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Don't let Michael Jordan nostalgia make you miss out on LeBron's greatness

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Don't let Michael Jordan nostalgia make you miss out on LeBron's greatness

LeBron James continues to make history, and people continue to find reasons to downgrade it. 

Wednesday night, James passed Michael Jordan to move into fourth place on the NBA's all-time points list, which means it's another squirt of lighter fluid on the "LeBron vs. Jordan" debate fire, but also another excuse for people to water a milestone down. 

The "LeBron vs. Jordan" argument is worthless right now. Fans are too emotionally invested in just one side, living in the moment.

Yes, it's ironic coming from someone that's regularly had this debate both on TV and radio (I might start it again on Wizards Outsiders  Friday, 6 PM on NBC Sports Washington Plus), but it's still true. 

Until LeBron's story is done being written, we can't truly compare his career to Jordan's.

Fans look at one career through the foggy glasses of nostalgia, while the other is dissected in real-time through the magnifying glass of social media. Opinions will be tainted until both careers are viewed only through our memories. 

Essentially, like fans forget the bad stuff with Jordan, soon the masses will overlook the majority of LeBron's failures, this season included.

Then we can really have a conversation. 

Yes, Jordan won six titles in six tries, but people forget things like his 11-for-27 shooting performance in a Game 4 loss in the 1997 NBA Finals. Or, the fact that he beat a Jazz team that scored just 54 points (seriously) for an entire game in the 1998 Finals.

Also, Robert Horry won seven, so let's pump the breaks on using titles in a team sport as the end-all-be-all to decide a player's value.

The last four NBA FInals have subjected LeBron to going through the most stacked team in NBA history. Jordan never played a team with more than two All-Stars. 

LeBron brought his team back from a 3-1 deficit to beat a Warriors franchise that won 73 games in the regular season, one more than Jordan's Bulls. LeBron also never lost in the first round of the playoffs, Jordan did.

We examine LeBron so intently that every play matters in the moment, but just remember the highlights from Jordan's time. 

#NBATwitter breaks down LeBron's effort on defense in his 16th season on a random Tuesday night but forgets that every team he's left has had massive fall-off with him no longer on the roster. The Cavs went from 61 wins to 19 the first time he left, and have the third-worst record in the NBA this year after getting dragged to the Finals in 2018. Oh, Miami also went from 54 to 37 wins when LeBron left South Beach, while Jordan's Bulls went from 57 to still 55 wins the first time he retired. 

LeBron is the first player in NBA history with over 30,000 career points, 8,000 career assists, and 8,000 career rebounds, which is why it took longer for him to pass Jordan on the scoring list. His game is totally different than Jordan's was, but fans would rather add up the extra games it took instead of acknowledging the list that only he occupies.

LeBron's mindset has been to make the best play first, not just a scoring play, and yet he still was able to climb into the Top-5. It's remarkable. 

"LeBron played in an era where no one can touch him" gets thrown around, but people forget that Jordan never played against a zone defense, which is used to stop isolation. 

Also, LeBron is huge and still a once-in-a-generation athlete, and could have played with any rules, so please stop that narrative. 

Look, nostalgia is a powerful emotion. How often do you think back on your childhood and say "man life was easy", when in reality, in that moment, you likely had a million things that you thought were terrible when you were going through it. It's human nature to forget the bad times with things we love. 

We can't have a true decision on whether it's Jordan or LeBron until both movies are done. 

Yes, this Lakers' season is horrendous, and plenty of blame goes on LeBron. Seeing him pass Michael in that uniform was just weird, and it should have been in Cleveland. But this era of player movement is the new norm in the NBA. This is a different league, and players have to adapt to a fast pace and constantly changing landscape if they want to succeed. This isn't the 90's anymore. Players jump teams and take control of their careers more than ever. 

Plus, it was just as weird to watch Jordan play in a Wizards uniform late in his career, an era that's forgotten outside of D.C. Those were years 14 and 15, and though he was older, it was one of those "star finishes career in random uniform" situations, which deep down is what LeBron is doing in L.A. anyway. The difference for LeBron is he's still widely considered the best player in the NBA, and Jordan had been retired for three seasons and that was just extra credit for his career. 

Think about it, the last time LeBron James didn't make the NBA Finals "Toy Story 3" was the No. 1 movie in America, "Tik Tok" by Kesha was the No. 1 song, and Instagram and Snapchat hadn't been launched yet. That's an incredible run that we just gloss over because some video on Twitter showed him sulking. 

