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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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Wizards Trade Timeline: Sorting through details of scrapped Trevor Ariza trade

Wizards Trade Timeline: Sorting through details of scrapped Trevor Ariza trade

The Washington Wizards’ attempt at upgrading their defense by acquiring veteran forward Trevor Ariza in exchange for key reserves Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers fell through. Various reports on how the three-team trade with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies fell apart includes contradicting details.

The subsequent noise and chaos created confusion over what transpired. As of Friday night all we knew for sure was the no trade was ever reported to the league for approval. Here’s what NBC Sports Washington has learned as of early Saturday morning from league sources.

Quick recap: The Wizards were in talks to add Ariza, who played two seasons with Washington (2012-2014), along with a pair of second-round picks coming from Memphis. Oubre would land with the Grizzlies while the Suns would receive Rivers, Memphis guard Wayne Selden and player with the last name Brooks.

Trade news popped moments after the Wizards’ 125-118 loss at Brooklyn. Washington fell to 11-18 after a fourth consecutive loss. Another lost moment soon followed.

Everything blew up because the Suns believed they were acquiring Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks, a second-year player, while the Grizzlies claim the trade involved journeyman MarShon Brooks. Deals are torpedoed at the last minute from time to time. That happened here except reports leaked publicly with the details, including the Brooks confusion, all of which led to a wild night on social media.

- The Wizards entered into discussions about Ariza over the last 2-3 days. By that point, the Suns and Grizzlies were deep into conversations about a potential move with Memphis concerning Dillon Brooks. The two sides talked at least a half-dozen times over 7-10 days including at least one directl chat with owners of both teams.

With Dillon Brooks currently sidelined by a knee injury, the Suns requested the guard’s physical from the Grizzlies. Enough information and dialogue were exchanged during the process between all three teams that there was clear understanding of the players involved, at least for the Suns and Wizards. It’s possible what all witnessed was a bad case of nerves by the Grizzlies at the buzzer.

Other reports offer similar details, but Memphis general manager Chris Wallace countered the notion of Dillon Brooks’ involvement from the start, according to ESPN.

- As for what comes next, its conceivable talks are revived. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowksi reported Saturday morning that the Wizards and Suns "were exploring whether a deal could be made between the two teams that included Ariza, Oubre and Rivers" with the Grizzlies perhaps still involved.

Players signed as free agents during the offseason, including Ariza, could not be traded until Saturday regardless. Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Phoenix in July.

- That the deal fell through opens the door for other teams interested in Ariza. The Los Angeles Lakers were thought to be among the teams in the mix before Phoenix agreed to the three-way trade. Even if Washington hopes to find a new path, other teams now know the price and could counter with their own offers. 

Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers and Rockets were among the teams now “pushing the Suns” for a trade involving Ariza, who reportedly desires a trade to his native Los Angeles.

- Washington’s interest in Ariza comes on multiple fronts. The 6-foot-8 forward, who would start alongside Otto Porter, is one of the better 3-and-D players in the league, though his shooting numbers were off with the Suns this season. In 26 games this season, Ariza shot a solid 36 percent on 3-pointers, but only 37.0 percent overall while averaging 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Don't panic over Ariza’s shooting numbers for now.  The 5-25 Suns are perhaps the lone team in the league without a true point guard. In Washington Ariza would once again play with Wall, a five-time All-Star and one of the league's top passers. Factor in the presence of Bradley Beal and Porter and Ariza would find himself open on the perimeter often.  

The Wizards rank 29th in points allowed this season with 117.2 points per game. Ariza, 33, proved formidable on the perimeter during the last four seasons with the Rockets. Houston, a Western Conference finalist in 2018 with Ariza, has fallen to 13-14 this season in part because of their defensive shortcomings.

- Washington would reduce its luxury tax payment for the second time in the last week. Salaries for Rivers, another expiring contract, and Oubre combined for approximately $860,000 less than Ariza’s $15 million deal. That works out to around $2.1 million savings. Washington previously saved around $4.7 million by trading Jason Smith. The Wizards would have remained $5 million over the luxury tax in this failed scenario.

The trade would not shed major long-term salary, however. The Wizards are currently over the projected 2019-20 salary cap with only five players under contract. The Ariza deal would help the team keep playoff hopes alive this season and save some money in the process.

- Lastly,  the Wizards are expected to practice Saturday. We’ll see what happens.

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Failed Trevor Ariza and Kelly Oubre trade reveals Wizards' cards

Failed Trevor Ariza and Kelly Oubre trade reveals Wizards' cards

Through an hour-long saga on Friday night, a would-be trade that didn't happen and produced an epic live story arc on Twitter, the Wizards' immediate plans were essentially leaked for everyone to see. The trade may have fallen through, but the Wizards' cards have been shown.

Based on the reported structure of this deal, and their targeting of Trevor Ariza, it's clear the Wizards would like to add a wing defender, so badly they are willing to part with two key members of their rotation. That, and they want to save some money.

To bring in Ariza, the Wizards were about to jettison both Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers, guys with solidified roles on the team. 

Oubre was a first-round pick in 2015. He is putting up career-best numbers and is fifth on the team in minutes. He is a restricted free agent this summer and could, in theory, present a cheaper long-term option at small forward than Otto Porter Jr.

But the Wizards were about to give him up, along with another valuable piece, for a 33-year-old Ariza who is shooting just 37.9 percent this season. Oubre, it appears, is not a part of the Wizards' future. 

Though it was unlikely Rivers would stay beyond this season, he logs a lot of minutes for them as a backup guard. Rivers is their primary backup shooting guard and swings over to point guard in a pinch, like when John Wall is injured.

That the Wizards were willing to give up both players for one guy, and one on an expiring deal worth $15 million, shows they see both Oubre and Rivers as expendable.

There is also an indication here of just how desperate the Wizards are to address their shortcomings. Ariza would have helped in three important areas that have put the Wizards in a bind this season. He would give them a boost on defense, in rebounding and as a locker room leader.

Though Ariza isn't the 27-year-old bulldog the Wizards had when he played in Washington five years ago, he would have stepped right in as arguably their best defensive player. As recently as last season, Ariza was a difference maker as a perimeter pest for the Rockets.

Rebounding continues to be a major problem for the Wizards and Ariza, though not a big man roaming the paint, can pull in five or six boards a game. He would also give them a tone-setting, tough veteran with a blue-collar approach on the defensive end.

There were also some important financial implications of this deal. The Wizards obviously are trying to shed some salary, as they showed with the Jodie Meeks and Jason Smith deals earlier this season. They are in the luxury tax and, though this deal wouldn't have made a major impact, it would have helped.

Ariza's $15 million deal would be about $860,000 cheaper than Rivers and Oubre combined. Add in the luxury tax penalty and they would save about $2.1 million in total. They would still be about $5.4 million over the luxury tax threshold with plenty of work to do to get under. 

The Wizards have carried one of the highest payrolls in the league this season. Currently, they rank sixth among NBA teams with $130 million committed. It's much harder to justify paying that much money when the team is underachieving.

The Wizards have some specific goals and now they have been made public. Surely, they will still aim to address them. They will just have to do so in a different way.

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