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Markieff Morris on entering contract year, Dwight Howard and LeBron James leaving the East

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Markieff Morris on entering contract year, Dwight Howard and LeBron James leaving the East

So far, this offseason is going much better for Markieff Morris than the last one. Last summer, Morris was rehabbing a sprained left ankle injury after the 2016-17 playoffs and due for sports hernia surgery just before the 2017-18 season began. This summer, he has a clean bill of health.

That's good news for Morris beyond the obvious. He is gearing up for the final year of his contract with a lot of money on the line. His health will be paramount as he aims for the third contract of his career.

The last time Morris was in this position, he agreed to a deal he would later regret. The Phoenix Suns convinced Morris to take a discount in order to keep playing with his twin brother, Marcus. Then, the Suns traded him to the Wizards and Morris has since felt betrayed.

The 2018-19 season is arguably the biggest of Morris' career in part for that reason. He has a chance to get a lucrative long-term deal and he knows more than most players that these opportunities can't be taken for granted.

"I’m finally 100 percent, so I feel good," Morris told NBC Sports Washington at his annual backpack giveaway in Southeast Washington on Saturday. "My play is gonna speak for itself. The most important thing we’ve gotta do is win as a team. That’s the most important thing."

Morris' take on his contract year is what head coach Scott Brooks told everyone to expect just weeks prior when addressing the media at Dwight Howard's introductory press conference. Brooks was asked about the Wizards' unusual amount of players in contract years and cited Morris as an example of a player who doesn't obsess over his individual stats.

Morris says this offseason hasn't featured much out of the ordinary. It is his first full summer as a father, so that has been different. He is also doing a lot of boxing while training for the new year in Philadelphia.

Things will surely be different for Morris once training camp begins, as he has a new teammate in the Wizards' frontcourt. Howard will start at center alongside Morris and that will affect his role on both ends of the floor.

Morris is thrilled to have Howard on board.

"I think it’s a great pickup. Dwight has been a great player his entire career. He averaged [16.6] and [12.5] last year," Morris said. "Every time we played against him he has been a matchup problem for us. I’m excited to have him and welcome him to D.C."

Morris believes Howard will fit "perfect" in the Wizards' locker room, brushing past any talk of chemistry concerns. With Howard in the mix, he likes how the Wizards stack up in the Eastern Conference.

He said the Raptors will be "basically the same" with Kawhi Leonard now instead of DeMar DeRozan. The biggest change he sees will be due to the departure of LeBron James to the West.

"A guy like that, all you can do is tip your hat to. He makes his own decisions and he wants to go play for the Lakers, man. It is what it is. I’m happy that he’s not in the East," Morris said.

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John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall badly wants to win and is sick of perception he cares more about his own stats

John Wall is ready to put the 2017-18 season behind him, behind him like a hapless defender staring at the back of his No. 2 jersey on a fastbreak. 

After missing 41 games due to injuries and falling in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career, the Wizards' All-Star point guard is taking nothing for granted. The 28-year-old believes he's about to lead the most talented team he's ever played on.

Wall has made five All-Star teams and one All-NBA selection. After playing for two seasons without one, he signed a reportedly five-year shoe deal with Adidas in 2018. He has a supermax contract, one that kicks in next season and begins at a projected $37.8 million.

What Wall doesn't have is what he's always wanted most. He wants to win.

The Wizards have made the playoffs four times in his career and reached the second round three times. The Eastern Conference Finals, however, has been elusive.

"I'm the type of guy that wants to have a statue out front. I want to bring a championship here. Those are all the things that I care about," Wall told NBC Sports Washington. "If you're not winning as a group and doing things as a team, then you don't get individual success. That's something that I learned a long time ago."

There was a lot about the 2017-18 season that bothered Wall. In particular, he detested the perception that grew that he was unhappy with the team's success while he was injured. 

During Wall's second injury absence, from late January to late March, the Wizards won five straight games and 10 of 13 with him watching from the sidelines.

Though it ultimately proved to be a mirage, as the Wizards lost 12 of their next 17 that he didn’t play, there were numbers early on that suggested their success was because they passed the ball more frequently without him. Comments from his teammates Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat to reporters and on social media were viewed by some as slights to their point guard.