So yes, arguments can be made on both sides, and we've all been there. For right now, in the middle of this milestone, let's take a second to just put away the magnifying glass, and look back at what LeBron has accomplished with our own nostalgia, realizing this will likely never be matched again. 

That right there, is how you truly measure greatness. 

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An important summer of decisions for the Wizards, from free agents to Scott Brooks

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An important summer of decisions for the Wizards, from free agents to Scott Brooks

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 3: WHICH FREE AGENTS AND COACHES WILL RETURN?

The Wizards enter this summer with only six players under contract for the 2019-20 season and that includes Jabari Parker's team option worth $20 million that is certain to be declined. With Parker accounted for, that essentially gives them eight impending free agents to decided on.

Eight players is more than half of a 15-man NBA roster and that is not to mention Dwight Howard's player option worth $5.6 million. If he opts out, they could have nine open spots.

Whomever the Wizards choose to replace Ernie Grunfeld as team architect will determine who will stay and who will go. Before they make that call, and they remain relatively early in the process, it is difficult to project which players will be back.

If they promote senior VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard from interim general manager to long-term status, that will mean a different course than if they go completely outside of the organization. Everyone has their own philosophies and a brand new voice would have no ties to those currently on the roster.

The same could apply to the coaching staff. Head coach Scott Brooks was not assured of his return at the end of the season and owner Ted Leonsis indicated that would be up to the next GM.

As far as the players go, each will present pros and cons. Some have more upside while some are older. Some will be more expensive to retain while some might be worth bringing back based on their relative cost.

Some could also depend on what the Wizards accomplish in the draft. They have the sixth-best odds and could luck into a top-four pick. Most mock drafts have this year's class top-heavy with wings and forwards. A top pick could affect how they view others at the same position.

Here is a look at each of the Wizards' free agents...

Tomas Satoransky, PG (RFA): Satoransky has a good chance of coming back because he can be a restricted free agent and most teams would like to have a player like him. He's versatile, committed on defense and an unselfish passer.

If Sheppard assumes the full-time GM role, expect signing Satoransky before he hits restricted free agency to be a top priority. Even if an outside person takes over, Satoransky could very well still come back. But what could end Satoransky's time in Washington is his price tag. Will he get starting point guard money, or will he be had at a lower price?

Thomas Bryant, C (RFA): Like Satoransky, Bryant may be immune from a new GM wanting to move on and make change for the sake of change. The reasons to bring him back far outweigh the reasons not to. He's only 21 (he turns 22 in July) and has obvious potential. He's a young big man who gives an honest effort every night and has a great attitude. Those guys don't grow on trees.

Bryant also loves playing in Washington. But as a restricted free agent, he could field some nice offers and cash in on what was a breakout year. As a former second round pick with only two years of NBA experience, his contract situation could also be very complicated.  

If Sheppard takes the reins moving forward, signing Bryant will be a major goal. But even if someone from the outside comes in, it seems likely the Wizards will make an effort to keep him.

Jabari Parker, PF: Parker really genuinely enjoyed playing in Washington and would like to return. He proved a good fit offensively as a complement to Bradley Beal and has potential to get better at only 24 years old.

But Parker's price will be important and difficult to gauge until he starts talking to teams. Will anyone pay him $10 million-plus annually? It's really hard to tell based on how his stock has fallen and his injury history. Also, a new GM could choose to move on in favor of defense or something else.

Bobby Portis, PF/C (RFA): Portis is likely to be the most expensive of all of the Wizards' free agents to keep. The fact he can be a restricted free agent helps their cause, but he is reportedly looking for upwards of $16 million annually and it's just hard to see the Wizards paying that.

Now, Portis may also have the highest upside of any of these guys. He's only 24, is fast, can rebound and shoot. In fact, he can shoot very well for a big man and could turn into one of the more accurate stretch-fours in the league. But is that enough to pay him a big deal?

Trevor Ariza, SF: The biggest questions for Ariza's future center around price, whether the new GM wants to win now and whether Ariza wants to play for a contender. He made $15 million this past season which would be way too much for the Wizards to pay to bring him back. If that price comes down considerably for a guy who turns 34 in June, then maybe. 

But if a new GM wants to tear it all down and start over and sees missing the playoffs next season as not the worst thing, Ariza wouldn't help that cause. And Ariza may very well want to chase another ring this summer, something he couldn't do in Washington. That said, as he moves into his mid-30s, money may be the most important priority, as he only has so much time left to make an NBA salary.

