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Pacers hand the Wizards their 9th loss in 12 games as playoff hopes dim

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Pacers hand the Wizards their 9th loss in 12 games as playoff hopes dim

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 119-112 on Saturday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. For the Wizards to make the postseason, a goal they have maintained despite their salary-shedding trades at the deadline, it may end up requiring a modern basketball miracle.

Because they just keep on sliding, unable to stop the bleeding that began before the All-Star break and has persisted afterward. With their loss to the Pacers on Saturday night, the Wizards have dropped nine of their last 12 games. 

That leaves them at a season-worst 12 games under .500. They are in a tailspin and have two good teams awaiting them on their upcoming road trip in the Nets and Celtics. The odds it gets worse from here are good.

2. The more the Wizards trip over themselves on defense, the more their offseason priorities are becoming clear. This team needs a major overhaul defensively and should make that their focus in free agency, trades and the draft. Get someone who can protect the rim, guys who can rebound and some guards who can cover lots of ground on the perimeter.

The Wizards have no defensive identity. They lack players who are committed to closing out on three-point shots and who show toughness in traffic. Many of the trades the Wizards made this season were designed to change that, but they haven't done enough.

Not everyone is at fault. Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza still bring it on most possessions, but they can't cover up an overall lack of ability on the defensive end.

It's a problem now and it could be worse next year if the front office doesn't fix it. At some point next season, they will get John Wall back, but he will be returning from Achilles surgery. It might be very difficult for him to stay in front of NBA point guards at first. The Wizards need to build a structure that minimizes the limitations he will likely initially have.

Though it's a different situation, the Pacers could be seen as an example. They have Bojan Bogdanovic, who was a defensive liability in Washington. But on the floor with four good defenders, his shortcomings aren't as noticeable.

They have enough good defenders to play him heavy minutes, yet still rank No. 1 in points allowed and No. 2 in defensive efficiency. The Wizards should flood their roster with defense-first players and try to follow the same model this summer.

3. Speaking of Bogdanovic, the man once again made easy work of his former team. He knocked down outside shots and got by his defenders with surprising ease. The Wizards knew Bogdanovic as a shooter, not a slasher. In this game, he did both and scored 18 points on 8-for-15 from the field.

Bogdanovic has been enjoying a lot of success this season, now as the top scorer on the Pacers, who rank third in the East. Victor Oladipo went out and he stepped up to fill the void as their offensive leader.

The Wizards' decision to let him walk in free agency and re-sign Otto Porter Jr. has been second-guessed and debated. But the fact he is playing this well and they don't have either Porter or Kelly Oubre Jr. to show for it is really something. It wasn't that long ago they had all three.

4. There was a change in the Wizards' starting lineup, as Thomas Bryant was pushed to the bench and Bobby Portis took his place at center. Head coach Scott Brooks explained the move pregame as partly because they want to evaluate their new players, including Portis, and this is just a continuation of his experimenting with the rotation.

Though Portis started hot, Bryant seemed to respond better to the move. He ended up with 23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.

5. The Wizards were completely dominated at the power forward spot. Both Jeff Green (four points) and Jabari Parker (12 points) struggled, while Thaddeus Young (22 points) and Domantas Sabonis (13 points, 11 rebounds) of the Pacers went off.

Parker had a particularly rough night. He had five turnovers in his first 11 minutes.

Keep in mind these frontcourt problems for the Wizards came in a game Myles Turner didn't play due to injury.

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An important summer of decisions for the Wizards, from free agents to Scott Brooks

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An important summer of decisions for the Wizards, from free agents to Scott Brooks

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. 3: WHICH FREE AGENTS AND COACHES WILL RETURN?

The Wizards enter this summer with only six players under contract for the 2019-20 season and that includes Jabari Parker's team option worth $20 million that is certain to be declined. With Parker accounted for, that essentially gives them eight impending free agents to decided on.

Eight players is more than half of a 15-man NBA roster and that is not to mention Dwight Howard's player option worth $5.6 million. If he opts out, they could have nine open spots.

