TrueHoop: Washington Wizards

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.


Atlanta Hawks


Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.


Charlotte Hornets


Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.


Chicago Bulls


Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.


Cleveland Cavaliers


Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.


Miami Heat


Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.


Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.


New York Knicks


Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.


Philadelphia 76ers


Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.


Toronto Raptors


Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.


Washington Wizards


Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

The Wizards will not go down quietly

May, 15, 2014
May 15
10:05
AM ET
By Conor Dirks
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
John Wall AP Photo/Darron CummingsRound 2 has been a bit of a bummer for John Wall and friends, but the Wizards are putting up a fight.
Sometimes, before shuffling off of this playoff coil, a team will take a last gasp. But rarely is it a full-throated roar.

The Wizards, after an out-of-nowhere 23-point win in Indiana against the best regular-season home team in the NBA, are standing atop their deathbed and ripping out the oxygen tubes.

Marcin Gortat, who became the first Wizards player with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in a playoff game since Moses Malone in 1987, felt far from expired. “At some point, in the middle of the game, it was just fun to be in the game,” Gortat told reporters. “Everything works, you feel immortal.”

Essentially, this is Wizards basketball. Not the blowout of the East’s best regular-season team but the fact that no one saw it coming. At 44-38, the pre-playoff Wizards put every interested heart and mind through an industrial-strength dryer cycle.

With each loss to the Pacers in this conference semifinals series, the same Wizards who almost swept the favored Chicago Bulls looked more recognizable: a frequent, crippling dependency on inefficient jump shots, a tendency to replace weapons rather than adapt them and, most painfully, an inability to finish out games that seem firmly within their grasp. After blowing a 19-point lead at home in Game 4, the Wizards had lost 12 games this season in which they led by double digits.

Close losses are nothing new, either. No other team this season attempted more “clutch” shots, or played more “clutch” minutes (defined as occurring in the last five minutes of a game when a team is leading by five or fewer points). But the Wizards were just 20th-best in the league at making those clutch shots, resulting in an inordinate amount of local heartbreak.

Before Game 5, it had been a trying second round for John Wall, who had as many turnovers (12) in two games at the Verizon Center against the Pacers as he did in the entire series against the Bulls. Passing up a wide-open, potentially game-tying 3-pointer in Washington on Sunday with under a minute left in favor of a chance for Bradley Beal to take the shot -- whether it was the right decision or not -- was a visible indication of how far undone Wall had come.

Flooded by a chorus of encouragement, advice and criticism, Wall receded into his own mental hellscape after Game 4.

“Well, ever since that game, I haven’t really talked to nobody. … All day yesterday, I just sat in my room and watched movies,” Wall confessed at the postgame lectern after a redemptive 27-point performance in Game 5. “You can get down on yourself pretty easy.”

There were two voices, however, that cut through the static.

When Wall confided to Randy Wittman after Game 4 that he had no idea how to rehabilitate his game, Wittman told him -- with typical Wittman-esque frankness -- that he never wanted to hear the usually self-assured franchise centerpiece say that again. Wittman followed up with a text on game day. After the game, Wall told the media that it read “Just believe. Just believe in yourself, John Wall.”

If that sounds like the final chapter of a self-help book on the rack of one of America’s now-defunct bookstores, then surely you’ll forgive Wall for needing the nudge. The 23-year-old guard had less than 48 hours between the two biggest games of his young career.

Gortat, a conspicuous nonfactor in Games 3 and 4, pounded his point guard on the chest twice just after the starting lineups were called and forced a reluctant Wall, drowning in the burgeoning tide of playoff pressure, to hear one last thing: “No, John, there’s just one thing I’m going to tell. I’m with you. It doesn’t matter which way it would go, I’m supporting you,” Gortat recounted in a postgame monologue.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal and Randy Wittman
AP Photo/Darron CummingsAfter making quick work of the Bulls, the Wizards are looking like themselves again. Unfortunately.
It’s impossible to tell whether Gortat’s promise was the life preserver Wall and the Wizards needed, but here this absurd, sometimes great, sometimes awful team is, the last unknown value left standing in an Eastern Conference playoff bracket otherwise populated by familiar faces.

Eventually, these Wizards will go under. They might bury themselves, as they did in Game 3, where the team’s offense crossed the event horizon of the Pacers' defense, blindly firing up hopeless shots. Or they might go the way of the rest of their unready playoff kin, simply beaten by a better unit in this round or the next.

For a 44-win team that just a few weeks ago seemed pleased just to be in the playoffs after so many consecutive lottery appearances, staving off elimination in a second-round playoff game on the road is unexpected. It’s also something that resembles growth.

As the Wizards prepare for a Game 6, the up-and-down season that wouldn’t have qualified for the playoffs in the West is fading from collective memory. And that’s a good thing. Even though this isn’t Washington’s year to make a play for the throne, it was important for the Wizards to become relevant again in the eyes of potential free agents.

When Washington throttled the Bulls, it inspired an incipient belief that the Wizards of the regular season had finally grown beyond their inconsistent roots. That wasn’t quite right.

