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NBA PM: Breaking Down Scott Brooks to Washington

The Washington Wizards have hired Scott Brooks. What does that mean for the Wizards going forward?

Alex Kennedy

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The Washington Wizards were one of the most disappointing teams in the league during the 2015-16 NBA season. Now, they have a new head coach to lead them going forward.

The Wizards agreed to a five-year, $35 million deal with Scott Brooks, who was reportedly the only target on Washington’s wish list. Yesterday, general manager Ernie Grunfeld flew to California to meet with Brooks and the two sides had agreed to a deal within 24 hours.

Brooks, who is 50 years old, previously coached the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons. During his stint in Oklahoma City, Brooks compiled a 338-207 regular-season record and 39-34 playoff record including a trip to the 2012 NBA Finals and two other trips to the Western Conference Finals. Brooks and his staff helped developed the team’s young talent, including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson among others.

Brooks was the winner of the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in 2010. He is the third-winningest coach in the combined history of the Thunder and Seattle SuperSonics, trailing only Lenny Wilkens and George Karl.

Entering the year, just about everyone expected the Wizards to build on last year’s campaign that saw Washington win 46 games and nearly advance to the Eastern Conference Finals before injuries helped the Atlanta Hawks overcome a 1-2 deficit.

In addition to entering the season with momentum, Washington added a number of veterans to bolster their rotation including Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson and Gary Neal last summer and then Markieff Morris, Marcus Thornton and J.J. Hickson in midseason moves.

To get an idea of how high expectations were entering this season, here’s what John Wall told Basketball Insiders in October when asked about the Wizards’ goals for the 2015-16 season: “A good year is 50-plus wins, getting home-court advantage in the playoffs and definitely making the Eastern Conference Finals to give ourselves a shot at the Finals.”

Instead, the Wizards missed the playoffs after finishing the season with a 41-41 record, putting them in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Washington ranked 19th in the NBA in offense (scoring 102.9 points per 100 possessions) and ranked 14th in the NBA in defense (allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions). Just one year prior, the Wizards had a top-five defense.

The team’s struggles led to the firing of head coach Randy Wittman on April 13, 2016 once the team missed the postseason. Wittman was on the hot seat for much of the season since many believed the team wasn’t playing up to their full potential.

While this is likely true, it is worth noting that Bradley Beal appeared in just 55 games this season (and started only 35) and a number of other players missed five or more games due to various injuries including Wall, Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter and Nene among others.

There’s no question that this past season was a breakout year for Wall, as he averaged 19.9 points, 10.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He also improved his three-point shooting, hitting 35.1 percent of his shots from long range on 4.3 attempts per game (both of which were career-highs).

It’ll be interesting to see how Brooks helps the Wizards get back on track after this let-down season. In Oklahoma City, Brooks developed a reputation as a players’ coach who did a terrific job getting everyone to buy-in while creating a winning culture.

A number of players, including Durant and Westbrook, were initially upset to see him leave even though many people felt that the Thunder had stagnated and needed a new sideline general to better lead their star-studded roster.

One thing that has repeatedly been mentioned in regards to Brooks is whether he could help a team’s recruitment of Durant. There’s no denying that the two had a close relationship that dates back to Durant’s first season in the NBA. He was initially an assistant on P.J. Carlesimo’s staff in Seattle and then became the interim (and then full-time) head coach when Carlesimo was fired. The Wizards have made it no secret that they’re going to pursue Durant, a hometown star, this summer when he is an unrestricted free agent and they likely feel Brooks can help them as they make their pitch.

The Wizards have just $45,091,855 in guaranteed contracts on the books for next season, meaning they could have approximately $47 million in cap space entering the offseason. A large portion of this will very likely go toward re-signing Beal, who is set to become a restricted free agent, but the team still has plenty of money to spend.

As previously mentioned, Brooks did a very good job helping Oklahoma City’s young players develop. The Wizards will only go as far as Wall (25 years old) and Beal (22 years old) take them and Brooks could help them take their games to the next level. Other young players in Washington include recent first-round picks Porter (22) and Kelly Oubre (20).

Tom Thibodeau, who joined the Minnesota Timberwolves yesterday, and Brooks were widely regarded as two of the best coaches on the market so it’s no surprise to see them snatched up this quickly. We’ll see if both men can help their teams turn the corner and compete at a higher level, starting with next season.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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