breakout season, Thomas Bryant wants to stay with Wizards: 'Why would I want to leave?'

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After breakout season, Thomas Bryant wants to stay with Wizards: 'Why would I want to leave?'

Amid a season of turmoil, Thomas Bryant was a shining light. While the Washington Wizards were defined much of the year by overpaid players whose commitment and effort level were openly questioned by their teammates, Bryant was just the opposite. Over and over again, he was lauded for his energy and enthusiasm.

While a collection of veterans fell short of expectations, Bryant played like he didn't know any better. He dashed up and down the court and celebrated small victories like rebounds, blocks and dunks with child-like joy.

It was a breakout season for Bryant, whom the Wizards plucked from the waiver wire last summer from the Los Angeles Lakers. The move at the time appeared to be insignificant, one that would probably help their G-League team more than anything. But by late November, he had worked his way into the starting lineup and never looked back.

"It feels great. It’s a step in the right direction," Bryant said of his first year in Washington. "I can’t tell you how happy I am for the improvement in just a year."

Though the Wizards' season was a disappointment overall, Bryant managed to put together quite the year for himself. He averaged 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting a league-high 68.5 percent on two-pointers. His 61.6 field goal percentage set a single-season franchise record, besting 7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan who finished at 60.4 percent at 1996-97.

Bryant, when informed of that record, called it "amazing" and "mind-blowing," but it was by no accident. At just 21 years old, he proved this season he can be uniquely selective with his shot.

Bryant can make shots from all over the floor, including three-point range, where he shot 33.3 percent this season, not bad for a center. He is also solid from mid-range, shooting 46.6 percent from three to 10 feet.

Where Bryant makes his biggest impact is around the rim. He has quick feet for his size and natural touch in the post. He can also finish with power.

Bryant led the Wizards with 117 dunks this season. Bradley Beal was second with 61 and only 18 players in the NBA had more. Bryant's 117 dunks were the most for a Wizards player since JaVale McGee had 155 in 2010-11.

Bryant's efficiency led to a special night this season. On Dec. 22 against the Suns, he went a perfect 14-for-14 from the field, a performance only Wilt Chamberlain has topped in NBA history.

Bryant's personality and production made him a quick favorite among his teammates and Wizards fans. He is the best young big man prospect the team has had in years.

But there is no guarantee Bryant will be in Washington long-term. He is set to hit free agency this summer and, though the Wizards can make him a restricted free agent and match his rights, he could garner significant interest from other teams.

The Wizards' current front office, led by interim GM Tommy Sheppard, would make keeping Bryant this summer a top priority, according to people familiar with their plans. But if a new GM comes in from outside of the organization, they could see things much differently.

Bryant's contract situation could also get confusing. The Wizards have his Early Bird rights and can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him, but with a limited contract. They can offer Bryant up to 105 percent of the league average salary from the 2018-19 season, which according to Larry Coon's salary cap guide is estimated to be $8.38 million. That would mean Bryant could be offered roughly up to $9.28 million annually by the Wizards.

Bryant's contract could not be for one year under this provision. It would have to be two to four years in length. 

Things could get really messy if the Wizards need to match an offer for Bryant from another team. Then he could be subject to the Gilbert Arenas provision, which is ironically named after the 2003 free agent deal Washington signed with him. That rule limits what other teams can offer Bryant in restricted free agency -- at least on the front end, as they still have the option to backload his contract. 

Tyler Johnson, now of the Phoenix Suns, is a good example of how the latter can work. In the summer of 2016, the Brooklyn Nets offered him a deal that paid $5.6 million the first year and $5.9 million the second. His third and fourth years then jumped to $19.2 million apiece. 

A backloaded contract would, on the face of it, help the Wizards in the short-term with John Wall set to make $37.8 million next season in the first year of his supermax deal despite likely missing most, if not all, of 2019-20 due to a ruptured Achilles. But the Wizards' salary cap situation could get very difficult in 2021-22, in what would be the third year of Bryant's next contract and one where his salary could spike. 

That would be the first year of Beal's next contract and Wall will be making $43.9 million. Beal will likely earn a significant raise from the max contract he is on right now and could be in line for a supermax like Wall if he makes All-NBA. So the Wizards have to keep a keen eye on 2021-22 in any decisions they make on contracts and Bryant could be affected. 

Bryant, like most players, will want to make the money he deserves. But the Wizards do have working for them the fact he proved such a good fit this season. He barely played for the Lakers last year and clearly has a good opportunity in Washington as their center of the future.

Bryant has a positive view of the organization.

