A Way Too Early Ranking of the Eastern Conference

So much for a calm and quiet offseason.

With the NBA a draft a distant memory and free agency coming and going; we’ve now officially reached the dog days of the NBA offseason, or so we thought. Now that all major free agents have re-signed or found a new home, let’s take a look at how the Eastern Conference stacks up.

*These rankings were made under the assumption that Kyrie Irving plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season*

Tier 1: Still the best in the East until proven otherwise

Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions: Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon

Key Losses: None

The Cavs have won the Eastern Conference for the past three seasons and LeBron James has won seven straight Eastern Conference titles dating back to his Heat days. Rumors swirled that Kevin Love was on the trade block in hopes of landing either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony but neither of those deals materialized. And recently, Kyrie Irving has requested a trade out of Cleveland as he no longer wants to play alongside LeBron.

In addition, it’s been rumored that LeBron is less than thrilled with Cleveland’s management and may be peeking ahead to the summer of 2018 when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, again.

The Cavaliers are on the brink of implosion and are hanging on by a thread but even with all the turmoil, as long as LeBron is on the roster, I’m not betting against them.

Tier 2: The Contenders

Boston Celtics

Key Additions: Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Aron Baynes

Key Losses: Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk

After beating Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Boston’s luck quickly evaporated as they ran into Eastern Conference Buzzsaw also known as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, Isaiah Thomas got injured early in the series but even so, it was clear that they needed to make a move this summer to compete with the Cavs.

They did just that by signing Gordon Hayward in free agency. Hayward will be reunited with his college coach Brad Stevens in Boston, which will now boast one of the best starting units in the NBA. However, to make the deal work, they had to trade Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris to clear the space to sign Hayward. It also worked essentially a future salary dump since Bradley is projected to get a max or near-max deal next summer.

Boston will count on young players like Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum to step in and contribute right away in what should be one of the NBA’s best offenses. However, the Celtics didn’t address their rebounding, which was one of their biggest issues last season. And if we’re looking really far ahead, it’s going to be harder to hide Isaiah Thomas on defense in next year’s playoffs now that Bradley is gone.

Regardless, I believe that the Celtics have taken a minor step in closing in on Cleveland (although that probably says more about the Cavs than the Celtics). Yes, they made a huge addition with Hayward, it’s just hard to ignore that they also traded away an All-NBA defender.

Washington Wizards

Key Additions: Tim FrazierJodie MeeksMike Scott

Key Losses: Bojan Bogdanovic

Unlike many other Eastern Conference foes, the Wizards pretty much stood pat during this offseason and locked in their core trio for the long haul. After reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third time in four years, the Wizards made a Hail Mary attempt to rent Paul George for a year but it was all for naught and probably for the best.

One thing was clear though: The Wizards had to do something to beef up their bench that was non-existent for most of the year. Washington didn’t make any huge splashes but traded away their second-round pick to get Tim Frazier, and shore up a position that has eluded the Wizards over the years. In addition, they signed Jodie Meeks who has proven he can be a reliable scorer off of the bench, when he’s healthy.

Even though none of the offseason additions seem like much of a big deal, the bar for the reserves has been set extremely low. So things can only go up from here, right?

With many Eastern Conference All-Stars leaving for Western Conference teams, standing pat wasn’t all that bad for the Wizards and they still find themselves in a pretty damn good position entering next season.

Tier 3: The Fringe Contenders

Toronto Raptors

Key Additions: C.J. Miles

Key Losses: Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll

After an impressive regular season where the Raptors won 51 games, their campaign came to an anti-climactic ending as they Cavs made quick work of them and swept the Raptors in four games. Despite the underwhelming finish, the Raptors locked in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to three-year deals to keep their key players together.

Even with Lowry, DeRozan, and Ibaka intact for the foreseeable future, it feels like their window of opportunity to win the Eastern Conference has already closed. They lost some of their muscle in P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson, and traded away backup point guard Cory Joseph for C.J. Miles in hopes that he can produce a scoring punch off of the bench. In addition, they got rid of DeMarre Carroll who has struggled since arriving in Toronto.