Alternatively, a fatal loss in Game 5 seemed inevitable after three consecutive demoralizing defeats. But this is a team that punishes faith and doubt equally. Just as you're about to shovel the last pile of dirt on a season run past its expected course, the Wizards look up, wink and say "not yet."

Meet the Wizards

May, 9, 2014
May 9
1:40
PM ET
By Kyle Weidie
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Who are the Washington Wizards? Or rather, who are they to each other? This investigation of a budding NBA playoff team starts with cooking, takes a backpacking trip across Europe while writing prose, and ends with a journey into the land of spirit animals to find the answer.

Daily Postseason MVP rankings

May, 8, 2014
May 8
3:07
PM ET
Thorpe By David Thorpe
ESPN.com
Archive
Check back daily for our latest Postseason MVP rankings. Here's the current Top 3:



Also, check out our weekly Insider column on the Top 10 Postseason MVPs every Friday.

Daily Postseason MVP rankings

May, 7, 2014
May 7
11:50
AM ET
Thorpe By David Thorpe
ESPN.com
Archive
Check back daily for our latest Postseason MVP rankings. Here's the current Top 3:



Also, check out our weekly Insider column on the Top 10 Postseason MVPs every Friday.

In Wall they trust

May, 7, 2014
May 7
10:30
AM ET
By Conor Dirks
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
John WallGeoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsHe may not be the potent scorer his athleticism suggests, but John Wall has become a force in D.C.
If you’re still waiting for John Wall to take over the postseason with his point totals, don’t hold your breath. One of the NBA’s fastest players down the floor prefers to craft a more diverse spreadsheet.

Against Indiana in Game 1, Wall’s mosaic impact was understated: 13 points, nine assists, five rebounds, two blocks, one steal, one turnover.

Can a point guard break out as a game manager?

“I always tell these guys that I don’t worry about scoring unless I’m hot,” Wall said after a Game 4 win, and a 10-assist outing, against Chicago on April 27. “I don’t mind being a decoy.”

Wall sped past Pacers defenders Monday and fed his wing artillery the proper coordinates all game as the defense collapsed around him. Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza shelled Indiana from behind the arc, connecting on nine of their 11 3-point attempts. Asked about his role in the win, Wall told reporters he was just “getting those guys involved, getting those guys the shots they needed.”

Wall, the NBA’s third-leading assist man in the regular season, hasn’t always been viewed as a distributor, even though there are few monikers he’d carry better. In the rush to understand a unique player burdened with the long-term fate of a faceless franchise, assumptions about Wall’s game flew like buckshot in every direction. Many missed the mark.

In Washington, D.C., early attempts to measure Wall’s potential and predict his trajectory remain infamous. NBA agent David Falk cast a curiously anachronistic vote of no confidence for Wall’s future in February 2013, as Wall ripped through the league after recovering from a stress fracture: “He doesn’t have a feel for the game. He only knows how to play one speed. Magic Johnson had a great feel, a court sense, by the time he was a sophomore in college. Chris Paul had it by the time he was a sophomore in high school.”

And, finally: “You want to know the reason why just nine teams have won an NBA title in 40 years? Because if both of them came out today, 99 percent of all general managers would still take John Wall instead of Kyrie Irving. They’d take the athlete over the ballplayer. And they’d be wrong.”

Luckily for the Wizards, there is no law of nature, nor of logic, that prevents an athlete from being a ballplayer too.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia for a different NBA, perhaps a failure to acknowledge the reconciliation of speed and care, but there’s a lazy need to fit every point guard into one of the two categories of several neat dichotomies. Pass-first or shoot-first. Facilitator or scorer. Game manager or game-breaker.

You’ll find Wall in the gray area. If you can find him. The Wizards haven’t been on national TV in the regular season since Wall was a rookie, in 2010-11 (a blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks).

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNo need to try to categorize John Wall. Passes like this one say it all.
Not all stories accelerate from zero to 60. As a player, Wall has learned to pump the brakes, pull back and look up, locating opportunities for his teammates. In his rookie season, the Wizards had the lowest assist ratio of any team. This season, the Wizards were tied for seventh best in the league.

Things change. Players evolve. Over the course of years, or even within a season. "Earlier in the season, me or Brad or Nene or those guys would try to do it on our own,” Wall said at a between-series practice. “I think now we understand we don't have to. We've got six or seven guys who scores in double figures for a reason.” In Game 1, six Washington players had 12 or more points.

Despite a breakout half-season last spring, there were still doubts about whether it would be wise to hand Wall the keys to the kingdom by offering him a maximum extension. That conversation was led by The Washington Post’s Jason Reid, who wrote that Wall wasn’t as valuable as other players who did not receive the max, like “old-school floor general” Mike Conley Jr., “shooting star” Stephen Curry and “one-man fast break” Ty Lawson, and questioned Wall’s decision to renege on his no-tattoo stance.

Many pixels were expended, but the Wizards ultimately did what most expected them to do: They bet on John Wall becoming one of the best point guards alive.

After gaining a measure of All-Star and playoff validation, Wall looks more the part. When he pounds his chest and tells the D.C. crowd, “This is my city,” it will raise some eyebrows, but it will raise hairs on your neck too. Make no mistake: In Washington, pride is found in the assist.