"It would be great [to stay here]. I love this place. I love the Washington Wizards," he said. "I love playing with all of these guys. I love playing with Brad. I love playing with Troy [Brown Jr.], everybody. I love the coaching staff as well. Just being here. They gave me an opportunity to play. Why would I want to leave?"

The last question is one he will only be able to answer this summer, when the offers hit the table.

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LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

These 2K simulations certainly do agree with the Wizards. Coming off a stunning victory over the Bucks Friday, Washington turned around on the second night of a back-to-back and beat the Lakers 73-66 at virtual Capital One Arena. 

LeBron James was a one-man wrecking crew for LA, Bradley Beal led the scoring attack for the Wizards and Thomas Bryant got revenge on the team that waived him. 

Here's how the Wizards picked up their fourth-straight 2K win. 

Offensive rebounds

The Lakers are one of the biggest teams in the NBA with James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard playing heavy minutes, but it was the Wizards who dominated the boards in this one. 

Bryant led the way for Washington on the glass with seven of his 13 rebounds coming on the offensive end. The Lakers shot the ball significantly better than the Wizards (47% to 39%) but Washington was simply overwhelming them on the glass to create more opportunities. 

Washington grabbed 18 offensive rebounds compared to the Lakers' eight, and it ended being the major difference in the result. 

LeBron's one-man show

The real-life Lakers' biggest weakness is their lack of playmaking outside of James. In a game where James had everything working for him, the Lakers struggled to get anything going whenever he didn't have the ball. 

Rajon Rondo struggled mightily despite tallying eight assists (2-11 FG) and Davis had a bad game relative to his standards (10 points, one rebound, three blocks).

I'd be curious to see what virtual LeBron would have to say about his teammates after this particular game. 

Thomas Bryant's revenge

As we stated before, Bryant was waived by the Lakers after his rookie season and his virtual self took it all out on his former team Saturday night. 

He dominated the boards and once again protected the paint in a way that would make Elvin Hayes proud. He finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. 

With Bryant playing the way he has been the last few simulations, the Wizards' defense has been exceptional. Outside of defensive versatility, having a strong defensive center anchoring the defense is paramount to an effective unit. 

Other parting thoughts

Jerome Robinson continues to play well as a starter, scoring 13 points in 19 minutes. The Wizards didn't get that long of a look at Robinson before the NBA suspended its season.

After acquiring him at the trade deadline in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, it'd be another steal by Tommy Sheppard if Robinson can play like this consistently in real life. 

Instead of erupting in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards secure a win, Beal went off for 14 points in the third this time. He finished with 24 points and went 12-for-30 from the field.

Markieff Morris made a return to DC in this one. The Lakers uniform looks weird on him. 

It's hard to capture just how quick Ish Smith is in a video game, but this spin move came pretty close. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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This date in Wizards history: Kobe Bryant scores 55 in last matchup with Michael Jordan

This date in Wizards history: Kobe Bryant scores 55 in last matchup with Michael Jordan

With the NBA season suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Wizards, or any team for that matter, are currently unable to make their mark on the NBA history books. 

So on this day, March 28th, we roll the clocks back 17 years to a major moment in not only Wizards history, but in NBA history as well. The final meeting between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. 

2003 was Jordan's second season in Washington and his last in a legendary 15-year career where he won six championships, five MVPs, 10 scoring titles and nine All-Defensive selections.

If anyone came close to being the next MJ, it was Bryant. By their final meeting, the 24-year-old prodigy already had three titles and more than enough reason to put on a show against his idol. 

Bryant went for 55 points against the Wizards, scoring 42 in the first half. He went 15-for-29 from the field and made 9-of-13 from three. Safe to say, Bryant was on a mission following a one-point loss to the Wizards earlier that season. 

He scored an inefficient 27 points on 8-21 shooting and was outplayed by a 40-year-old Jordan. According to Gilbert Arenas, Jordan told Bryant he would never fill his shoes following the loss. In true Bryant fashion, he held onto that moment, apparently didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch and took it all out on the Wizards. 

Jordan didn't have a bad game by any stretch. He still scored 23 points on 10-20 shooting to go along with four assists, but he was simply no match for Bryant. 

The Wizards would go on to finish 37-45 miss out on the playoffs and take Jarvis Hayes with the 10th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

The Lakers went for the first run of four-straight titles since Bill Russell's Celtics but fell short in the Western Conference Semifinals to Tim Duncan and the Spurs. They'd return to the Finals the following year only to lose to the Pistons. After that, Shaquille O'Neal was traded to Miami and the Lakers didn't win a championship for another five years. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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