Once again, this team appears to be constructed for another successful regular season, but it’s hard to see them making a deep run in the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: None

Writers and fans everywhere were already salivating over Giannis Antetokounmpo after he was named to an All-NBA team and also won the Most Improved Player award. Expect that trend to continue and for the Milwaukee Bucks to be the trendy team expected to make a big jump this season. On the flip side, they didn’t add any free agents that will move the needle. That means this team will only go as far as Antetokounmpo and their young core will take them.

Thon Maker figures to make strides in his second NBA season while guys like Malcolm BrogdonMatthew DellavedovaJohn HensonKhris Middleton, and Tony Snell continue to be very serviceable role players. The big question for the Bucks is can these role players improve their level of play to get them over the hump?

Miami Heat

Key Additions: Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo

Key Losses: Willie Reed, Josh McRoberts

After an 11-30 start to the season, most people wrote off the Miami Heat and you couldn’t blame them. But lo and behold, they turned things around going 30-11 over the second half of the season, and narrowly missed getting into the playoffs. No team would have wanted to see the Heat in the postseason, if they had gotten there. They were the best team in the East over the second half of the season and would have been a very bad matchup for anyone had they made the playoffs.

The Heat ranked fifth last season in defensive rating and that probably won’t change all that much as long as Eric Spoelstra is there. The Heat are bringing back all their key players from last season and added Kelly Olynyk to mix as well.

Even though they missed out on Gordon Hayward, who would have been a seamless fit in Miami, they’re in a good spot. They still have a solid core with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Justise Winslow will be healthy at the start of the season and they also drafted Bam Adebayo out of Kentucky who looks like he’ll be able to contribute right away for Miami.

Tier 4: Not a contender but not a complete mess either

Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions: Dwight Howard, Malik Monk

Key Losses: Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli

After winning 48 games in 2016, Charlotte missed the playoffs entirely with a disappointing 36-46 record, even though Kemba Walker was an All-Star for the first time in his career.

To try to turn things around, the Hornets sent Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli to Atlanta in exchange for the now journeyman, Dwight Howard. In addition, the Hornets nabbed Malik Monk, who should be able to help right away, with the 11th overall pick.

Charlotte needs to clean up their defense a bit as they ranked dead-last in three-point defense. But like the Heat, I would be very surprised if Charlotte also didn’t make the playoffs next season; especially in such a watered-down Eastern Conference.

Tier 5: Because eight teams have to make the playoffs

Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions: Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson

Key Losses: None

The 76ers were able to trade up to get the top overall pick in this year’s draft in Markelle Fultz to complete their young core alongside Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. Philadelphia will undoubtedly be a League Pass favorite throughout the season.

However, there will inevitably be a learning curve as the average age of these players is 21 and only Embiid has played in any regular season games. The 76ers signed veteran J.J. Redick to a one-year deal to take some of these younger guys under his wing as they go through their growing pains, but he won’t solve everything.

Philadelphia will be extremely fun to watch next season, no doubt about it. But before we pencil them into the playoffs, just remember all of the hype surrounding the Timberwolves prior to last season.

Detroit Pistons

Key Additions: Avery Bradley

Key Losses: Marcus Morris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aron Baynes

Like some of the teams mentioned before them, the Pistons underachieved in many people’s eyes missing the playoffs last season. As a result, Stan Van Gundy dangled Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to gauge interest from other NBA teams as Jackson has issues staying healthy and Drummond is almost unplayable down the stretch of games due to his poor defense and horrific free-throw shooting.

On the other hand, Detroit was able to upgrade at the shooting guard position as they traded for Avery Bradley, even though it cost them Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Bradley isn’t as potent of a scorer as Caldwell-Pope but is one of the best defenders in the league.