In Indiana, Wall did more than involve his teammates. He featured them. A blur down the lane ending in a pass that wrapped around Roy Hibbert’s back and led to one of Nene’s signature, bruising dunks. A backbreaking fourth-quarter dime with three Pacers caving in on him to a trailing Beal. Some point guards manage games by plodding through a half-court set. Wall manages games in additional, unexplored ways: on the fly, in midair, even on his way out of bounds.

And now, with a Game 1 win against Indiana in hand, he has managed to take the Wizards farther than they have been since 1982: three wins from an unexpected berth in the Eastern Conference finals.

Conor Dirks writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow him @ConorDDirks.

Rapid Reaction: Wizards 102, Pacers 96

May, 5, 2014
May 5
10:56
PM ET
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPN.com
Archive

INDIANAPOLIS -- Let's take a quick look at how the Washington Wizards earned a 102-96 win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Wizards lead the series 1-0.

How it happened: Bradley Beal had a huge game for the Wizards going off for 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Trevor Ariza added 22 points and six rebounds as the Wizards set the tone early in this one and never let up. David West led the Pacers with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but they created too big of a hole for to climb out of down the stretch.

What it means: The good vibes just keep coming for the Wizards. After dominating the Bulls in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Beal and his teammates zoomed past the Pacers in the final minutes of this game. As they did in the Bulls series, they played with poise and made big shots when they needed them. They appear to be gaining confidence after each game -- not surprised by their recent success at all. If they continue to get contributions up and down the roster, and Beal continues to develop into an even bigger star, there's no reason not to believe they won't be heading to the Eastern Conference finals in the near future.

Hits: Marcin Gortat had 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Wizards.

Misses: Roy Hibbert had zero points, zero rebounds and five fouls in 18 minutes of play.

Stat of the night: The Wizards outrebounded the Pacers 53-36. The Wizards had 17 offensive rebounds.

What's next: Game 2 is Wednesday night in Indianapolis.

Daily Postseason MVP rankings

May, 2, 2014
May 2
12:46
PM ET
Thorpe By David Thorpe
ESPN.com
Archive
Check back daily for our latest Postseason MVP rankings. Here's the current Top 3:



Also, check out our weekly Insider column on the Top 10 Postseason MVPs every Friday.

Daily Postseason MVP rankings

May, 1, 2014
May 1
11:49
AM ET
Thorpe By David Thorpe
ESPN.com
Archive
Check back daily for our latest Postseason MVP rankings. Here's the current Top 3:



Also, check out our weekly Insider column on the Top 10 Postseason MVPs every Friday.

What does Nene ejection mean for Wizards?

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
3:13
AM ET
By Kyle Weidie
Special to ESPN.com
Archive


For the Washington Wizards, it was one of those, "You can’t point to a single lost opportunity. You can probably point to them all" type of games.

There were controversial calls, plenty of missed free throws and 35 points from unexpected stage-stealer Mike Dunleavy. Just like in Games 1 and 2, the outcome could have easily gone the other way, but unlike those contests, the first playoff game in the nation’s capital since 2008 did feature that one potential series-altering moment.

The incident happened after Nene, the man whose status for the next game is now in the hands of the league, leaked out past the Chicago Bulls defense and scored on a layup. The basket closed Washington’s gap to 78-76 with over eight minutes left in the game and led to a Chicago timeout. As Nene turned to chug the other way -- players on the court not yet decompressed after the timeout whistle -- he gave Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler a hip nudge out of his path. Butler took exception and swatted Nene’s arm away and then put his other arm into the small of the big Brazilian’s back.

Had the scene ended there, it would’ve been innocuous -- perhaps not even worthy of double-technical fouls -- but cooler heads did not prevail.

Nene and Butler went brow to brow like boxers angling for alpha male at a Las Vegas weigh-in. Some are calling what happened next a head-butt, although a head didn’t exactly cock back and throw its force. Already in close proximity, Nene’s head further infiltrated Butler’s space. It was a next step up the stairs of aggression. Butler leaned his head forward to counter the leverage. Nene then took a swipe at Butler’s head.

It was unclear whether Nene was throwing a roundabout, open-handed right paw or, as he also attempted to cusp Butler’s head with his left hand, if he was simply acting like a papa bear marking his territory against a cub. It was at that point, as the interlocked players moved across the court, when referees and teammates stepped into the fray to make peace. Washington’s Trevor Booker grabbed Butler to remove him from the scrum. Chicago’s Joakim Noah stepped in the path of Nene and eventually raised his arms as if to say to the man who has bested him in the series to date, "Dude, what are you thinking?"

“I’m not the one to talk. I’ve been in those situations," Noah said. "But it definitely was a bonus for us to have him out the game."

Upon further review by the officials, a double technical was assessed to each player and Nene was ejected from the contest. Whether he lost his cool or was trying to show Butler who holds the keys to the house, Nene escalated the situation, and, at one point, he appeared to raise a clenched fist in the air.

