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Wizards could repeat Jordan playbook to bring Raptors’ Ujiri

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Wizards could repeat Jordan playbook to bring Raptors’ Ujiri

Before examining the pursuit of Masai Ujiri or scoffing at the idea of the Raptors executive leaving an NBA Finals team for the Wizards, remember this blast from the past.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis once lured Michael Jordan to Washington.

Not to play, even though the six-time NBA champion eventually came out of retirement for two seasons. Jordan arrived in Jan 2000 to run the Wizards as President of Basketball Operations and part owner.

"[Leonsis] was instrumental in making this happen," Wizards owner Abe Pollin said in January of 2000 at the press conference to introduce Jordan. 

Ignore what followed – zero playoff appearances before Pollin fired Jordan in 2003. Leonsis, then the Capitals owner and minority stakeholder in the Wizards, helped convince the sport's biggest star to become part of his group.

Landing Jordan provided the organization and the local business community with a massive PR and economic jolt.

"Without Ted, it would not have happened,” Pollin said. “Ted was the guy that started all this. Ted was the guy who contacted Michael in the beginning."

Leonsis is the guy who hopes to contact Ujiri at some point after the ongoing NBA Finals conclude about coming to Washington.

To replace the fired Ernie Grunfeld as the organization's President of Basketball Operations? Think bigger.

How about overseeing all of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which includes Capital One Arena, the Washington Capitals and several other team properties, with personal compensation potentially reaching eight figures annually? Maybe an ownership stake in Monumental?

These are among the options in play for Leonsis multiple sources have told NBC Sports Washington, as the search for Grunfeld's replacement closes in on 10 weeks.

NBC Sports Washington was the first to report the potential for a Wizards-Ujiri connection in April. The specific emphasis centered on interest coming from the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year.

While the odds of Ujiri heading to Washington remain long for a variety of issues, the primary assumption league-wide involving the Wizards' long general manager search now involves them waiting out the Raptors' President of Basketball Operations.

The question has been whether the organization makes an aggressive offer to the architect of a Toronto team that won 54 games during the regular season and is one win away from the organization's first NBA championship.

This week, The Athletic reported on the possibility of bold action from Washington and that any decision from Ujiri would not come down to money. Effectively, even if the Wizards meet Ujiri's salary demands the wealthy Raptors ownership group, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, could easily match.

How could the Wizards go beyond money? Perhaps the power and status that comes from being in charge of an organization that, according to figures Leonsis provided Washington Business Journal in December, has a valuation of $3 billion.

Ujiri's views the District as a larger platform for the "Basketball Without Borders" program along with other outside interests, according to sources. Ujiri serves as director of the program that sponsors various basketball camps and coaching clinics in his native Africa.

Washington loves power brokers. This setup could turn Ujiri into one.

It’s worth noting Ujiri's wife grew up in the D.C. area, which is also where his friend, Barack Obama, resides. The former President of the United States attended Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Toronto.

From the Wizards end, they effectively must wait until the NBA Finals conclude before any official dialogue with Ujiri. The wait might end by Monday. Toronto holds a 3-1 lead over Golden State in the best-of-7 NBA Finals.

While the Wizards attempted to land Denver’s Tim Connelly last month and interviewed at least three other candidates twice, they remain without a permanent front office leader since Leonsis fired Grunfeld on April 2.

The Raptors are not obligated to grant another team permission to interview Ujiri. Should Toronto relent and Ujiri looks to bolt, there's still the matter of possible compensation to the Raptors likely in the form of draft picks.

Ujiri could also stay in Toronto especially if the Raptors win the title and star forward Kawhi Leonard agrees to re-sign rather than bolt in free agency this summer. Already one of the league's highest-paid executives, Ujiri’s contract of around $7 million annually runs through the 2020-21 season, according to multiple sources.

Even if all sides agree on compensation, Toronto may not let Ujiri leave until after the June 20 NBA Draft.

Tommy Sheppard, interim head of Washington's front office, is running the team's draft preparation and would likely make any draft day decisions. The Wizards own the ninth overall selection.

Sheppard, former Hawks GM Danny Ferry and Thunder assistant GM Troy Weaver have each met with Leonsis at least twice since Grunfeld's ouster. It's possible that one of them moves to the front of the line should the pursuit of Ujiri crumble.