With Detroit, it all boils down to if they can stay healthy while keeping the drama out of the locker room. On paper, they have a roster that should be good enough to get them to .500, but can they leave their baggage at the door? If not, there could be more roster shuffling on the way in Detroit.

Tier 6: Take your best guess

Orlando Magic

Key Additions: Johnathon Simmons, Johnathan Issac, Shelvin Mack

Key Losses: None

Doesn’t it feel like the Magic are always in rebuild mode? Orlando had a decent start to the season last year only to watch it fizzle away resulting in a 29-53 record and missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year. However, Orlando was able to lure Johnathon Simmons away from the Spurs in free agency as a key piece to their core.

The Magic have some young talent in Aaron GordonEvan Fournier, and Terrence Ross. The issue is, will it ever gel together? If things work out for the Magic, I can see them being a fringe playoff team. But at the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me either if they were on the outside looking in at the postseason, again.

Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions: D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Timofey Mozgov

Key Losses: Brook Lopez

Yes, the Nets were the worst team in the NBA last year but look to be trending in the right direction. After mortgaging away their future in the Billy King era, Sean Marks is starting to navigate this team out of the woodworks with some nice moves that help the team immediately and down the road. Brooklyn traded away Brook Lopez for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. They also absorbed DeMarre Carroll in exchange for a pair of draft picks from the Raptors.

There’s room for the Nets to grow this season. Outside of Lin, Brooklyn’s core players – Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LaVert, and Isaiah Whitehead – are all under the age of 25. Plus, the team will have Jeremy Lin back this season. You could argue that the Nets wouldn’t have been a complete mess last year had he been healthy. The team was a more respectable 13-23 when he was on the floor last season.

They probably will not make the playoffs, however, this team has a ton of young talent on the roster now and cap space that will be freed up in the years to come. Of the non-playoff teams, Brooklyn has the brightest future of the bunch.

New York Knicks

Key Additions: Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina

Key Losses: Derrick Rose

With new management in place, there seems to be at least a little bit of stability in New York. Kristaps Porzingis is no longer dodging ownership and management and the team signed (and overpaid) the ultimate microwave scorer in Tim Hardaway Jr. Ironically enough, Carmelo Anthony, who has stated that he wanted to stay in New York even though it was against the former management’s wishes, now says he wants to leave the team which doesn’t mesh with the new regime’s plans.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what will sting the most for the Knicks. I believe passing on Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk in the draft in favor of Frank Ntilikina (Phil Jackson’s draft pick) will haunt the Knicks for years to come.

While it’s hard to see the Knicks making the playoffs, Porzingis should keep things fun, and there should be a couple of nights in the Garden where Hardaway Jr. explodes for 30 or even 40 points.

Tier 7: From playoffs to tank mode

Chicago Bulls

Key Additions: Zach Lavine, Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Key Losses: Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo

The Bulls have officially pressed the reset button as they traded away Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves on draft day. The Bulls drafted Lauri Markkanen, a 7-footer who can knock down threes as well as do the dirty work down low. Zach Lavine, who is still just 22 years old might be the most athletic player in the league but is coming off a knee injury which could stall his comeback.

The Bulls have hints of talent scattered throughout the roster which could result in a few upsets this season, but outside of that, it’s going to be a cold winter in Chicago.

Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions: Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli

Key Losses: Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Scott

Three years ago, Atlanta won 60 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals. Last year, the Hawks got the fifth seed and pushed Washington to a six game series in the first round.

With Al Horford and Paul Millsap gone, and Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, and Kent Bazemore as their core players; it’s safe to say there will be some growing pains this season. Atlanta has made the playoffs for ten-straight years but it looks like that streak is about to come to a screeching halt.

Indiana Pacers

Key Additions: Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis

Key Losses: Paul George, C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis

This summer could not have been worse for the Pacers. After reportedly passing on a lucrative package from the Boston Celtics for Paul George on draft day, George informed the team that he intended on joining for the Lakers in 2018, and the Pacers wound up getting pennies on the dollar instead in their deal with Oklahoma City.

