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Ernie Grunfeld confirms John Wall's Achilles injury changed Wizards' plans

Ernie Grunfeld confirms John Wall's Achilles injury changed Wizards' plans

The slip changed the plan for Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld and the organization.

As the NBA trade deadline week approached, Washington expected quiet. The team improved considerably after the opening weeks when frustration ruled and losses piled up. Perhaps some moves on the margins to reduce their luxury tax payment or tweak the roster.

Though already dealing with the absence of five-time All-Star John Wall for the season following left heel surgery, the chance for a postseason berth remained. Expectations put Wall back on the court for the start of next season. Though salary cap and roster concerns existed, the core pieces from recent successes would return. Compete now, seek needed changes during the off-season.

Then came the slip. There went the quiet

Wall suffered a ruptured left Achilles on Jan. 28 with a fall in his home. He told the team orthopedist a day or two after. Further examination revealed the rupture -- and created a new timeline.

Wall would remain sidelined for approximately 12 months and possibly the entire 2019-20 season. The update had the Wizards shelving their plan.

"We felt that with John's injury situation we had to adjust our thinking,” Grunfeld told NBC Sports Washington Thursday evening shortly after the deadline passed.

Wall’s fall was not the first misstep. Washington reached the postseason in four of the prior five seasons, but previous transactional missteps created future financial and roster concerns. The cumulative effect led to the deadline maneuvers.

The Wizards adjusted their thinking, their roster and their financial “flexibility” with two trades Wednesday that shipped out their long-time starting forward tandem of Otto Porter and Markieff Morris.

Porter, the no. 3 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, was shipped to the Chicago Bulls for forwards Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and a 2023 second-round selection.

Trading the team’s highest paid player with $55 million remaining on his contract created ample future cap space where none existed. Combined with savings on Morris’ deal to New Orleans, Washington eliminated its potential luxury tax payment.

Dealing Porter did something else: Removed a player once thought central to the team’s future.

“We drafted Otto. He improved every year. He’s a true professional, a great teammate,” Grunfeld said. “It’s always disappointing to spend five or six years with a player, develop not only a professional but a personal relationship. That part of it is very difficult. I’m proud of what he accomplished and what kind of person he is.”

Washington shipped Morris, one of three unrestricted free agents traded at the deadline, and a 2023 second-round selection to New Orleans for guard Wesley Johnson’s expiring contract. Morris remains sidelined with a neck injury. The power forward last played Dec. 26.

The selection acquired from Chicago is Washington’s only second-round pick until 2023.

The other two UFA forwards, Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green, remain on the roster for reasons short and long-term. NBC Sports Washington reported Wednesday that the Wizards intend to keep both players with the hopes of re-signing this summer.

Grunfeld cited value in their leadership and ability to help the Wizards remain competitive this season among the reasons the team passed on trading the veteran pair.

Parker, the no. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and Portis, a restricted free agent this summer, join the frontcourt this season. Hypothetically both have a chance over the remaining 28 games for the 22-32 Wizards to show they are potential pieces for the new plan, especially the 6-foot-10 Portis.

Despite Parker’s scoring talents, the Wizards are not expected to pick up the $20 million team option for the 2019-20 season.  

“The deal covers a lot of different things for us,” Grunfeld said. “It covers some of the goals we wanted to accomplish. Stay competitive. Gives us flexibility moving forward and get some young players we can look at that could be part of that core moving forward.”



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Scott Brooks on guarding Michael Jordan: 'He probably felt sorry for me'


Scott Brooks on guarding Michael Jordan: 'He probably felt sorry for me'

With 26 combined NBA seasons, Scott Brooks has both played and coached with and against some of the greatest players in basketball history -- some who have long since been inducted into the Hall of Fame and some who certainly will be. He remembers one opponent in particular, back when he was a player, that made him starstruck during game action.

Brooks was a rookie when a defensive switch put him on an island against Michael Jordan, who, at 25 years old, was already a reigning MVP.

"I remember it almost like it was in slow motion. I said, 'I cannot believe I'm guarding Michael Jordan.' I said that like literally to myself as I'm guarding him," Brooks told NBC Sports Washington.

Jordan, Brooks said, showed mercy on him.