It's impossible to project plans from the draft to free agency to possibly trading Bradley Beal without knowing who is making the final decisions. What we know is Leonsis once help convince Michael Jordan to join the Wizards. Let's see if he can also get Ujiri to jump, man.

 

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Bradley Beal was excellent again but his biggest play vs. Nets was the game-winning pass

Bradley Beal was excellent again but his biggest play vs. Nets was the game-winning pass

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards beat the Brooklyn Nets 110-106 on Wednesday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down:

1. Two streaks ended for the Wizards on Wednesday night, but they have no problem with the end result.

Bradley Beal did not score 50 points after doing so in two straight games, but the Wizards won against the Brooklyn Nets to break a three-game skid coming out of the All-Star break. After dropping 55 against the Bucks on Monday, Beal said he would rather have the win. He got his wish on Wednesday.

Beal still played very well. He had 30 points to go along with five assists, five rebounds and three steals. Seventeen of his points came in the fourth quarter. 

Beal shot 11-for-24 from the field and 4-for-9 from three. That is an excellent game, even if it was a major drop-off from his previous two in the points department.

Beal's best play was a pass to teammate Jerome Robinson with under 10 seconds to go. Though an unproven player, Robinson was wide open and was able to knock down a go-ahead three. Robinson then grabbed a rebound and made two free throws to seal the victory.

The win pushed the Wizards to 21-36 on the season and it also helped them gain some ground in the playoff race, as the Nets are currently the seventh seed.

2. The Wizards made a lineup change for this game, replacing Ish Smith as the starting point guard with Shabazz Napier, who came over weeks ago in a trade deadline deal. 

The Wizards had lost three games, which may have had something to do with it. But head coach Scott Brooks described the move as more related to Smith's success running the second unit. Smith, of course, has spent most of his time on the bench this season, previously backing up Isaiah Thomas.

And when Thomas was in the fold, it was obvious to most that Smith was the better player, even though he wasn't starting. To his credit, Smith seems to have no problem with either role, just as long as he has one.

3. After two so-so games against the Bulls and Bucks, Rui Hachimura was back to his usual scoring ways with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field. Most of those points came in the midrange and on drives to the rim, the combination which has become his bread-and-butter.

Hachimura, though, didn't score in the fourth quarter. The trend of him starting fast, then slowing down continued.

4. The way Troy Brown Jr.'s minutes were doled out in this game is worth noting. Brown, who is usually one of the first players off the bench as the back-up wing, didn't check in until there was 6:27 left in the second quarter. He ended up playing only 13 minutes, which is more than a few ticks below his 25.5 per game season average.

Even with the roster now nearly healthy, he still usually plays a lot more. This month, for instance, he is averaging 22.2 minutes. 

Even when Brown got in, Brooks was keeping a close eye on him. Late in the first half, right after Brown knocked down a three, Brooks got right out of his seat to yell at Brown about his defensive positioning. It looks like the coach is practicing some tough love for the 20-year-old.

Brown ended up with seven points and three boards.

5. Davis Bertans was back in the lineup after missing the last game with right knee soreness. He played quiet well, too, with 14 points, going 4-for-11 from three-point range.

Thomas Bryant also returned after resting Monday in the second game of a back-to-back due to his recent right foot issues. He had eight points and seven boards.

At this point, it seems like it might be a while before Bryant is fully himself again as he continues to deal with a strict minutes limit.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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WATCH: Wizards' Jerome Robinson hits game-winning three to stun Nets

WATCH: Wizards' Jerome Robinson hits game-winning three to stun Nets

On a night where the Wizards coughed up an 18-point lead and Bradley Beal recorded yet another 30-point performance, second-year guard Jerome Robinson was the hero Wednesday night. 

With all the attention on Beal in the closing seconds, Robinson was left wide open on the left wing with the Wizards down one. 

Despite coming off two straight 50-point games and a couple monster fourth quarters, Beal trusted in his teammate and dished him the ball with the game on the line.

Robinson, who was playing in his seventh game with the Wizards after he was acquired at the trade deadline, did not let Beal down. 

Not only did Robinson hit the big shot, but he secured the rebound on the Nets' final possession and knocked down both free throws to seal it. Clutch. 

It was a much-needed win for the Wizards, who had lost three consecutive games returning from the All-Star break and were at risk of falling too far behind the Magic for the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference. 

Now, they'll go on a crucial west-coast trip to play the Jazz, Warriors, Kings and Trail Blazers that could ultimately decide their postseason fate. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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