Now, the Pacers will have to hope for the best as Victor Oladipo returns to Indiana, where he played his college basketball. Other than that and Myles Turner, there isn’t much to get excited about. Bojan Bogdanovic will revert back to being a good scorer on a bad team, just like his days in Brooklyn, and Darren Collison is a big downgrade from Jeff Teague. It could be a very long year in Indiana.

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The Wizards’ struggles in Summer League are symptomatic of bigger issues with developing talent

Don’t blink, because if you did, you would have missed the Wizards’ Summer League play in Las Vegas just this past week. Washington went 0-3 in league play, got bounced in the first round of the Summer League Tournament, and then lost their consolidation game.

It’s important not to focus solely on the team’s uninspiring 0-5 record as Summer League rosters are a hodgepodge of rookies, younger talent, G-League players, and players playing professional ball overseas. And coaches aren’t running things in an effort to win games, they’re focused on putting players in positions to grow and develop, even if that means struggling during games.

However, when you get past the record, the lack of talent that the Wizards put on the floor is just as eye-opening and is a microcosm of team’s struggles to develop talent outside of the can’t-miss players the Wizards took with top-three draft picks.

This Wizards’ Summer League roster featured four players who spent time on the regular season roster last season: Sheldon Mac, Chris McCullough, Daniel Ochefu, and Danuel House. It also included two players – Michael Young and Devin Robinson – who will factor in the future as the team’s two-way players.

Of these six guys, Mac was the only one who looked like a legitimate NBA player. He was overpowering in attacking the hole and averaged 13.2 points per game over the tournament. His jump shot isn’t a thing of beauty yet, but he made up for it by overmatching defenders with his size.

Mac’s performance was very reminiscent of Kelly Oubre’s 2016 Summer League efforts, as Mac was the clear leader of this team. Sometimes he forced the issue, but that’s what you want to see, since he’s the player who has the best chance of being asked to create offense for the Wizards next season.

Daniel Ochefu raised some eyebrows with his play too. He wasn’t as flashy or nearly as athletic as Mac but was able to muster 7.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in just 21.2 minutes of action per night. Ochefu showed some bounce that we hadn’t seen before and some nifty post moves that generated easy baskets for himself and others, as he shot a very impressive 70 percent from the field in the tournament and averaged 1.6 assists per game out of the post.

However, when he was matched up against the up-and-rising talent in Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, Ochefu turned in his worst game of the tournament while Adebayo put up a rock solid 16 point, 7 rebound performance.

Even with Ochefu’s solid play, he’s in a poor situation as he’s currently the third or fourth center (if you consider Jason Smith a center) on the Wizards’ roster. So even though he showed some promising signs, he’s still low on the pecking order for this upcoming season.

Chris McCullough, the Wizards’ “first round draft pick” is far from a finished product entering his third NBA season. There’s no denying his athleticism is second to none, but that’s where the buck stops. He only shot 29.2 percent from the field and struggled on the defensive end, especially with more physical players.

His struggles were best exemplified when the Wizards played the Chicago Bulls in the third game of league play. McCullough was overmatched against Bulls’ rookie Lauri Markkanen. He knocked down some early threes which stretched McCullough out of his defensive comfort zone, and then used the spacing he gained to push the third year player around on the glass, as he grabbed four offensive rebounds in that game.

McCullough has the tools to become a solid NBA player, but this Summer League tournament was an indication that he still has a long ways to go. If he truly was a rookie, that would be understandable, but it’s harder to stay patient with a player going into their third year, especially as the team has to make a decision on whether or not to pick up the team option on the fourth year of his rookie deal for next season.

Michael Young averaged 9.4 points per game and showed that he can be a physical presence on the offensive end while finishing in traffic, but still has to work on his jumper before he can be a serious NBA threat. Devon Robinson has an even longer way to go. He is a very bouncy player with a jumper that might be even worse than Chris McCullough’s, but he still has time to grow.

