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Enormity of the Wizards’ offseason and long-term future will hinge on the May 14 Draft Lottery

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Enormity of the Wizards’ offseason and long-term future will hinge on the May 14 Draft Lottery

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. 5: WILL THE WIZARDS GET LUCKY IN THE DRAFT LOTTERY ON MAY 14?

Though the Washington Wizards made some poor decisions to create the mess their next general manager will need to clean up, they have also been struck with a good deal of bad luck. John Wall falling in his home and rupturing his Achilles tendon certainly qualifies. Dwight Howard suffering a relapse with his back and requiring surgery to repair a herniated disc was out of their control. And if Bradley Beal makes All-NBA and qualifies for a supermax this summer, the timing would not be ideal as far as their finances are concerned.

The Wizards have long been one of the most snakebitten franchises in sports and even stand out in a city where curses are often blamed for sports misery. They could use some luck for a change and especially on the night of May 14.

That's when the 2019 NBA draft lottery will take place in Chicago, Ill. ESPN will broadcast the event live at 8:30 p.m. as the ping-pong balls fly through the air, determining the order for the June 20 draft and therefore the future of the league.

The Wizards will for the first time since 2013 have high stakes in the lottery. They had finished with at least a .500 record for five straight seasons before bottoming out in 2018-19. But their 32-50 record this past season gave them the sixth-best lottery odds and, in the first year under new lottery rules, that has left them in excellent shape ahead of May 14.

The Wizards lottery odds will break down pick-by-pick like this:

1st - 9.0%

2nd - 9.2%

3rd - 9.4%

4th - 9.6%

5th - N/A

6th - 8.6%

7th - 29.6%

8th - 20.6%

9th - 3.8%

10th - 0.2%

The two most important numbers to consider are nine and 37.2. They have a nine percent chance at the first overall pick and a 37.2 percent shot at selecting in the top four.

The Wizards' nine percent odds at No. 1 are only five ticks lower than the top teams in lottery odds, the Knicks, Cavs and Suns who are tied at 14 percent. Though their chances are still less than one-in-ten, that means they will be very much in the mix to land the ultimate prize, Duke forward Zion Williamson.

Williamson would change everything for the team that drafts him, but perhaps especially for the Wizards, considering the alternative direction their franchise could go. They already fired their general manager and have an uncertain future with their head coach Scott Brooks and arguably with their best player, Beal, as well. They appear to be teetering on the brink of a rebuild and Williamson could jumpstart them into the other direction.

No draft prospect, maybe with the exception of LeBron James in 2003, offers guarantees. Williamson could top out as a good, but not great player. But few who have dominated college basketball quite like he did have then failed to live up to the hype. Consider the fact he is only the third freshman ever to win the Naismith award for NCAA's best player. The other two were Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant.

One NBA front office executive told NBC Sports Washington he believes Williamson will be an All-Star as a rookie and not just because of fan voting. He has superstar potential, both from a production and marketing standpoint. Williamson would likely step right in as at least the Wizards' second-best healthy player and as the face of their franchise, the player most associate them with.

Landing the top pick is not the only way May 14 can result in a success for the Wizards. Jumping into the top four would be a major victory, especially in this year's draft which appears to be top-heavy. That could mean a chance to draft Ja Morant of Murray State or R.J. Barrett, Williamson's teammate at Duke. 

Barrett would be a nice fit alongside Beal and Wall when he returns from injury. He complements them positionally and has All-Star potential.

If Morant is the best player on the board, the Wizards should take him. But doing so would create a brand new storyline of how he would co-exist with Wall, who plays the same position. That dynamic would be hard to ignore for as long as they are together in the organization.

Though the Wizards have a better than one-in-three shot at the top four, their two most likely landing spots are No. 7 and 8 overall. If the Wizards did not make a major jump in the lottery, they may be wise to trade back and acquire more picks. They do not have a second round pick this year and not until 2023. They also have roster spots to fill and could use more young (and cheap) players.

The Wizards may not have to trade back very far to stock their cupboard with more picks. Last June, the Hawks got a lightly-protected first round pick from the Mavericks for going back from No. 3 to No. 5. The Sixers traded back from 10th to 16th with the Suns and scooped the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first round pick.

In a draft that most consider to not be deep outside of the top four or five picks, the Wizards may not see a huge difference in the eight pick and, say, selecting 12th. And that could be the key to getting another first or a collection of second round picks.

There are so many scenarios for the Wizards that all depend on their luck on May 14. Who they choose to send as their representative will be interesting. Will it be Beal, who right now is their biggest star? How about Wall, who was the first overall pick in 2010 and would be able to impact the franchise in an indirect way despite his long-term injury absence? It could also be whomever they hire as their new GM, or someone in the ownership group.

The Wizards, like the 13 other teams in the lottery, will be hoping for a blessing from the basketball gods.

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Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”

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Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

The Washington Wizards have reportedly offered their vacant general manager position to Tim Connelly. The news was first reported by the Athletic.

Here are five things to know about him...

1. Connelly is a Baltimore native who transferred to Catholic University in D.C. during his junior year in college, graduating from there in 1999. 

2. Connelly began his NBA front office career with the Wizards, starting as an intern in 1996. He spent a decade with the organization, holding such roles as assistant video coordinator, head scout, and director of player personnel. 

3. After leaving the Wizards, Connelly spent three seasons serving as the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. 

4. Connelly joined the Nuggets organization in 2013 as the executive vice president of basketball operations. He was promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2017. Connelly has been part of a Denver front office that has drafted the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris over the last five years. 

5. Connelly has six siblings, including four brothers: Joe, Pat, Dan and Kevin. All four of them have also worked in basketball in some capacity, Joe, Pat, and Dan all following Tim into the NBA ranks. 

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