Whomever the Wizards choose to replace Ernie Grunfeld as team architect will determine who will stay and who will go. Before they make that call, and they remain relatively early in the process, it is difficult to project which players will be back.

If they promote senior VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard from interim general manager to long-term status, that will mean a different course than if they go completely outside of the organization. Everyone has their own philosophies and a brand new voice would have no ties to those currently on the roster.

The same could apply to the coaching staff. Head coach Scott Brooks was not assured of his return at the end of the season and owner Ted Leonsis indicated that would be up to the next GM.

As far as the players go, each will present pros and cons. Some have more upside while some are older. Some will be more expensive to retain while some might be worth bringing back based on their relative cost.

Some could also depend on what the Wizards accomplish in the draft. They have the sixth-best odds and could luck into a top-four pick. Most mock drafts have this year's class top-heavy with wings and forwards. A top pick could affect how they view others at the same position.

Here is a look at each of the Wizards' free agents...

Tomas Satoransky, PG (RFA): Satoransky has a good chance of coming back because he can be a restricted free agent and most teams would like to have a player like him. He's versatile, committed on defense and an unselfish passer.

If Sheppard assumes the full-time GM role, expect signing Satoransky before he hits restricted free agency to be a top priority. Even if an outside person takes over, Satoransky could very well still come back. But what could end Satoransky's time in Washington is his price tag. Will he get starting point guard money, or will he be had at a lower price?

Thomas Bryant, C (RFA): Like Satoransky, Bryant may be immune from a new GM wanting to move on and make change for the sake of change. The reasons to bring him back far outweigh the reasons not to. He's only 21 (he turns 22 in July) and has obvious potential. He's a young big man who gives an honest effort every night and has a great attitude. Those guys don't grow on trees.

Bryant also loves playing in Washington. But as a restricted free agent, he could field some nice offers and cash in on what was a breakout year. As a former second round pick with only two years of NBA experience, his contract situation could also be very complicated.  

If Sheppard takes the reins moving forward, signing Bryant will be a major goal. But even if someone from the outside comes in, it seems likely the Wizards will make an effort to keep him.

Jabari Parker, PF: Parker really genuinely enjoyed playing in Washington and would like to return. He proved a good fit offensively as a complement to Bradley Beal and has potential to get better at only 24 years old.

But Parker's price will be important and difficult to gauge until he starts talking to teams. Will anyone pay him $10 million-plus annually? It's really hard to tell based on how his stock has fallen and his injury history. Also, a new GM could choose to move on in favor of defense or something else.

Bobby Portis, PF/C (RFA): Portis is likely to be the most expensive of all of the Wizards' free agents to keep. The fact he can be a restricted free agent helps their cause, but he is reportedly looking for upwards of $16 million annually and it's just hard to see the Wizards paying that.

Now, Portis may also have the highest upside of any of these guys. He's only 24, is fast, can rebound and shoot. In fact, he can shoot very well for a big man and could turn into one of the more accurate stretch-fours in the league. But is that enough to pay him a big deal?

Trevor Ariza, SF: The biggest questions for Ariza's future center around price, whether the new GM wants to win now and whether Ariza wants to play for a contender. He made $15 million this past season which would be way too much for the Wizards to pay to bring him back. If that price comes down considerably for a guy who turns 34 in June, then maybe. 

But if a new GM wants to tear it all down and start over and sees missing the playoffs next season as not the worst thing, Ariza wouldn't help that cause. And Ariza may very well want to chase another ring this summer, something he couldn't do in Washington. That said, as he moves into his mid-30s, money may be the most important priority, as he only has so much time left to make an NBA salary.

Sam Dekker, PF (RFA): Dekker was in and out of the rotation, but overall played some of the best basketball of his young career so far during his four months with the Wizards. Helping his cause to return are a few things. For one, he is young and turns 25 in May. Secondly, he might be cheap and the Wizards will need some inexpensive players to fill roster spots next season.

Granted, a new GM from outside of the organization could want to clear out anyone that they can in order to start over with their own players. Dekker could be seen as expendable.

