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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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5 wings the Wizards could target in NBA free agency including Wilson Chandler and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

5 wings the Wizards could target in NBA free agency including Wilson Chandler and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

The Washington Wizards will not have much money to spend in free agency and still have some of their own players to re-sign, which could affect the positions they target. With that in mind, here are some potential bargain options expected to be available this summer at the wing position...

Wilson Chandler, SF

Age: 32
2018-19 team: Sixers/Clippers
2018-19 salary: $12.8M
2018-19 stats: 6.0 ppg, 1.6 apg, 4.2 rpg, 0.5 spg, 41.8 FG% (2.2/5.4), 37.3 3PT% (1.2/3.1)

Analysis: Chandler is the biggest reach of the group given he's just coming off a four-year deal worth $46.5 million and if he gets anything close to that, he will be too expensive for Washington. But Chandler is also coming off a down year and is now 32 with some injury concerns. Even with the exorbitant spending expected this summer, he's likely in line for a pay cut. If his price comes down, he could be a good option for the Wizards who have a need for physical defense and three-point shooting, two things he would provide.

Darius Miller, SF

Age: 29
2018-19 team: Pelicans
2018-19 salary: $2.2M
2018-19 stats: 8.2 ppg, 2.1 apg, 1.9 rpg, 0.6 spg, 39.0 FG% (2.7/7.0), 36.5 3PT% (1.9/5.3)

Analysis: The biggest selling point for Miller is his three-point shooting. He has shot 38.2 percent from long range in his career and just two years ago, in 2017-18, hit 41.1 percent on 4.4 attempts per game. He is a poor rebounder for his size and isn't great on defense, but he would be inexpensive and has only missed 13 games the past two seasons combined. 

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF

Age: 24
2018-19 team: Nets
2018-19 salary: $2.5M
2018-19 stats: 8.9 ppg, 1.6 apg, 5.3 rpg, 0.7 spg, 41.1 FG% (3.4/8.3), 18.4 3PT% (0.2/0.8)

Analysis: Hollis-Jefferson was on a steady, upward trajectory through his first three seasons, but had a down year in 2018-19 and now will hit free agency unrestricted as the Nets opted not to extend him a qualifying offer. Having a bad walk year could mean he will be signed as a bargain this summer, likely on a short-term deal if he wants to raise his stock and reset for another contract. He has never been a good shooter, but rebounds well for his position and plays fairly good defense. So, he could help the Wizards with some of their most pressing needs.

Justin Anderson, SF

Age: 25
2018-19 team: Hawks
2018-19 salary: $2.5M
2018-19 stats: 3.7 ppg, 0.5 apg, 1.8 rpg, 0.5 spg, 40.8 FG% (1.3/3.3), 31.2 3PT% (0.5/1.6)

Analysis: The Wizards passed on Anderson in the 2015 draft and a lot of fans at the time thought that was a mistake. But in his four NBA seasons, he has yet to find consistency and now hits free agency at 25 and still looking for his niche in the league. He can't shoot and is basically an offensive liability, but has shown flashes on defense and can use his athleticism in transition. He could be thought of as a poor man's Kelly Oubre Jr. and someone who could probably be signed for cheap. Also, he's a local guy so that could make the Wizards appeal to him.

James Ennis, SF

Age: 28 (turns 29 in July)
2018-19 team: Rockets/Sixers
2018-19 salary: $1.6M
2018-19 stats: 6.7 ppg, 0.7 apg, 3.1 rpg, 0.7 spg, 46.9 FG% (2.4/5.1), 35.3 3PT% (0.9/2.7)

Analysis: Ennis turned down his player option to enter free agency after splitting last season with the Rockets and Sixers. He is a decent three-point shooter and rebounder who can play tough defense when he's locked in. The Wizards could see him as a depth option with a lack of players currently penciled in at his position.

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PHOTOS: What the media attention on Rui Hachimura looks like at Wizards workouts

PHOTOS: What the media attention on Rui Hachimura looks like at Wizards workouts

WASHINGTON -- If it wasn't clear on draft night in Brooklyn or the next day at his introductory press conference in Washington, Wizards first round pick Rui Hachimura is a massive deal back in his home country of Japan. He gets the star treatment from Japanese media and that attention has followed him through the first two days of Wizards mini-camp.

Usually, Wizards mini-camp isn't even open to the media. Most years, the Wizards host undrafted players and members of their G-League team with little fanfare as they get set for the Las Vegas Summer League in early July.

But this year has been markedly different with dozens of Japanese reporters and photographers arriving early and staying late, all competing for information about Hachimura to report home to their respective outlets.

While the Wizards' pre-draft workouts, some featuring big-named prospects, had five-to-10 reporters show up to the Wizards' practice facility, the total media contingent probably pushes 50 now.

Here are some photos to put it in perspective...

Here's a photo from Hachimura's press conference on Friday...

On Tuesday at mini-camp, there were two sets of media scrums for Wizards Summer League coach Robert Pack. He first did one with American reporters, then one with those from Japan, who had a lot of questions about one player in particular, of course...

With Hachimura on board, it's a new era for the Wizards when it comes to media attention.

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