The Wizards were strategically mum on the situation in front of the media, seemingly filled with angst (which ironically might move them past the pain of the loss) over whether they would have their Nene in a critical Game 4 on Sunday. Players like Booker, a first responder, and Marcin Gortat, suspected by some to have left the bench during the mayhem, weren’t necessarily around to comment on what happened.

"I didn’t see it. I didn’t see any of it," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I didn’t see anything, so I can’t comment."

Wittman did, however, address whether he thought any of this players left the bench. "I don’t think so. It’s a timeout, anyway. You can leave the bench on a timeout."

"My back was turned as it all went down," said Bradley Beal, who was on the court and headed toward the bench.

"It’s over, it’s over, it’s over," said Nene, wanting to move past the incident while it still grated him.

"If you want to talk fair, it’s supposed to be both sides," he said. "Things don’t go well. Things don’t go fair for both sides, so you need to move [forward]. That’s what I’m going to [do]."

The Wizards forward was 5-for-15 from the field before getting ejected. He was often frustrated by the defense of Noah and selectively conservative whistles from the referees. Noah had picked up his second foul at the 3:49 mark of the first and then saw 24 minutes of physical court time until he picked up his third foul at the 9:20 mark of the fourth quarter. The Wizards, through Nene, had been making their best attempts to pound it into the paint even more against Noah and Carlos Boozer, who had also picked up two early fouls.

Now, speculation will run rampant until the league makes a ruling. What constitutes a head-butt? Will commissioner Adam Silver be more pragmatic than predecessor David Stern? Was an ejection, which undoubtedly contributed to the loss, be punishment enough, or must harsher lessons be learned?

"There’s been skirmishes in all three games, but you got to be able to maintain so you don’t lose your cool, or you’ll get thrown out," Wittman said. "That’s the main thing we got the learn from this."

Washington was able to survive a 21-game stretch from late February to early April without Nene (due to a sprained MCL) with a 12-9 record, but against this Bulls squad in these playoffs, he's a critical component, particularly from an offensive standpoint. The defeat brought an abrupt end to the Wizards’ playoff honeymoon, but a Game 4 without Nene could slap Washington with the cold reality of an even series and the return of home-court advantage to Chicago.

Asked if he thought he would be playing on Sunday, the spiritual Nene said, "I don’t know. You know the rule, huh? So, I’ll see."

But for this particular occasion, the NBA will be Nene’s judge and jury, determining in a day whether he will be in uniform, or simply wearing his Sunday best.

Swing 'mate

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
11:42
AM ET
By Conor Dirks
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Trevor ArizaRocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesJohn Wall and Brad Beal bring the star power, but the Wizards don't go up 2-0 without Trevor Ariza.
The big stage has been kind to Bradley Beal. Just 20 years old and in his second professional season, Beal took the reins in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, scoring 26 points and pulling down seven rebounds to lift the Washington Wizards to an overtime win and a 2-0 lead.

After an inconsistent and often inefficient season, it wasn't evident that Beal was ready to be a featured playoff scorer. Two magnified games later, it’s clear why the Wizards believe he will be exactly that.

Beal joins first-time All-Star John Wall in a guard duo so potential-laden and presently exciting that the public can no longer dismiss Washington’s backcourt as something merely of the future. Potential’s recognition, though, is as much about observing what a player lacks as it is about hoping he’ll become something greater than his current incarnation. While Wall and Beal grease the cogs of their own development with increasingly zealous performances, it is left to one of Washington’s unsung heroes to ease the inevitable growing pains of rapidly maturing talent.

Enter Trevor Ariza. When D.C.’s guards struggled from the field in the opener against the Bulls, Ariza became the efficient scorer (18 points on just eight shots) the team needed by knocking down uncontested 3-point attempts and scoring at the rim. When Beal picked up the scoring slack in Game 2, Ariza seamlessly transitioned to a facilitative role, tying for the team lead in both rebounds (eight) and assists (seven). Looking closer still, Ariza led the team in "free throw assists" (passes that end in free throw attempts for a teammate) and hockey assists.

When Wall couldn’t stay in front of a frenzied D.J. Augustin (25 points), Ariza asked for the assignment. From the time the 6-foot-8 swingman switched onto Augustin, with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter until the end of overtime, the Bulls point guard missed all of his shots, including an attempt with 15 seconds remaining in regulation that would have put the Bulls up two.

For the Wizards, this is nothing new. While Wall and Beal remain the focal points of the franchise, Ariza, the only player on the Wizards' roster with a championship ring, has quietly become essential. The net value of his presence on the court, measured by on-court/off-court differential, was plus-6.3 points, which ranks behind only Marcin Gortat and Wall in Washington.

Ariza was slotted as the backup to Martell Webster coming into the season, and by many he was seen as eventual trade bait. His contract expires at the end of this season and he was a clear roster redundancy after the Wizards re-signed Webster for four years, $22 million and drafted Otto Porter Jr. third overall.

Now it’s hard to imagine this incarnation of the Wizards without him.

