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Wizards show creativity in front office shakeup by hiring Sashi Brown from NFL ranks

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Wizards show creativity in front office shakeup by hiring Sashi Brown from NFL ranks

Now that the pieces are falling into place, the Wizards' months-long process to revamp their front office is beginning to make more sense. The outcome was unexpected, but sensible as the Wizards aim to begin a new era while still holding onto some of their own personnel they see value in.

After allowing Tommy Sheppard to run their offseason with an interim tag, it was only logical to promote him long-term, so that's what they did. Yet, they were still able to bring in a collection of new people to change their direction and vision.

The most notable hiring was of Sashi Brown to serve as a senior vice president. But the Wizards also brought in Daniel Medina to improve their medical program and John Thompson III to assist in player development and wellness.

The Wizards deserve some credit for creativity in the end when at times over the past few months it appeared they lacked it. Reports had them trying to poach from other teams and some of their targets seemed entirely unrealistic. They were criticized for not having their own ideas.

But the Wizards were able to find an intriguing executive in Brown, they just had to look outside of their sport. Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis scanned the other major leagues including the NFL, MLB and in European soccer. He found Brown in the football industry, waiting for his next gig after he was fired as executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns in 2017.

It is an outside-the-box decision by Leonsis that parallels what the Browns did back in 2016 when they overhauled their front office and brought in Paul DePodesta from the New York Mets, fresh off a run to the World Series. DePodesta was a longtime baseball executive, having served in a variety of roles including as the GM of the L.A. Dodgers. Though he played football in college, the NFL was not his expertise.

The jury is still out on whether the Browns were smart in going that direction. They are seen as a team on the rise, but have yet to accomplish anything of significance.

Brown, 43, certainly understands how a professional sports organization should work, having served both with the Browns and the Jaguars. But he is not an experienced basketball executive. That presents some risk and probably some learning on the job.

The latter point is important to consider regarding the timeline Brown's addition. In hindsight, the Wizards had good reason to not install their new executive in the middle the offseason bustle. Brown will have some catching up to do first.

Brown has never run an NBA team before, but what he did with the Browns is extra-interesting as for how it could pertain to the Wizards. Brown was known as a Sam Hinkie-like figure in the NFL because of the extensive teardown he orchestrated in Cleveland. The Browns tanked, got super young and accrued as many draft picks as possible.

Like Hinkie, Brown was fired before his work brought dividends. But will he advise the Wizards to follow a similar path? That would seem to put trading Bradley Beal on the table, though Sheppard and Leonsis are not in favor of such a move at this point.

Leonsis has compiled a collection of smart people to run his franchise, though only time to tell whether they are a good fit together. Now there are more cooks in the kitchen and they come from different backgrounds. It is worth noting, however, that Sheppard himself has football roots, having played at New Mexico State University.

What happens if it doesn't work will be interesting. Is Sheppard's fate tied to Brown in any way? How long is their leash?

What is clear is that Leonsis is adding more resources to the Wizards. Fans will appreciate that. Most will also like their significant push into analytics.

And it will likely be appreciated by many that Leonsis is taking a risk in this hire. The nature of the NBA rewards those who swing big, those who are aggressive. With this new front office dynamic, Leonsis believes the Wizards can be factors in free agency next summer.

According to a person familiar with their plans, the Wizards aim to enter next offseason with the cap room and young assets to acquire major difference makers. They want to add pieces of significance around John Wall and Bradley Beal. Brown will help them make their free agent pitch.

The operational word for the Wizards now is 'reboot' and not 'rebuild.' The Wizards see a path to contention that doesn't require an extended period of lottery picks.

Few things in sports offer guarantees and certainly, front office hirings are included. The Wizards, though, are showing some imagination and could be rewarded for it.

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More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

WASHINGTON -- With their regular-season opener set for Wednesday, the Wizards keep getting positive news with the injuries that have plagued them throughout training camp and the preseason. On Monday, both Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles made their practice debuts and Moe Wagner also practiced after getting hurt in the team's last preseason games.

Brown has been out all of preseason due to a strained left calf. Miles has also missed all of preseason after having surgery on his left foot in July. Wagner has been dealing with a bruised back after a collision with Joel Embiid of the Sixers. It sounds like he could be fully cleared soon.

Head coach Scott Brooks tempered expectations on Brown and Miles, noting they did not participate in a full practice and that the regular season is just two days away.

"They went through parts of practice, but not the meat of it, not the bulk of it. But it's a good step," Brooks said.