So why does this all matter?

For starters, this shows that the Wizards have very little young talent to develop on their roster. As mentioned, Sheldon Mac was the leader and far and away the best talent on the roster but outside of Mac, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. The lack of draft picks from previous seasons looks to be catching up as not one player on the Summer League roster was drafted by Washington. Some of the other guys might be interesting if they can develop, but it’s harder to do that properly when you don’t have your own G-League affiliate where you can manage player development.

The Wizards have had their troubles drafting outside of the obvious, top-three picks they made and have failed to turn young talent taken later in the draft and develop them into productive players. Those struggles came full-circle this summer with the lack of talent on display in Las Vegas.

Yes, it’s just Summer League, but the team’s struggles and lack of talent that was evident on this team’s roster just reiterated three areas that the front office has struggled with for years: keeping draft picks, hitting on draft picks, and developing young talent.

Winning the Southeastern Division is a big deal for the Wizards

Last night, the Washington Wizards beat the Los Angeles Lakers to clinch their first Southeastern Division title since 1979. On the surface, a division title doesn’t look like a big deal as it no longer guarantees home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Hell, it doesn’t even guarantee a playoff birth.

For the Wizards however, this is a monumental achievement.

As us Wizards faithful know, this team has been stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity for the last 35+ years and is on full display at the Verizon Center. It is one of the few arenas where they hang jerseys of players who spent minimal time in Washington and banners for merely making the playoffs. This franchise has gone through several dark periods and now has something to hang their hat on which is more impressive than a star who played just one year with the team or making an appearance in the postseason.

It isn’t winning the division title that’s important, as it doesn’t provide any postseason advantages, but it gives this small yet diehard franchise something to cheer about. For the first time in a long time, the Wizards have a legitimate shot at making and winning the Eastern Conference and have an outside shot at a finals appearance and potentially a championship.

During the days when Gilbert Arenas was the star of the show, it always felt like the team was playing with house money. If they made the playoffs then great but if not, it’s just the ‘same ol’ Wizards’ that we’re used to. Unfortunately during that era, Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal joined forces in Miami, a Southeastern Division foe. So although the Wizards were fun and exciting during that time, they couldn’t get past the Heat during the regular season.

After the infamous ‘gun gate’, the Wizards began digging themselves out of that dark hole. But they had another problem. The big three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade joined forces in Miami. So long to winning the division with that core three intact.

But things are different now. Yes, the Southeastern Conference is very weak compared to years past but there’s one thing we cannot overlook. For once, the roster orchestrated by the front office has a chance to be cemented into this franchise’s history and the byproduct just so happens to be a Southeastern Division title.

Scott Brooks must manage his starters’ minutes more down the stretch

Things are still great in Washington despite Friday’s loss to the 76ers. After a head-scratching 2-8 start to the season, the Wizards have gone 32-14. They hold the third seed in the Eastern Conference and are starting to get the national media’s attention. Now, the Wizards need to address what short-term goals they want to reach this season.

The Wizards/Bullets franchise has been on the treadmill of mediocrity for decades now. Washington has a chance to win 50 games for the first time since 1978-1979 if they can finish with a 16-10 record down the stretch. It won’t be easy with 16 of their last 26 games on the road, but many of them will be against teams with losing records this season.

The Wizards are within striking distance of the Celtics, who currently hold the second seed and have an outside shot of getting the number one seed in the Eastern Conference if the Cavs struggle without Kevin Love down the stretch. The problem is, the Wizards’ success comes at a price.

Washington’s starters average 20.1 minutes per game on the court together, the second-most in the league behind Minnesota’s starting unit. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat are all top-25 in minutes played this season. The only other team that has three players in the group are the Timberwolves. So the question is, do the Wizards care about accolades such as a 50-win season or fighting for the highest possible seed, or would they rather focus on being healthy and well-rested when playoff time rolls along?