Chasson Randle, PG (RFA): For Randle, it is much of the same as Dekker. He's a young player with some upside to get better and he's not going to cost much. That is extra important for him as a point guard, it would seem, with John Wall set to miss most of, if not all of, next season due to injury. They can only apply so many resources to the position.

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How the Wizards' new GM could shape the organization's future this summer

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How the Wizards' new GM could shape the organization's future 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. 2: HOW WILL THE NEW GM PUT THEIR STAMP ON THE ORGANIZATION?

Predicting which direction the Wizards will go this offseason when it comes to trades and free agency is a pointless exercise right now, as nothing can be projected until we know who will be in charge of the front office. Owner Ted Leonsis, with help from consultant Mike Forde, is still in the evaluation process of his organization, top-to-bottom. They have yet to begin interviewing candidates to replace dismissed team president Ernie Grunfeld.

Once Leonsis makes that hire, the future will become a little more clear, though any new GM may take time to truly make their mark. The Wizards have limited financial flexibility and only one draft pick. It may be a year or two before the roster truly feels like theirs.

That said, by the end of this summer, we should know plenty about what makes the new team architect tick. They will explain their philosophy at an introductory press conference and demonstrate it in decisions they make. 

The most telling in the short-term will be how they handle the large group of players set to hit free agency. That list includes Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, Thomas Bryant, Jeff Green, Sam Dekker and Chasson Randle. There is also Jabari Parker, who has a $20 million team option for 2019-20 that is a lock to be declined, no matter who takes over.

If the Wizards move forward with interim GM Tommy Sheppard, who was Grunfeld's No. 2, that likely means Satoransky and Bryant are coming back. They are both restricted free agents and Sheppard was integral in acquiring them. 

He scouted Satoransky as a teenager and helped convince him to leave Europe for the NBA. He had a first round grade on Bryant when he came out of Indiana in the 2017 draft and took a strong stance in favor of claiming him as soon as the Lakers put him on waivers last summer.

Sheppard staying in place could also increase the likelihood Ariza, Parker and Portis return, though any of those three would have to be for the right price. A new GM could conceivably want to clear those players out and bring in his own guys.

Also telling will be how the new front office handles Bradley Beal's contract in the event he makes All-NBA and qualifies for a supermax. It projects to be worth about $194 million over four years, a ton of money to commit with John Wall already signed to a supermax that begins next season. If it comes to that, perhaps the new GM will determine a trade is the best course of action, to turn one player into multiple assets and rebuild for the future.

Also on the docket will be Ian Mahinmi's contract. The Wizards can either ride out the final year of his deal and shed $15.5 million off the books next summer, or use the stretch provision to spread that money out over the next three seasons and free up about $10.3 million more to work with this summer.

A major decision for the new GM will be the Wizards' first round pick this June. They have the sixth-best lottery odds and will know their selection on May 14. If they get lucky and land the No. 1 pick, there will be no mystery, as Zion Williamson is the clear-cut star of this class. But any other pick will require a difficult decision, including whether to draft a point guard with Wall under contract for the next four years.

If the Wizards do not find lottery luck and vault into the top four, it would probably be smart to trade back. They have a dearth of draft assets and a new GM will likely want more of them. This year's draft class doesn't appear to be a deep one. Trading back from eighth, for example, to pick up an extra first or a pair of second rounders might be the move to make.

There are other ways the new GM can shape the organization's philosophy, ones that will be less noticeable to the public. They could either invest more or differently in analytics, for example. 

Though they have a fairly robust operation led by VP of basketball analytics Brett Greenberg, a sharp, young Duke grad who may someday be a GM himself, and though they also use outside consultants, there are other teams (like the Sixers) that employ more people with that focus.

Also, Greenberg oversees salary cap management as well. Perhaps a new GM has expertise in that realm or adds staff with those duties.

Speaking of staff decisions, there will also be one made about head coach Scott Brooks. His status is currently in limbo.

Even with little resources to overhaul the Wizards' roster in a major way this summer, the franchise is about to undergo significant long-term change. The next few months will give everyone the first major signs of what is up ahead.

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