The "glue player" demarcation is overapplied, reached for when other easy definitions fail, and an easy definition would not be fair to the dynamic (contract) season Ariza has had. Or how resourceful he has been; during the regular season, Ariza was the biggest beneficiary of Wall's predilection for producing corner 3-pointers. The combination was so prolific that it made Ariza the league leader (78) in the category. In D.C., the early-season complaint about Ariza starting over Webster emerged from its cocoon at the All-Star break as panicked handwringing about an offseason price tag. With the Wizards, Ariza has found the niche that eluded him as he over-dribbled his way out of less productive stints in Houston and New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Ariza
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTrevor Ariza has been the extra edge the Wizards have needed.
Lost in the dusty annals of NBA history, alongside the scroll authored in the pyrite age of Wizards basketball by Ted Leonsis that contemplated Javale McGee’s erudition, is record of Ariza’s first four seasons, in which he took a combined 43 3-pointers. Compare that number to the 442 he attempted this season. Don’t rush to understand, because Ariza surely doesn’t. Asked about going 5-for-5 on 3-pointers against the Orlando Magic in February, Ariza smiled, scratched his head self-effacingly and said, "I guess I'm living right."

In the postgame locker room, Ariza is bright, insightful and hilariously candid about not remembering what has transpired during any given game. Part amnesiac, part basketball intellectual, all California chillwave. From the first to the last game of the season, Ariza disregarded highs and lows alike, never seeming to break an emotional sweat. Which made it all the more surprising, and delightful, when he finally broke character.

With the Wizards down 69-61 to the Bulls in Game 1, Ariza found himself unable to shake off Jimmy Butler. After a momentary handoff to Nene, Ariza tried again, driving around Carlos Boozer and right at Joakim Noah. Noah, the defensive player of the year, shot a hand straight up, but couldn't account for what is so typical of Ariza's layups, a somehow languorous contortion that hooks close around defenders like hookah smoke before finishing awkwardly through the only window available.

It was then, running up the court after a layup, in the third quarter of his team's first playoff game since 2008, that Ariza finally reacted. His fists clenched before his face changed unrecognizably into a scowl as he threw both arms down and belted out an atypically impassioned “LET'S GO!”

And then, as if he was afraid it didn't take, another one. Nene, running beside him, enthusiastically joined the out-of-character rallying cry. In a game where Charles Barkley observed that the Wizards seemed as though they didn't fully realize they were in the playoffs until late, it may have been Ariza who again gave his team what they badly needed. This time it was fire.

In defense of the Bulls

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:46
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Was the media wrong in picking Bulls over Wizards? Amin Elhassan is here to defend those who picked Chicago.

Wiz kids' rise up the chain of command

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
10:00
AM ET
By Conor Dirks
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
John WallSam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Wizards met their preseason goal of making their first postseason since 2008. ... Now what?
Before the 2013-14 season began, owner Ted Leonsis made his goal awfully conspicuous: “I think that all of our focus, all of our attention, is to make the playoffs this year.”

Laboring under the weight of this mandate, the Washington Wizards have put together a qualifying season, albeit in an Eastern Conference notorious for its frailty and with Washington clinging distrustfully to the least challenging schedule in the NBA. The playoff-bound Wizards have already achieved everything they set out to do, but the way they reached this unassuming goal has at times been as disappointing as it has been gratifying.

Asked whether the Wizards had met his preseason expectations, stately sophomore shooting guard Bradley Beal offered this specter of insight into the nature of Washington’s modest ambitions: “We knew we could be an above-.500 team, and we knew we could be a playoff team, and we accomplished those two goals. Now it's up to us to just finish out this regular season, keep our sixth seed, and move on into the playoffs.”

Said fourth-year player Kevin Seraphin: “We was just trying to get to the playoffs, whether we was a seven, eight, five. It didn’t matter.”

[+] EnlargeWizards
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThe Wizards are in! But do they have the goods to go any farther? The Chicago Bulls await in Round 1.
Can you blame these Wizards, long below sea level within the league’s topography, for not aiming higher?

The six seasons since their last playoff berth have not always neatly traced Leonsis’ 10-point plan for professional sports teams. Point No. 5, for example, is headlined by Leonsis’ commitment to being patient with young players. In practice, not all young players were found worthy of that patience, and Leonsis’ one-time “New Big Three” concept disappeared rapidly -- along with the amnesty money Leonsis is still wiring to Andray Blatche -- into a void previously inhabited by organizational optimism.

JaVale McGee was traded for Nene, Nick Young was traded for Brian Cook and a second-round draft pick, and Jordan Crawford was traded for a few games of Jason Collins and an injured Leandro Barbosa. Most recently, 23-year-old Jan Vesely -- the sixth overall pick the season after John Wall was drafted first overall -- was traded for 38-year-old Andre Miller. The argument has been made that all of these maneuvers, each in its own pocket-sized vacuum, were necessary. But considered together, each transaction is another verse in a lament for player development that plays on loop for those who follow the team.