The main goals for Washington over these next 26 games should be to end the season healthy and capture either the second or third seed. The Wizards do not want to find themselves in the 4-5 matchup in the first round — one they’ve been in the last two times they’ve made the playoffs. While the team may not fear Cleveland, they’d be better suited avoiding them until the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Wizards main goals for the remainder of the seasons should be the following:

1. Keep the starters’ minutes down.

2. Secure the 2-seed or 3-seed.

3. Go for 50 wins.

During this recent hot streak, the starters have been forced to play heavy minutes including several instances where Wall and Beal have eclipsed the 40-minute mark. And as we know, this team is a rolled ankle away from things turning south very quickly. So for that reason, it would be in Washington’s best interest to keep the minutes down while pursuing the second or third seed.

As it stands, it doesn’t look like Washington will be able to accomplish all three of the goals mentioned above regardless of what transpires at the trade deadline. Since a sacrifice has to be made, winning 50 games just because the franchise hasn’t experienced such a season in 40 years should be the last thing on their minds as a deep postseason run is much more important than a regular season accolade. Just look at Golden State last year.

If Brooks opts to play these guys heavy minutes in a schedule which features six back-to-backs, I’m concerned that might wear the starters out. But we wouldn’t see the trickle down effect until the second or maybe the third round of the playoffs, when it would matter most.

Is seeding important? Absolutely. Would a 50-win season be memorable for years to come? No doubt about it. However, with the starters set to play heavy minutes come playoff time, the team’s primary focus should be keeping their minutes down leading up to the postseason.

John Wall has earned the right to demand change in Washington

John Wall is on an island, and help doesn’t look to be on its way anytime soon.

Wall, a three-time all-star, is having arguably the best season of his career. Wall is currently averaging 23.6 points, 9.6 assists, and 2.1 steals in 36 minutes of action per game; all team highs. If I had told you this prior to the season, one would assume that the Wizards would at least be a threat in the very mediocre, Eastern Conference. Instead, the Wizards are just 9-13and are struggling to beat some of the NBA’s worst teams. Yes, the Wizards have won six of their last 10 games, but that’s just a band-aid for the Wizards current and long-term problems.

Outside of Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and Marcin Gortat are also having career years. Gortat has turned into a double-double machine. Beal has upped his scoring to 21.6 points per game and has stayed healthy for the most part. And Otto Porter has improved in nearly every statistical category and looks like the next player in line to receive a max deal at the season’s end.

Four Wizards players are having the best seasons of their respective careers but that’s where it starts and ends as the rest of the roster features average to below average players including a couple of guys who even NBA junkies forget are still in the NBA.

Instead of riding the momentum of the 2014-2015 playoff teams, Wall, in the seventh year of his career, is surrounded by one of the worst supporting casts in the NBA with even less fan support to speak of.

No wonder he’s calling out this team’s effort after poor and inexcusable losses. Wall realizes that he’s not immune to the mediocrity of this Washington franchise. The lack of exposure on a national scale has likely cost him a massive shoe deal, other endorsement opportunities, as well as being penciled into the All-Star game by the national media on a yearly basis. To make matters worse, he plays through a slew of injuries and is coming off double knee surgery only to be the second highest paid player on this roster whose checks are just slightly larger than Ian Mahinmi’s; a guy who’s played just 14 minutes this season.

John Wall is at the biggest crossroads of his NBA career. If he’s not OK with the way things are currently going (which he’s not), it’s time for Wall to force upper management to make a big trade that must gain his approval, or it’s time for John Wall to demand that he be traded out of D.C.

This doesn’t come without heavy consequences as he’s likely to take a bashing from the national media if he chooses either of the latter two options. However, if Wall wants to be part of a successful team and potentially win a championship; that’s what he has to do.

