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Wizards have tempting options with Trevor Ariza if interested at NBA trade deadline

Wizards have tempting options with Trevor Ariza if interested at NBA trade deadline

By Ben Standig and Chase Hughes

The Wizards will not be tanking.

We can assume by that Wizards owner Ted Leonsis means the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline will be pretty quiet for Washington.

But it doesn’t mean teams won’t be calling - especially those looking at two-way perimeter players like Trevor Ariza.

Washington only acquired Ariza in mid-December from Phoenix in exchange for two of its better trade assets, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers. The move signaled a playoff push, but also the hope of a reunion with Ariza beyond this season.

Even before Leonsis’ comments, sources to NBC Sports Washington coupled with other factors indicated the Wizards’ plan to keep Ariza for the remainder of the season, despite the impact of John Wall’s season-ending heel surgery.

There is unequivocally a seller’s market for any team focused on the future -- and willing to take on additional salary. Including Washington, 25 of the 30 teams are in position for a playoff berth less than one month before the trade deadline.

“The Western Conference is an arms race,” said a league source. Of the 15 teams, 13 are within five games of a playoff berth.

Five clear contenders exist in the Eastern Conference race. Six teams vie for the final three spots, including Washington.

And there’s already been a flurry of activity this season.

Milwaukee, one of those East heavyweights, made an aggressive move in December. The three-team trade involving Cleveland that brought Sam Dekker to Washington also set the bar for acquisition cost.

In exchange for guard George Hill and Dekker, Cleveland received a 2021 first and second round pick from Milwaukee, guard Matthew Dellavedova and forward John Henson. Dellavedova’s contract includes $9.6 million in annual salary through 2019-20. Henson receives $11.3 million and $10.4 in 2019-20.

“[The Cavaliers] actually like Dellavedova, but it should be clear to get a first even from a contender you'll have to take on some salary,” a former NBA front office executive told NBC Sports Washington.

The Brooklyn Nets obtained a first-round selection from Washington in 2016 by taking on the remaining three-plus seasons of Andrew Nicholson’s $26 million contract. That pick turned into a shot-blocking center, Jarrett Allen.

“That's really what the calculus is now. Is your guy on a one-year rental good enough to give you a first?” the former front office executive continued. “Probably not – but the Wizards have one of them in Trevor Ariza that might have that much cache at the trade deadline. I would hold him until the very last minute and see which of the contenders got the most desperate.”

So who would be interested in Ariza? Wing-needy New Orleans faces pressure putting a winner around Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles Lakers, the favorites for Ariza before the Wizards swooped in, slipped in the Western Conference standings with LeBron James sidelined. Golden State, Philadelphia, Houston and Portland are logical fits.

Trade bait like Rockets guard Brandon Knight ($15.6 million salary in 2019-20) and Blazers forward Moe Harkless ($11.5 million) offer potential, injury risk and needed salary to match Ariza’s. Taking on their money also would mean potentially landing a first-round pick.

“Those are the types of deals [the Wizards] need to identify,” the former front office executive said. “Somebody they believe has upside with length and athleticism, who plays the game the way it’s played now and who's on a longer deal than the team that's paying him wants to [spend].”

Even acquiring second-round picks works for the Wizards, who are without any until 2023.

Adding salary at the deadline presents an both opportunity and complications, with Washington already above the projected $109 million salary cap and only five players under contract.

Beyond hopes of re-signing Ariza, two restricted free agents, guard Tomas Satoransky and center Thomas Bryant are poised for raises.

Green, an athletic power forward with NBA Finals experience playing on a veteran minimum contract, is having a career-best shooting campaign from all angles.

Some team seeking frontcourt depth could take a flyer on Morris even though the 6-foot-10 forward won’t return from his neck injury until at least a week after the trading deadline.

Ariza had 20 points and 12 rebounds Monday in Washington’s 101-87 win over Detroit as the Wizards moved into a ninth-place tie with the Pistons.

“Trevor has come in and made a statement of who he is as a player,” coach Scott Brooks said pre-game, “and he's done a good job of helping us leading our team.”

Maybe the Wizards add depth in the post-deadline buyout market. For now, Washington appears content with the current group.

“Bradley Beal told me, ‘We got enough. We’re going to make the playoffs. We’re not going to let you down,’ ” Leonsis told reporters in London. “So who am I to change the goals? We said, ‘No excuses.’ It would be easy to say we have so many players out injured, but we’re not going to do that. We’re not letting anybody off the hook. We got to make the playoffs.”

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Scott Brooks on guarding Michael Jordan: 'He probably felt sorry for me'

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Scott Brooks on guarding Michael Jordan: 'He probably felt sorry for me'

With 26 combined NBA seasons, Scott Brooks has both played and coached with and against some of the greatest players in basketball history -- some who have long since been inducted into the Hall of Fame and some who certainly will be. He remembers one opponent in particular, back when he was a player, that made him starstruck during game action.