On the eve of the playoffs, there is a contingent of Wizards fans, disenchanted with the direction of the rebuild, who would welcome a swift playoff exit were it to serve as the denouement of team president Ernie Grunfeld’s 10-year tenure, and as the last gasp of Randy Wittman’s term as head coach. This internal conflict, far too deeply rooted in D.C. to be excised by the embryonic hope afforded by one playoff appearance, is integral to understanding why The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg felt compelled to host a roundtable discussion asking the question, “Why aren’t people excited about the Wizards?”

It comes down to expectations. People don’t draw joy from basketball, from competition, in the same way an unrepentant completionist takes satisfaction from checking a necessary goal off of a reasonable checklist. Joy, pain and, to a similar extent, interest, are all generated by teams that brazenly disregard goals on their way to the sublime or into the abyss.

While other teams have adjusted and outstripped their initial expectations, the Wizards have done little more than meet them. Gifted every opportunity for success, the team has found unique ways to instead orbit mediocrity.

Tied with Miami and Toronto for the best road record in the Eastern Conference (22-19), Washington ended the season with the worst home record (also 22-19) of any playoff team.

At 9-9 in December, the Wizards briefly held the third seed in the East. Over the course of the season, the team stepped ponderously down the standings with the grim determination of a precompressed helical spring (er, a Slinky), but not because their play deteriorated. On the contrary, it showed gradual, if unexceptional, improvement.

The problem, then, was everyone else. While the Wizards mostly upheld the status quo, the Bulls obscured the loss of Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng by rallying behind a galvanized Joakim Noah, the Nets dug themselves out of an ironclad coffin 60 feet under before kindly resting their aged roster, and the Raptors clawed callously at every well-meaning prognostication on their way to an identity and the third seed.

There are other, more nuanced concerns. Washington’s scoring strategy involves a prodigal amount of 15- to 19-foot shots, one of the least efficient shot types. The Wizards take the second most of these shots, but are the seventh worst at converting them. Without the 3-pointer (the Wizards are the NBA’s fifth best team from deep), Washington’s offense might be fairly abominable.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
AP Photo/Alex BrandonA first-round flop wouldn't be the worst thing if it led to big-time shakeups in the Wizards organization.
And then there’s young Otto Porter, Jr., third overall pick in 2013. The hushed, desperate and not-at-all-ironic chants for Porter have begun to seep over Wittman’s shoulder at Verizon Center in the waning moments of games no longer in question. As William Carlos Williams wrote in "The Descent," Otto’s “descent made up of despairs and without accomplishment realizes a new awakening: which is a reversal of despair.” At least, that’s the hope for an unready rookie who was touted as one of the more NBA-ready prospects in his draft class.

This is just to say that success, in this case, isn’t completely unburdened by disappointment. Losses to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston, and various other non-playoff teams at home; eight overtime losses (the most of any team); and the inability to fully capitalize on the easiest schedule in the league are all bound up in an essential truth: These Wizards could have accomplished more.

They still might. The playoffs start now, and with nothing better to do, the Wizards will attempt to win as many games as they can. When “Uncle” Al Harrington was asked whether his younger counterparts were mentally prepared for what was to come, he simply replied: “We better be.”

Now the Wizards will check the postseason off their conservative list and cut their teeth on the playoff pavement. For Washington’s brilliant but unpracticed young backcourt of Wall and Beal, it could prove to be a necessary step. But while the team’s veterans hold the window open for the uninitiated to take in the playoff view, one has to figure that next season, the bar will be adjustable.

Throwing down the Polish Hammer

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
10:00
AM ET
By Kyle Weidie
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Marcin GortatAP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Marcin Gortat is Poland’s only NBA son. A week before the 2013-14 season, he was traded across the U.S., from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., after an injury to Emeka Okafor threatened to undermine the Wizards’ playoff push. Now Gortat is putting up solid numbers for a Washington team that appears playoff-bound for the first time in six years (in a contract year, no less). Only LeBron James and Kevin Durant finish better than Gortat within three feet of the rim; he leads the Wizards in plus/minus per 48 minutes (+5.4); and his on-court presence provides team-high boosts in metrics like eFG%, assist ratio and fast-break points.

Gortat sat down to talk pick-and-rolls with John Wall, aspirations to become the president of Poland, pregame hype music, ripping towels, the difference between “Polish Machine” and “Polish Hammer” and what it will feel like to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

What have you and John Wall taught each other since you got to Washington?

From my perspective, I definitely taught him to slow down a little bit on the pick-and-roll, because sometimes he’s going 100 miles per hour. He’s got to understand that to get a good screen in his situation where he’s not a perfect, perfect sharp-shooter, the big man needs a half a second longer to set a good screen for him, and I think he’s learned to be patient and use the screens the right way. Sometimes we re-screen two or three times in one possession, which is really good. I’ve been working with him, I’ve been on him constantly in the past few months, and I really think that he has started trusting me a little bit more, and we’ve developed that relationship and chemistry.

Do you see him picking up tips that you may have learned from Steve Nash and passed along?

Of course. The most important thing is he should watch him play, watch himself how he plays, and watch the tape and study. I think it will help him a lot. He will see things that he’s not able to see on the court at the same time. And obviously, if he will watch Steve Nash, that would be huge. I can only whisper in his ear, but he knows I’m a big man, and I probably don’t know how it is to be a point guard in his situation, but I was fortunate enough to play with Steve for two years and we created an incredible duo. We were the No. 1 duo in the league. So, he created me, I had a great season with him, so I’m just going to try to use his experience and give it to John.

