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Dwight Howard believes Wizards have enough talent to 'shock a lot of people'

Dwight Howard believes Wizards have enough talent to 'shock a lot of people'

The 2018 offseason got off to an ominous start for Dwight Howard, as he was traded by the Charlotte Hornets, a team that missed the playoffs last season, to the Brooklyn Nets, who despite not being a good team decided to immediately cut him loose with a buyout. But given all that went wrong in the first few weeks, Howard rebounded well with a free agent deal to join the Washington Wizards, a team that has made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.

The Wizards, in fact, may be the most talented team Howard has played on in years. With two All-Stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal, they boast more high-end talent than either of his previous stops, the Hornets or Hawks, did at the time he played with them.

Howard believes Washington is a good opportunity for him to not only return to the playoffs, but to possibly go on a deep playoff run.

"We'll have a shot. We'll have a real shot," he said. "I think we are going to have a wonderful season. I think we are going to really just shock a lot of people."

The talent on the Wizards' roster and how he fits in was all considered when he chose to sign with the Wizards. He insists that winning is the most important thing at this point in his career and he believes, from experience going as far as the NBA Finals, that Washington has the goods to be contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Howard knows the Wizards' roster well, having played against them over the years and particularly in the playoffs in 2017. Back then he was the starting center for the Hawks and recalls being impressed when scouting the Wizards in film sessions.

Now that he is in the fold, giving the Wizards a new dimension with an athletic center, Howard believes they can be uniquely versatile.

"Man, we match up well with anybody. They're going to have to worry about trying to match up with us. We can go very big, go very small, we can play fast, we can slow the game down; which is going to be great for our team," he said.

"A lot of people, the casual fans of basketball, wouldn't understand that once you make it to the playoffs and the deeper that you go in the playoffs, the game slows down. Teams really have to use their third or fourth options to really get buckets because teams are always going to try to stop that first and second option."

The versatility of the Wizards stands out to Howard and so does their depth. In reeling off the pluses of the Wizards' roster, he went beyond the obvious of Wall, Beal and Otto Porter, Jr.

"Then you've got a guy like Kelly [Oubre, Jr.] who is young and plays with a lot of intensity and can pass the ball well. [Tomas] Satoransky, I liked him when we played against him last year. I thought this guy can really pass the ball, he can really shoot, he plays with a lot of energy. I could just go down the list and I thought 'man, this could be the perfect opportunity,'" Howard said.

Howard landed on his feet after the turmoil of his trade and buyout in a situation that is seemingly a great fit from a basketball perspective. The question, of course, will be whether they can make the most of their on-paper talent and not let intangible factors like locker room chemistry get in the way.

Tyler Byrum contributed to this report

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

The Wizards are set to have Dwight Howard back for a second year, as the veteran center informed the team of his plans to exercise the $5.6 million player option in his contract for the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

Howard, 33, indicated to Wizards brass in his exit meeting last week he was likely to opt in to the second and final year of his deal, but there was some thought he would wait until closer to the June 29 deadline. The reason why is Howard's continued recovery from the back surgery he had in November, a procedure that kept him sidelined for the final five months of the season.

But Howard has now made his intentions known, giving the Wizards a clearer picture of their offseason. With him in the mix, they essentially have five players under contract next season. They technically have six, though Jabari Parker's $20 million team option is essentially a lock to not be picked up.

Howard appeared in only nine games in his first season with the Wizards. He missed all of training camp and their preseason schedule with back issues, played for just over two weeks in November and then went down for the year. He had the surgery, a lumbar microdiscotemy, on Nov. 30. 

Though his time on the floor was brief, he put up solid numbers with averages of 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Wizards missed his rebounding in particular, as they finished 27th in the league in the category and 28th in rebounds against.

Howard will certainly hope for a better showing in Year 2 with the Wizards, though there may be no guarantee he actually comes back. The Wizards are currently searching for a new general manager, and that person could choose to go in a different direction if ownership permits them to.

Keep in mind last summer Howard was traded soon after Mitch Kupchak took over the Hornets' front office and the Nets bought him out immediately after acquiring him. Howard's $5.6 million salary is relatively inexpensive, as Brooklyn paid $18.9 million to part ways.

Time will tell if Howard's career continues in Washington, but for now he is slated to come back next season for a second year with the Wizards.

ESPN's Zach Lowe first reported the news of Howard opting in.

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How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions 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. 4: HOW WILL JOHN WALL'S CONTRACT AFFECT ROSTER CONSTRUCTION?

Though there are several events this summer that could ultimately define the Wizards' offseason, one storyline will hang over everything and factor into just about every decision made by the front office and whomever ends up leading it as the team's new general manager. That is the future of John Wall, who is set to miss at least most of next season due to a ruptured left Achilles, in what will be the first year of his supermax contract.

Wall had surgery on Feb. 12. Even if he returns one year after going under the knife, he will still miss roughly 50 games next season. When he does come back, there are no guarantees he will be the same player. He turns 29 in September and a ruptured Achilles is a very serious injury, especially for a guy whose game has traditionally been reliant on speed.

The Wizards, of course, hope Wall will regain his peak form, but even if that happens it is unlikely to be the case right away. It may not be until the 2020-21 season until the Wizards get a true read on Wall post-surgery and how much value he can provide while making the money he is due. 

Speaking of the money, Wall will still take up a considerable chunk of the salary cap despite not playing. He is set to earn 35 percent of the cap next season, which right now is projected at about $37.8 million. Though that could technically fluctuate based on the final cap number, the percentage is what matters. The Wizards will basically have to build a roster with only 65 percent of the cap at their disposal.

There is an argument that Wall's injury is one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Supermax contracts, ones that allow players to make a contract that begins at 35 percent of the salary cap, are a new concept. And no one else has suffered such a serious injury while getting paid that type of money. 

It may not be quite what the Brooklyn Nets overcame in the fallout of their infamous trade with the Boston Celtics, the one that resulted in a net loss of three first round picks. But it's a bad situation, one that will require some creativity from whomever is tasked with pulling the Wizards out of it.

The long-term ramifications will depend on how Wall plays when he returns, but the short-term effect will clearly be felt. First, the Wizards have to have an insurance policy at point guard and a good one if they hope to compete for the playoffs. Maybe that is as simple as re-signing Tomas Satoransky, but regardless they have to shore up that position, knowing Wall's status.

Second, the Wizards need to find bargains to fill out the rest of their roster. They will have to find some cheap players simply to reach the 13-player minimum with Bradley Beal's max deal also on the books. Beal will earn roughly $27.1 million next season.

The biggest question as it pertains to Wall may deal with the NBA Draft on June 20. What if the Wizards get some luck in the May 14 draft lottery, but not enough to get the No. 1 pick (i.e. Zion Williamson), and Ja Morant is the best player on the board? Morant, of course, is the Murray State superstar who lit up the NCAA Tournament in March.

Morant is dynamic and has serious star potential, and he plays point guard. Wall was already asked about the potential of the Wizards drafting a point guard with a high pick. He said he would be fine with it, but that when he returns that draft pick can "be a great back-up" to him.

If the Wizards picked Morant, or even Coby White of North Carolina, it would arguably be the smart move to make. They need to select the best player available, no matter the position. 

But if they do take a point guard, that will present a unique dynamic to their locker room, especially if that player turns into a star. What if Morant comes in and lights it up as a rookie? How will Wall deal with that? And could you then put Morant on the bench when Wall returns, as Wall suggests they would?

Those are hypothetical scenarios that can be addressed if they actually enter the equation this summer and beyond. But there is no question that, even as Wall is sidelined with an injury, his presence will loom over the Wizards in many ways.

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