Brooks was a rookie when a defensive switch put him on an island against Michael Jordan, who, at 25 years old, was already a reigning MVP.

"I remember it almost like it was in slow motion. I said, 'I cannot believe I'm guarding Michael Jordan.' I said that like literally to myself as I'm guarding him," Brooks told NBC Sports Washington.

Jordan, Brooks said, showed mercy on him.

"The greatest thing is, he knew he could do whatever he wanted to do, but he just made a simple pass to the next guy over. He didn't even try to score on me. So that's my claim to fame," Brooks said.

Brooks played against Jordan 20 times in his career, and his teams actually fared quite well, all things considered. Brooks went 7-9 in the regular season across his stints with the Sixers, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Rockets. The playoffs were a different story. Jordan took those 3-1 and happened to outscore Brooks by exactly 40 points per game.

What Brooks remembers most of all about playing against Jordan was his defense. Most think of Jordan as a scorer, but he won the defensive player of the year award for the 1987-88 season and was a nine-time All-Defense selection. He also led the NBA in steals three times.

"I just remember how intimidating he was on the defensive end. Everybody talks about his offense, and rightfully so. The guy was probably the greatest offensive player. But his defense was intimidating for a point guard," Brooks said. 

"A lot of times your entry pass to the offense was to the two, to the off-guard. It was nerve-racking making that pass because you knew he was lurking in the weeds, and he was gonna jump out and take the ball. He challenged passes. It's hard to get guys to challenge shots, and he would challenge passes. That's how good he was."

Most of the legendary stories about playing against Jordan deal with his trash-talking. There are countless tales, including one told by Chris Webber to the Dan Patrick Show in 2013. Webber was on the Washington Bullets when they faced the Bulls in the first round of the 1997 playoffs.

According to Webber, Jordan walked into the Bullets' locker room before Game 1 with a lit cigar and asked the team: "'Who's going to check me tonight?'" He then had a lit cigar again before Game 3 as the Bullets got off the bus, and he was standing next to a black Ferrari with Scottie Pippen. Webber said Jordan was "letting us know that he's the Red Auerbach before the game even started. It was almost like 'I lit the cigar. I'm celebrating already. This is just a formality, you guys getting on the court tonight.'"

That is vicious stuff and Brooks said he was spared from it. Jordan apparently set his trash-talking sights on the bigger fish in the sea.

"He never trash-talked me, but I don't think I was ever a concern for him," Brooks said with a smile. "I don't think I could ever get under his skin anyway. Why would he ever want to trash-talk me? He probably felt sorry for me."

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis talks Dwyane Wade, still undecided on offseason moves

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Wizards owner Ted Leonsis talks Dwyane Wade, still undecided on offseason moves

WASHINGTON -- Ted Leonsis had a front row seat to two converging storylines.

The Wizards owner was among throngs inside Capital One Arena appreciating Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade’s final game in Washington.

Leonsis also recognized the likely last gasp for his team’s playoff hopes came up short.

“They’ll make the playoffs. It doesn’t look like we’ll make the playoffs now,” Leonsis said to NBC Sports Washington following the Wizards’ loss Saturday night.

 “Hope [Dwyane] plays well,” Leonsis continued. “We’ll have to figure out what to do in the off-season.”

The loss dropped the Wizards (30-44) 6 ½ games back of the Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington only has eight regular-season games remaining.

Earlier this season Leonsis said organizational changes are in play should the Wizards fail to reach their goals, which included reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons.

Asked for his current thoughts on any off-season changes, Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington, “Don’t know yet. Let’s see how they do out West. It was disappointing. We were trying to catch [Miami].”

The Wizards embark on a four-game Western Conference road trip starting Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite any frustration with the game’s conclusion and the season at-large, Leonsis appreciated Wade’s gusto on his way out. 

The 16-year veteran and 13-time All-Star announced his retirement before the season. Wade, 37, looked anything but over-the-hill late against the Wizards.

Having turned into Miami’s closer after the All-Star break, Wade scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Heat (36-37) fended off several Wizards rallies.

“Kind of historic, right? (Wild) that Dwyane Wade beat us tonight,” Leonsis said. “What a career, what a game. Just everything about the way he plays is beautiful. He’s really great.”

Leonsis remarked the referees overlooked an apparent traveling violation from Wade in the third quarter.

“We wanted to beat them. They played better. The no-call on Dwyane on the travel was apropos. I thought he took five steps. You say, ‘Well, that’s when you’re a Hall of Famer you get that respect,” Leonsis said respectfully. “But, good for him.”

Miami moved one game ahead of idle ninth-place Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings.

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