On a recent national television broadcast, Jeff Van Gundy observed, albeit in a blowout, players on the bench staying into the game and cheering for teammates. Van Gundy said that actively watching while not in the game is an underestimated part of chemistry. You, I can’t help but notice, are one of the more emotional players while on the bench when a big play happens. Where did you pick that up and what does that mean?

There’s a few different reasons. For example, with Al [Harrington’s dunk], the reason why I was actually celebrating that was just because I’m close with Al. We’ve been talking about this dunk for the past 10 days. I said, ‘If you dunk the ball ...' I said, first of all you got to dunk the ball. You still got it. Change people’s minds. You still got that. You’re still capable of doing it.’

He said, ‘Listen, it’s not a problem going up, it’s a problem with the landing.’

So, we always laughed. Finally when he missed one or two easy bunnies around the rim, he said, ‘All right, this time I got to dunk it.’ And when he dunked that, I was just celebrating him, I was happy, and, you know, we all laugh about that in the locker room after.

But where does it come from? I think it comes from just teaching. From all the great coaches [and people] I’ve had in my life. Brendan Malone, Stan Van Gundy, Steve Clifford, Bo Outlaw, Adonal Foyle, Nick Anderson, Tony Battie, a lot of different players and coaches that were telling me ... Patrick Ewing ... said you never know when your time is going to come. You got to be able to perform, and you got to be able to help the team. And I’m just emotional. If you engage in a game like that, that’s also the best way to stay in the game. Sometimes people when they're coming down off the first quarter, they have a great first quarter, and they’re sitting down on the bench and all of a sudden they’re checking themselves out of the game because they say, ‘OK, I had a great first quarter, now I’m going to sit down and relax.’ All of a sudden they go into the second quarter and they don’t perform. So to stay attached mentally, you just celebrate with people everything that’s going on on the court. Like I say, this is the way I do. This is the way I play. I’m passionate about the game. There’s a lot of different reasons why I am who I am today.

Talk about passion. Do you remember ripping that towel earlier this season in Toronto?

Yeah, I remember.

Was that your first towel rip?

Oh, naw, that was probably my millionth towel rip. I’ve ripped a lot of towels. Especially sometimes after the game, and we’re about to take showers, and we don’t have any washcloths, so we’re just ripping one towel in little pieces and obviously they’re throwing me towels to rip.

I was just pissed. I remember that game, I was pissed. I was pissed because I missed some easy layups at the basket and I should dunk the ball. Then I miss easy layups, and then I get some dumb calls and bad fouls, and that’s all, I was just pissed. Frustrated.

With the situation in Ukraine with Russia, I know that Poland has expressed some concerns to NATO about Russia’s actions (including military drills near the border with Poland). Is that something you’re keeping track of?

Quite honestly, even though I’m saying this left and right, I keep repeating this to everybody that one day I would like to be president (of Poland), I’m actually kind of off that subject now, off that topic right now because I really haven’t had time to follow what’s going on. Obviously I’m just checking really quick what’s going on. One thing I know, a lot of people are escaping from the Ukraine. I feel bad for Ukraine because they’re our neighbors. I have a lot of Ukraine friends, players and friends from Ukraine. I’m hoping everything will be fine in their country because they didn’t deserve that. But end of the day, I know a lot of people from the Ukraine will go to Poland to look for shelter and look for a home. And thanks to them, our Polish economy is going to go up, because obviously if hundreds of thousands of people leave the country to come to our country, then we’re looking at a huge boost of a lot of different things, and obviously we’re going to probably help them. I’m not the president sitting in the office, but we’re definitely going to help them and try to protect them.

But you say that when you have more time, you have political ambitions to be president of Poland one day?

Yeah. ... I’m laughing, I’m laughing. ... Talking to everybody about how I’d like to be president one day. We’ll see.

How serious are you?

Well, it’s serious because I’m interested in politics. Let’s put it this way: I’m real interested in politics, I’m talking to a lot of politician people, and I’m real interested in everything. But if I decide to do it, I will start slowly from a small seat, and try to go up and climb that ladder. But right now, let’s not talk about that.

You got the nickname “Polish Machine” from when you played in Germany, and the “Polish Hammer” came after the summer league in Orlando. I feel like you accept both, but do you have a preference?

I accept both. I’m known more for Polish Hammer, but people that know me very well, they’re using more Machine. There are times where sometimes machine stands more, there’s times where hammer stands more. It depends. When you got 70 games of the season and I’m still running like a deer, I’m still lifting like crazy and dunking and doing all this stuff in the practice, that’s the time when they call “Machine.” But there’s a time when I’m blocking a lot of shots and dunking on somebody in the game, and they call “Hammer.” So, there’s a difference.

You once told me before a game that you were listening to “Miami joints, club music and trance music” on your headphones. Is that the routine each and every time?