Sam Dekker, PF (RFA): Dekker was in and out of the rotation, but overall played some of the best basketball of his young career so far during his four months with the Wizards. Helping his cause to return are a few things. For one, he is young and turns 25 in May. Secondly, he might be cheap and the Wizards will need some inexpensive players to fill roster spots next season.

Granted, a new GM from outside of the organization could want to clear out anyone that they can in order to start over with their own players. Dekker could be seen as expendable.

Chasson Randle, PG (RFA): For Randle, it is much of the same as Dekker. He's a young player with some upside to get better and he's not going to cost much. That is extra important for him as a point guard, it would seem, with John Wall set to miss most of, if not all of, next season due to injury. They can only apply so many resources to the position.

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How the Wizards' new GM could shape the organization's future this summer

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USA Today Sports

How the Wizards' new GM could shape the organization's future this summer

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 2: HOW WILL THE NEW GM PUT THEIR STAMP ON THE ORGANIZATION?

Predicting which direction the Wizards will go this offseason when it comes to trades and free agency is a pointless exercise right now, as nothing can be projected until we know who will be in charge of the front office. Owner Ted Leonsis, with help from consultant Mike Forde, is still in the evaluation process of his organization, top-to-bottom. They have yet to begin interviewing candidates to replace dismissed team president Ernie Grunfeld.

Once Leonsis makes that hire, the future will become a little more clear, though any new GM may take time to truly make their mark. The Wizards have limited financial flexibility and only one draft pick. It may be a year or two before the roster truly feels like theirs.

That said, by the end of this summer, we should know plenty about what makes the new team architect tick. They will explain their philosophy at an introductory press conference and demonstrate it in decisions they make. 

The most telling in the short-term will be how they handle the large group of players set to hit free agency. That list includes Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, Thomas Bryant, Jeff Green, Sam Dekker and Chasson Randle. There is also Jabari Parker, who has a $20 million team option for 2019-20 that is a lock to be declined, no matter who takes over.

If the Wizards move forward with interim GM Tommy Sheppard, who was Grunfeld's No. 2, that likely means Satoransky and Bryant are coming back. They are both restricted free agents and Sheppard was integral in acquiring them. 

He scouted Satoransky as a teenager and helped convince him to leave Europe for the NBA. He had a first round grade on Bryant when he came out of Indiana in the 2017 draft and took a strong stance in favor of claiming him as soon as the Lakers put him on waivers last summer.

Sheppard staying in place could also increase the likelihood Ariza, Parker and Portis return, though any of those three would have to be for the right price. A new GM could conceivably want to clear those players out and bring in his own guys.

Also telling will be how the new front office handles Bradley Beal's contract in the event he makes All-NBA and qualifies for a supermax. It projects to be worth about $194 million over four years, a ton of money to commit with John Wall already signed to a supermax that begins next season. If it comes to that, perhaps the new GM will determine a trade is the best course of action, to turn one player into multiple assets and rebuild for the future.

Also on the docket will be Ian Mahinmi's contract. The Wizards can either ride out the final year of his deal and shed $15.5 million off the books next summer, or use the stretch provision to spread that money out over the next three seasons and free up about $10.3 million more to work with this summer.

A major decision for the new GM will be the Wizards' first round pick this June. They have the sixth-best lottery odds and will know their selection on May 14. If they get lucky and land the No. 1 pick, there will be no mystery, as Zion Williamson is the clear-cut star of this class. But any other pick will require a difficult decision, including whether to draft a point guard with Wall under contract for the next four years.

If the Wizards do not find lottery luck and vault into the top four, it would probably be smart to trade back. They have a dearth of draft assets and a new GM will likely want more of them. This year's draft class doesn't appear to be a deep one. Trading back from eighth, for example, to pick up an extra first or a pair of second rounders might be the move to make.

There are other ways the new GM can shape the organization's philosophy, ones that will be less noticeable to the public. They could either invest more or differently in analytics, for example. 

Though they have a fairly robust operation led by VP of basketball analytics Brett Greenberg, a sharp, young Duke grad who may someday be a GM himself, and though they also use outside consultants, there are other teams (like the Sixers) that employ more people with that focus.

Also, Greenberg oversees salary cap management as well. Perhaps a new GM has expertise in that realm or adds staff with those duties.

Speaking of staff decisions, there will also be one made about head coach Scott Brooks. His status is currently in limbo.

Even with little resources to overhaul the Wizards' roster in a major way this summer, the franchise is about to undergo significant long-term change. The next few months will give everyone the first major signs of what is up ahead.

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