Wall remained silent at first and a lack of communication between the sides allowed it all to bottle up. He did several interviews, including one with NBC Sports Washington, to give his side of the story and to say it was ridiculous he could be criticized for not being a team player.

That narrative still bothers him.

"Some people mistake me that all I care about is individual stats but that's never been my game," he said. "I don't think a lot of people really get that."

"I love to get assists. I love to get 10 assists before I score 30 points. It's just that I have the ability to do both. A lot of guys never had the ability to be able to do both. It's great to do that, but I feel like if I ain't winning then it don't mean s*** to me."

Wall's numbers are historically good for his age and he is aware of the company he's in. He is one of only four players to average at least 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds per game through their first eight NBA seasons. The other three were Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Chris Paul. Johnson and Robertson are Hall of Famers and Paul will be there someday. 

Statistically, Wall is on a Hall of Fame track, but he wants much more than a plaque in Springfield, Massachusetts.

"I think about all of that. Everybody thinks about the Hall of Fame and being the franchise scoring leader and all that," he said. "I have all of those goals, but it don't mean s*** if you don't win at the end of the day. You can be a loser and have all of these records, but what does that stand for?"

Wall has been relatively fortunate throughout his career when it comes to his health, but his worst injuries have come at inopportune times. In 2015, his Wizards were up 1-0 on the Hawks in the second round of the playoffs when he suffered five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand. That may have cost him a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Last year, Wall's months-long injury saga began when he banged his knee with a Mavericks player in just the 10th game of the season. 

It was a down year for him and the Wizards in a season in which the Cavaliers were vulnerable, the Celtics had major injuries and the Sixers were still learning how to win. If Washington was at full-strength, perhaps they could have taken advantage.

Now, after an offseason that brought newcomers Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green to Washington, and that saw LeBron James leave the Eastern Conference, Wall feels he has a serious opportunity to win.

He just wants to get back to the postseason and take another shot at a deep playoff run he believes he is destined for.

"We had a great chance [in 2017]," he said. "We just s***ed the bed. That's how it goes. I don't think [time is] running out, but teams are getting better."

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Trading Jodie Meeks gives Washington Wizards much-needed salary cap relief

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Trading Jodie Meeks gives Washington Wizards much-needed salary cap relief

With a luxury tax bill of approximately $19 million on the way, the Washington Wizards gave themselves some salary relief on Monday by trading veteran guard Jodie Meeks to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Wizards attached a future second round pick and cash to the deal and in exchange received a future second round pick of their own, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed. ESPN first reported the news.

Though Meeks, 31, was due to make $3.45 million this season, his departure saves the Wizards about $7 million because of projected tax penalties. That's a lot of savings in a deal that got rid of a player who had become expendable.

Meeks had fallen out of favor with the Wizards for a variety of reasons. He was due to serve a 19-game suspension to begin the season due to performance-enhancing drugs. The ban was announced the day before their first round playoff series against the Raptors was set to begin in April.

Meeks also underperformed last season in the first year of his contract with the Wizards and requested a trade in February. This summer, Meeks exercised his player option to remain with the team.

The Wizards were not likely to count on Meeks much at all this season because they traded for Austin Rivers in June to add depth at the shooting guard position. Meeks' role was made clear by the fact he did not appear in any of the Wizards' four preseason games against NBA opponents.

Meeks' tenure in Washington was a significant disappointment. The Wizards signed him last summer in hopes he could shore up the shooting guard spot on their bench. 

Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he never earned the trust of his coaching staff. The Wizards opted to rely more heavily on starter Bradley Beal, who logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player last season.

Now, they are moving on.

Meeks leaving the organization should have little effect on the Wizards, though it does leave them with a hole on their roster that needs to be filled. They currently have 13 players, one below the league minimum. The Wizards now have 14 days to add a 14th player.

They could sign a free agent, convert one of their players on two-way contracts (Devin Robinson and Jordan McRae) or make a trade. The Meeks deal gives them a $3.45 million trade exception.

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