Most of the time. Yeah, probably for 30 games I will listen to Miami. Another 30 games I’m going to listen probably to house music and then come back to Miami music. I love that. I love strong, trance, techno music. It definitely gets me going. You got goose bumps and then you’re getting yourself ready for the game.

Any rule changes that you think would help the NBA game? For instance, sometimes they talk about instituting FIBA goaltending rules in the NBA. Any thoughts on that or any other changes that would help the game play?

The goaltending? It definitely wouldn’t help. You have too many athletic guys in this league that would tip the ball out of the rim, so pretty much to make a basket you will need to swish it, you know what I’m saying?

I would say I would loosen up a little bit the rules about the fighting fines. That’s what I would loosen up. Because today you go to an ice hockey game, and the one thing they’re waiting for is a fight, you know what I’m saying? So if they could set it up something like that in the NBA. That if there are two guys and they have a problem, if they could just separate everybody. And these two people that have problem, if they could fight ...

During the game?

During the game. Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up. I think the game ... these two guys, they resolved their problem. They’re both suspended and they’re leaving. But end of the day, they fix the problem between each other, fans are super excited, and I think that would be a pretty cool idea [chuckles].

You’d need bigger refs. You couldn’t have Dick Bavetta out there.

At some point when the referees jump in, then you’d have to stop. You’d have to stop. So I think that would be a great idea, just like the ice hockey fans waiting for that, that’s would NBA fans would get into, as well.

And, I think we’re definitely going to mention this in the players’ meeting, but we definitely have to mention the situation about the fans. When we say something to the fan, and when we curse him out, or when we definitely throw a punch, or we’re trying to hit the fan, we are suspended for half of the season. But when they yell at us or insult us or are cursing at us using bad words, they don’t get anything. So what I would say is that there’s definitely supposed to be a rule where if one of the fans is disrespecting us, then he got to leave the gym automatically.

Your mother was a volleyball player for the Polish national team, your father was big-time boxer -- you have the tattoo of him on your chest. If you weren’t playing basketball, what would you be doing? One of those two things? Something completely different?

You know what, I’m asking the same question. I’m asking myself this question every once in a while and quite honestly I can’t answer this question. I don’t know what I’d do. I would probably ... I definitely won’t play volleyball, maybe I’d be a boxer. I’d definitely be a bodybuilder. I’d lift and I’d probably be a security or some bouncer in the a club, maybe, I don’t know. I’d probably finish school and work toward a direction from there.

On the road in the NBA, you have a lot of free time to fill, on planes, etc. I read once, when you were in Phoenix, that you were big on this game “Clash of Clans.” Is that still your thing? How else do you mind the gaps?

Oh, definitely. I got a lot of games. I got a lot of games on my iPad. Those are actually games that I’m using during the flight, because somehow you got to kill the time.

But in the hotel, I’m doing a lot of different things. I’m trying to learn different languages. Obviously talking to my family a lot. I’m resting a lot, sleeping. I’m reading books mostly about soldiers, about the military, about Afghanistan, Iraq. I’m reading stories like Shaq’s book, Michael Phelps’ book. I’m reading all successful people’s books. I want to know their secrets. I want to know their system, the way they became great, and try to put that into my system and try to get better.

So I do a lot of different things. Those games, yeah ... "Clash of Clans." I also watch a lot of shows. ... "Pawn Stars," "Storage Wars," "Swamp People."

"Storage Wars" is great. Barry’s my man. I love Barry.

This summer you will be an unrestricted free agent. This being your seventh year in the league, you’ve never really been a free agent, as you signed an offer sheet with Dallas in 2009 but Orlando matched, which is something you did not like. So what’s in your mind right now about being able to go through the free-agent process and really be able to be courted for the first time?

All I know is that I’m going to be a free agent. I don’t know how it is to be a player that actually is going to be able to pick the team he wants to play for, you know what I’m saying? I’m hoping that at the end of the day I’m going to be able to pick the team where I will play. I hope there will be a team, let’s put it this way first.

We still have 20 or so games to play. I’ve got to finish strong, and then we’re going to make a run into the playoffs, and then we’ll see what’s going to happen. Then I’m going to call my agent and say, "Hey, you gotta do your job. I did my job, now you gotta do your job. I’m looking forward to holidays now." So, we’ll see.

There’s a lot of different things I’m going to look at. The team situation. The goal of the team. I’m going to look at the point guard. I’m going to look at the coaching staff. I’m going to look at a lot of different things before I’m going to pick the team, and obviously Washington is going to be really close to me right now. I feel really comfortable here. They have two rising stars in Bradley Beal and John Wall, and this team’s definitely going to get better and better. They have Otto Porter, who’s going to be a good player one day. And there’s going to be a lot of different things I’m going to look at. But quite honestly, right now I just want to make sure that we’re not going to lose five in a row and that we won’t lose a spot in the playoffs, because that would be the worst thing. I’m more pumped up for being in the playoffs again and not watching them in front of the TV. Back in the day I was spoiled by [Stan] Van Gundy playing all the way to the conference finals. With Phoenix, I was in the playoffs, so finally now [I have] an opportunity again.

SPONSORED HEADLINES