When asked if Brown and Miles would play on Wednesday when the Wizards battle the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks said he doesn't "anticipate that happening." But for them to get out there at all is a good sign given they are slated to be the top two small forwards on the roster.

With Brown and Miles likely still out for the opener, Brooks may have to go with a big lineup including Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans, or with someone with little NBA experience like Isaac Bonga. He had Bonga start in several preseason games with them out.

For Brown, this has been the longest injury absence of his young career. He had never missed this much time previously at any level.

He was just happy to be back on the court Monday, even if he wasn't yet cleared for contact.

"It's just one of those things where I was itching to get back. A lot of time off, it can be good and back. I just tried to use it as a learning lesson," he said. 

Brown and Miles practicing came one day after point guard Isaiah Thomas practiced fully for the first time since his left thumb surgery in September. With so many players out, Brooks wasn't able to get a full read on his new-look roster during the preseason.

But slowly and surely his players are coming back and it may not be long before the Wizards can suit up with the roster they had in mind during the offseason.

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Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

WASHINGTON -- Garrison Mathews, believe it or not, was not always a shooter. He didn't consider himself one in high school or even early in college. But now, at 22 years old, he has a two-way contract with the Wizards and the primary reason is because of his outside shooting.

Mathews, in a sense, has shot his way to the NBA and is now poised to be the first player in the league ever to come from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

"It's a crazy experience," Mathews said. "I enjoy being able to put Lipscomb on the map a little bit. Obviously, they haven't had much exposure and they've given me a lot. It's nice helping and giving back in a way."

So, how did we get here? Well, it wasn't always going to be about basketball. Mathews comes from Franklin, Tenn., where high school football is king. Mathews' grandfather was on the 1962 national championship team at Ole Miss. Mathews at one point was on track to follow in those footsteps.

He played wide receiver and tight end in high school and still misses the game.

"There's nothing like it," Mathews said of football.

But as he grew to 6-foot-5 with speed and an improving jumpshot, colleges came calling. And, once they did, Mathews made the difficult decision to focus on basketball full-time. 

Through his early years in college, Mathews realized playing in the NBA was a possiblity. So, he grinded through summers, sharpening his jumper. 

Slowly, but surely, they started falling more consistently.

"I don't know, it just kind of happened that way," Mathews said of becoming known for his shooting.

Mathews shot 34.9 percent from the perimeter his freshman year at Lipscomb. By his senior year, he was making 40.3 percent on eight attempts per game.

And it wasn't just the volume or the percentage that improved, it was the variety of shots he felt confident to even try. If anything has stood out about Mathews so far during his brief tenure with the Wizards, it is his ability to make shots without his feet being set.

Mathews made a shot in a preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 7 in which his feet were facing the sideline when he caught the ball off a screen. He turned quickly before rising and knocked it down.

Mathews can straighten out his shooting form mid-air and it's something not many players can do. He has worked on it for years.

"There's a lot of times in my workouts where I'm coming off screens or practicing [dribble hand-offs] where I'm coming off a screen and just jumping in the air. That's part of my regiment when I work out," he said.

Mathews has made shots like that consistently in practice, but doing so in a game is a different story. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has seen plenty of players come along who can't translate what they do in practices to games.

So, he's not ready to crown Mathews as the next J.J. Redick. 

"The percentages will be able to tell us eventually whether those are shots he can make or if we have to have better footwork," Brooks said.

"There's only a few guys that can really square up basically in mid-air and be able to have it. Brad [Beal] has the ability to do that and it took him some time. I don't know if he's one of them, Garrison."

The list of players who make those shots often certainly isn't long. Redick is one, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors can certainly be included. Kyle Korver of the Bucks also comes to mind.

Korver, in fact, spent some time with Mathews before the Wizards' game against Milwaukee on Oct. 13. Mathews says he has long been compared to Korver, so he listened intently to what Korver had to say.

"I appreciated that from him. It meant a lot," Mathews said.

"[He told me that] when he practices, when he does individual stuff, he goes as hard as he can. And then he works on his body almost as much as he does on the court."

Mathews is confident, but also realistic. He said he would like to follow Korver's path, but knows he has a long way to go to carve out a career like Korver has.

"I feel like later in my career I can be a little bit like him. Maybe not as great as him because he's a great shooter," Mathews said. "But it's cool being able to guard somebody that a lot of people compare you to when you were growing up."

Mathews has learned through his development as a shooter that hard work can lead to success and sometimes even in ways that are unexpected. Maybe someday he will be in Korver's shoes, offering advice to a young player looking up to him.

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