Kobe Bryant pulled this power move in the mid-2000’s after he’d consistently score 40+ points per night yet the Lakers never seemed to make it past the first round of the playoffs. At the time, Bryant wanted to play with a playmaking point guard and demanded that the Lakers trade then, an up and coming talent in Andrew Bynum for veteran point guard, Jason Kidd. That trade didn’t work as the Lakers didn’t want to get rid of Andrew Bynum however, Los Angeles ended up with a consolation prize in Pau Gasol. Not Bryant’s first choice but the move paid off since that Lakers went on to win two NBA championships in 2009 and 2010.

Just two years ago in 2014, LeBron James returned home to Cleveland. Some think that James returned home to Cleveland only if he’d be able to have his say in all trades and free agent acquisitions. Just after James arrived in Cleveland, news broke that the Cavs were shipping their number one pick in Andrew Wiggins and former number one pick in Anthony Bennett for a third star in Kevin Love. On top of that, the team went out and acquired JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov midseason just to ensure that the Cavs had enough firepower to make a run at the NBA Finals, and keep James happy.

That year, the Cavs made it back to the NBA finals, won the NBA Finals this past season, and can be penciled in to represent the Eastern Conference once again in this year’s NBA Finals.

Last but certainly not least, Kevin Garnett forced his way out of Minnesota in 2007 only to win a championship with the Celtics the very next season. Like Wall, Garnett was a once in a lifetime talent, stuck in a small market, on a team that never threatened to make any noise in the postseason outside of one run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 where they lost to the Lakers. Things fell apart after that run so with no clear path back to the Western Conference Finals, Garnett left to chase a ring.

Even though Wall doesn’t have any rings, he’s in a similar spot to what Bryant, James, and Garnett experienced in their careers and has deserved the right to make such fierce demands. Wall navigated the Wizards out of the deep dark hole left behind by Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton. He led the Wizards to back-to-back Eastern Conference Semifinals appearances and was a broken wrist away from guiding the team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Keep in mind, the trio of Arenas-Butler-Jamison made it out of the first round just once and before that; the Wizards hadn’t reached the second round of the playoffs since 1982.

And let’s not forget about all of the charity and philanthropic events Wall is involved with off the court. Not sure if there’s been a Wizards player who was as active in the community as Wall is. Wall started the John Wall Family Foundation which provides mentorship, educational opportunities, and after-school activities for the disadvantaged youth in the DMV area. He’s participated in countless food drives and formed a bond with Miyah Telemaque-Nelson; a youngster who bravely battled but sadly lost her battle with Lymphoma. Last and certainly not least, Wall often spends extra time before games signing autographs for fans and has been known to stay after games to do the same thing, even after the ugliest of losses. Wall is a huge part of the DMV community and his work off of the court shouldn’t be overshadowed by what’s going on in-between the lines.

For Wall to stay in D.C., the front office will have to be overhauled as they’ve yet to nail a good draft pick (aside from the obvious ones) since 2010. Washington has whiffed on countless draft picks such as Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely, or have overpaid for guys like Alan Anderson, and now, Ian Mahinmi who never amounted to much in Washington. And if that doesn’t work, management has no problems making desperation moves and trading a top draft pick for a guy who had few to no suitors and has yet to play a quality defensive possession in 2016.

On top of that, they’ve only acquired one player through free agency in that time period (Paul Pierce) that has stepped in and contributed right away. Rather than overpaying tried and true players, management opts to let them walk assuming for some reason that they’ll hit a home run on their next draft pick or free agent acquisition.

Wall is under contract until the summer of 2019. Up until this point, he’s been quarterbacking a team with average receivers and a horrific defense only to result in big paydays for everyone around him. The time has come for Wall to put his foot down and demand change in Washington.

Top Wizards Killers of the 2015-2016 season

What is it about playing the Wizards that brings out the best in some guys?

In past years, players like Gerald Henderson, Lou Williams, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Khris Middelton would all have big games statistically when going up against the Wizards. Washington was able to hold these guys in check for the most part during the 2015-2016 season but there was a new batch of “Wizards Killers” that emerged.

For those new to the party, let me define what a “Wizards Killer” is.