"The greatest thing is, he knew he could do whatever he wanted to do, but he just made a simple pass to the next guy over. He didn't even try to score on me. So that's my claim to fame," Brooks said.

Brooks played against Jordan 20 times in his career, and his teams actually fared quite well, all things considered. Brooks went 7-9 in the regular season across his stints with the Sixers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Rockets. The playoffs were a different story. Jordan took those 3-1 and happened to outscore Brooks by exactly 40 points per game.

What Brooks remembers most of all about playing against Jordan was his defense. Most think of Jordan as a scorer, but he won the defensive player of the year award for the 1987-88 season and was a nine-time All-Defense selection. He also led the NBA in steals three times.

"I just remember how intimidating he was on the defensive end. Everybody talks about his offense, and rightfully so. The guy was probably the greatest offensive player. But his defense was intimidating for a point guard," Brooks said. 

"A lot of times your entry pass to the offense was to the two, to the off-guard. It was nerve-racking making that pass because you knew he was lurking in the weeds, and he was gonna jump out and take the ball. He challenged passes. It's hard to get guys to challenge shots, and he would challenge passes. That's how good he was."

Most of the legendary stories about playing against Jordan deal with his trash-talking. There are countless tales, including one told by Chris Webber to the Dan Patrick Show in 2013. Webber was on the Washington Bullets when they faced the Bulls in the first round of the 1997 playoffs.

According to Webber, Jordan walked into the Bullets' locker room before Game 1 with a lit cigar and asked the team: "'Who's going to check me tonight?'" He then had a lit cigar again before Game 3 as the Bullets got off the bus, and he was standing next to a black Ferrari with Scottie Pippen. Webber said Jordan was "letting us know that he's the Red Auerbach before the game even started. It was almost like 'I lit the cigar. I'm celebrating already. This is just a formality, you guys getting on the court tonight.'"

That is vicious stuff and Brooks said he was spared from it. Jordan apparently set his trash-talking sights on the bigger fish in the sea.

"He never trash-talked me, but I don't think I was ever a concern for him," Brooks said with a smile. "I don't think I could ever get under his skin anyway. Why would he ever want to trash-talk me? He probably felt sorry for me."


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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis talks Dwyane Wade, still undecided on offseason moves

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis talks Dwyane Wade, still undecided on offseason moves

WASHINGTON -- Ted Leonsis had a front row seat to two converging storylines.

The Wizards owner was among throngs inside Capital One Arena appreciating Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade’s final game in Washington.

Leonsis also recognized the likely last gasp for his team’s playoff hopes came up short.

“They’ll make the playoffs. It doesn’t look like we’ll make the playoffs now,” Leonsis said to NBC Sports Washington following the Wizards’ loss Saturday night.

 “Hope [Dwyane] plays well,” Leonsis continued. “We’ll have to figure out what to do in the off-season.”

The loss dropped the Wizards (30-44) 6 ½ games back of the Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington only has eight regular-season games remaining.

Earlier this season Leonsis said organizational changes are in play should the Wizards fail to reach their goals, which included reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons.

Asked for his current thoughts on any off-season changes, Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington, “Don’t know yet. Let’s see how they do out West. It was disappointing. We were trying to catch [Miami].”

The Wizards embark on a four-game Western Conference road trip starting Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite any frustration with the game’s conclusion and the season at-large, Leonsis appreciated Wade’s gusto on his way out. 

The 16-year veteran and 13-time All-Star announced his retirement before the season. Wade, 37, looked anything but over-the-hill late against the Wizards.

Having turned into Miami’s closer after the All-Star break, Wade scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Heat (36-37) fended off several Wizards rallies.

“Kind of historic, right? (Wild) that Dwyane Wade beat us tonight,” Leonsis said. “What a career, what a game. Just everything about the way he plays is beautiful. He’s really great.”

Leonsis remarked the referees overlooked an apparent traveling violation from Wade in the third quarter.

“We wanted to beat them. They played better. The no-call on Dwyane on the travel was apropos. I thought he took five steps. You say, ‘Well, that’s when you’re a Hall of Famer you get that respect,” Leonsis said respectfully. “But, good for him.”

Miami moved one game ahead of idle ninth-place Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings.