Jeff Green makes the Wizards bench better

Consider the Wizards 2-for-2 since striking out on Kevin Durant two off-seasons ago on convincing homegrown talent to return to the DMV. In the spring, they brought Ty Lawson on board for the playoffs, and this off-season the Wizards signed Jeff Green, fresh off an NBA Finals run with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

OK. So, maybe neither fits the description of “game changer,” “all-star” or “generational player,” someone that pushes the Wizards over the top as a title contender, but Green’s addition does fill a need for Washington.

He’s a long, athletic forward who can switch multiple positions defensively and play small-ball power forward, or small forward in a regular lineup. His jump shot won’t be as consistent as Mike Scott’s was last season, but he’s more than capable of scoring the basketball and stretches the floor enough that defenses have to respect him.

Joining a second unit that presumably includes Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr., Green won’t be asked to make plays. He can simply get in where he fits. Washington’s bench should be markedly better than it has been the last few seasons.

Green ranked 19th among small forwards last season in player efficiency, hovering right around league average – and that’s after having an underwhelming season from three. He compensated with a .477 overall field-goal percentage, easily the highest of his career. Green’s 14.8 PER was 38th among any player with forward versatility to have played at least 1,500 minutes last season, ahead of players like Jaylen Brown, Robert Covington, Oubre and Wizards starting power forward Markieff Morris.

This isn’t the sexy free agent splash that teams like the Lakers and Warriors have been able to make, but it is a move that will make Washington better next season.


Wizards are unprepared for LeBron James’ departure from Eastern Conference

LeBron James vs Otto Porter

CLEVELAND, OH – APRIL 5: on April 5, 2018 at The Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

It didn’t feel as good as we all thought it would.

We knew this moment could come at any time. We had it all mapped out in our heads, the dominoes that would fall in the aftermath, but when it finally happened – probably sooner than we predicted – we weren’t ready.

The Eastern Conference finally rid itself of LeBron James when he made the decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers on a 4-year deal, and the Washington Wizards feel totally unprepared to capitalize.

Had this happened just a year ago, the jubilation in D.C. would’ve reverberated from Fredericksburg to Gaithersburg. But the season that just took place in between Washington’s Game 7 semifinals loss to Boston in 2017 and its 6-game loss in the 1st round to Toronto in 2018 was an embarrassment. All optimism was sapped from D.C. And when James decided to join the Western Conference, a team that was once thought to be among the East’s up-and-coming class suddenly feels like it came and went already.

Boston and Philadelphia are now the team’s to beat out east. Indiana and Milwaukee are the up-and-comers. Toronto is the incumbent veteran squad. Washington is a disappointment.

But no need to fret Washingtonians. John Wall remains a top-five player in the conference, and he’s now in the conversation for the best without James. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. are getting better every year, and if the locker room abominations added to the roster this offseason don’t actually destroy the team, they do make the product on the court better. With good health, Washington will be competitive in 2018-19.

We expected to be at the top of the conference by the time James departed, and the fact that we aren’t makes it difficult to get excited this offseason. But the thought was always going to be that once he departed, the east would be wide open, and that hasn’t changed. Someone had to be the target with Cleveland displaced, and it’s probably best that it’s not the Wizards. They aren’t built for that yet. But with a new target not named LeBron James, our chances of knocking that target off are better than they’ve ever been.


A healthy Derrick Rose keeps Cleveland afloat in the East

The Cavaliers signed Derrick Rose on Monday in one of the most uninspiring change of teams by a former MVP in recent memory.

It’s uninspiring because injuries have robbed Rose of the form he had when he won the MVP in the 2010-11 season. Also, Cleveland already has a better point guard on the roster as of today (more on that later).

But for as uninspiring as the move is now, it’s still a good pickup for the Cavs. Some argue that Rose is no longer good and has no value, which simply isn’t true. The flaw in that logic is the tendency to compare Rose to his former self, an MVP-level performer, rather than other players in his new salary bracket. The truth is, at one-year, $2.1 million, the Cavaliers got Rose on a bargain. Michael Carter-Williams, Aaron Brooks, Raymond Felton and Jose Calderon are just a few point guards in line to make more money than Rose next season.

The former Bulls All-Star has been trending upwards the last two years. Since playing in just 100 games over four seasons from 2011 to 2014, Rose has played in 130 over the last two seasons. He increased his scoring average from 16.4 PPG to 18.0 PPG over those two seasons and shot 47% from the field last season, his best since his third year in the league. He’ll need to improve on a career-low 22% from three, especially playing for the Cavs, but he’s never been a great three-point shooter. Last season, Rose showed flashes of that same early-career athleticism that allowed him to get into the paint and finish at the rim at will.

For a Cleveland team that always plays late into the postseason, Rose’s skill-set, and maybe his body too, would’ve been better suited in a sixth-man role. He would’ve been an upgrade over Deron Williams as Kyrie Irving’s backup. Now that Irving is seemingly forcing Cleveland’s hand in trade talks, however, Rose will be thrust into a starting role he may not be fit for. Irving’s ability to stretch the floor, along with Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, gave Cleveland’s starting unit good spacing. Without Irving, the dynamics of this offense changes, and not for the better. That’s before diving into whether Rose will be available the entire season. Still, if Cleveland deals Irving, the team is better off with Rose than without.

LeBron James is good enough to carry to the NBA Finals whichever version of the Cavaliers show up on opening night, but Cleveland is measuring itself against the Warriors, not the Eastern Conference. Rose’s addition is enough to keep an Irving-less Cavs team atop the East, but the real issue is he significantly reduces their chances of running with Golden State come June.


Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland more than out of LeBron’s shadow

Don’t let Kyrie Irving’s one-track minded, ‘what teammates?’, offensive approach to the game of basketball fool you, he’s very aware of what’s going on around him.

Like the rest of us, Irving’s heard the speculation of LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland, but instead of sticking around ‘The Land’ to see what the aftermath looks like, he decided to stick a shipping label on himself and request a trade.

Reports are that Irving wants to play in San Antonio but will also go to Miami, Minnesota, or New York. Two of the four potential destinations, San Antonio and Minnesota, leave room to question whether Irving’s reason for wanting to switch teams – wanting to be more of a focal point and not James’ sidekick – is nothing more than a cop out. If there’s any team that prides itself on ball movement and not relying on one player, it’s the San Antonio Spurs. And if anyone is going to be the focal point of that team, it’s Kawhi Leonard. Alternatively, the Timberwolves have two players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler, that would be focal points over Irving. Even the Knicks have been trying to deal Carmelo Anthony in part to begin building around Kristaps Porzingis. They’d be foolish not to pursue a deal for Irving, but are we sure he’d be the top option?

It may be true that Irving wants a bigger role, but the truth of why he demanded a trade is because he doesn’t want that role to be in Cleveland. If it was as simple as getting his own team, he could’ve waited another season for James to leave. He would’ve gotten his old team back, been eligible for more money than anywhere else, and he could’ve competed for another championship in the meantime. But this isn’t about James – this is about Irving getting the hell out of dysfunctional Cleveland without having Cavs fans turn on him.

New York and Miami give Irving the best chance to get from under a shadow (that may not even exist) and lead his own team, but he may not lead them very far. While experience and growth makes him a better player than he was for the three years before James returned to Cleveland, he’s not a very different player. He’s demonstrated the ability to single-handedly take games over on offense, but his game is too flawed to win consistently outside of the perfect team scenario. At some point he has to get teammates involved and show better situational awareness, and at some point he has to start playing defense. Otherwise, having a LeBron James to chase down blocks on one end of the floor and prevent defensive traps on the other end so he can hit the go-ahead three pointer in the deciding game of the NBA Finals may be as good as it gets.


NBA Kingdom, Pt. 1: Lay of the Land

Once the clock hit zeros in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, it was finally clear the league didn’t belong to LeBron James for the first time since 2010, at least not solely. But James didn’t lose the league to another player or a single rival opponent who outgunned him in a one-on-one showdown. No, James lost the league to a collective of individuals who had no chance to dethrone him without the assistance of one another. They jumped him for it.

Still, the Warriors haven’t completely snatched the league from James. With two championships in a three year span, they simply forced him to share it with a worthy opponent. When an individual changes teams, yet stretches his streak of finals appearances to seven straight like James did, it’s hard to draw an end to his reign, regardless of recent results. All it takes are a few calculated moves and the Cavaliers could be right back in position to win their second championship in three years. Even if they don’t make moves, most of us expect them to at least get back to finals.

It’s asking for a lot of any team to knock off the likes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the best supporting cast in the league without injuries playing a factor. This means star players will join near-forces to have at least a fighting chance at sniffing a championship. It means Chris Paul will consider joining the Spurs, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward will consider the Celtics, Dwyane Wade might team back up with James in Cleveland, and Kyle Lowry might leave a good situation in Toronto for a better one elsewhere. It also means players still under contract like Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony will be brought up in trade speculation.

Before James took hold of the kingdom, it hadn’t belonged to a single player since Michael Jordan. It was shared by teammates on great teams, or fought for every year by new contenders, but it hadn’t been shared by individuals from separate teams since the Celtics/Lakers rivalry of the 1980s. In order for that type of shared kingdom to continue to exist today however, James will need to win another ring soon. Because if Golden State wins another championship or two, he’ll simply be a footnote in what we look back on in the future as the Golden State dynasty.