Wizards Killer – An average or above-average player who puts up uncharacteristically huge numbers when playing against the Wizards. Players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant (well he did kind of rip the hearts out of Wizards fans… never mind), Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, etc. are ineligible from this elite fraternity as they have multiple All-Stars appearances so it’s expected that they put up big numbers against Washington.

So who ripped the Wizards’ fans collective heart during the 2015-2016 season?

Wesley Matthews

Matthews averaged a pedestrian 12.5 points, 1.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds during the 2015-2016 season. Against the Wizards, Matthews averaged nearly 20 points more per game (32 PPG in two games) to go along with 2.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

Matthews had an up-and-down start to the season. There’d be nights where he’d score between 15-20 points and others where he was held to single figures. Matthews voiced his frustrations prior to the game against the Wizards and in-turn took out his frustrations by scoring 36 points on 10-17 shooting from three-point range; his highest scoring output of the season

Matthews wasn’t done there. He would score 28 points (second highest scoring output of the season) on 6-11 shooting from three-point range just six days later when the Mavericks hosted the Wizards in Dallas.      

He shot 36 percent from three-point range during the regular season but against the Wizards, that number skyrocketed to 57 percent. In addition, Matthews shot 55 percent from the field against the Wizards while shooting just 38.8 percent from the field the rest of the season.

He shot nearly 20 percentage points above his field goal shooting percentage and three-point shooting percentage as well as having his best and second best scoring games of the season against the Wizards.

That gets Wesley Matthews firmly cemented as the top Wizards Killer of 2015-2016.

Shelvin Mack

Although Mack played in just one game against the Wizards, this one stings because the Wizards waived Mack twice. Once before the start of the 2012 season and again in January 2013 after Mack re-signed just a week earlier. 

Shelvin Mack responded with 27 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists on March 11th as the Jazz beat the Wizards 114-93. Mack averaged just 4.5 points per game during his short tenure with the Wizards and 8.6 points per game last season with the Hawks and Jazz (Mack was traded at the deadline).

It’s clear Mack was looking for revenge against his former team as he too scored a season-high 27 points against the Wizards on 11-17 shooting. Not bad for a guy who shot 44 percent from the field during the regular season.

A player who the team waived twice comes back to burn them for 27 points; over three times his scoring average for the season. Is there anything that’s more #SoWizards than that?

Isaiah Thomas

Unlike the guys mentioned above, Thomas had four cracks at the Wizards this season. The Wizards are known to struggle against small and quick point guards and that was no different this season against Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics. 

Thomas averaged 23 points this season against the Wizards, slightly up from his season average of 22.2. But remember, three out of the four games against the Celtics this season were blowouts. The closest game between the two teams came on January 16th where the Celtics won 119-117. Sure enough, Thomas had 32 points in that game. Like the two other guys mentioned above, Thomas did his damage from three-point range shooting 47.8 percent against the Wizards compared to just 36 percent from distance during the regular season.

Yes, Thomas was an All-Star this past season. But the fact that he stands just 5’9 and was still able to torch the Wizards on four different occasions grants him eligibility to be part of the club.

Kobe Bryant

Now if this were any other year, Kobe would not be eligible to join the very selective Wizards Killer club. However, since Kobe was on his farewell tour and played for one of the worst teams in the NBA, he can be reinstated for one year.

To refresh everyone’s memory, the Wizards had just beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland the night prior to get the month of December started. So a home game against the lowly Lakers the next night would be an automatic win right?

Vintage Kobe came alive hitting big shot after big shot for the Lakers ending the game with 31 points; nearly 14 points above his season average of 17.6.

Kobe would score 12 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers would beat the Wizards that night. Kobe would ride into the sunset waving goodbye to all of the Laker fans that flooded Verizon Center that night making it a quasi-road game for Washington.

Honorable Mentions: Tyreke Evans (27 points, 12/11/2015), Danilo Gallinari (26 points, 1/28/2016), Zach LaVine (25 points, 3/25/2016).