Things I learned/witnessed at summer league in Las Vegas, in bullets:
On Day 1, Chris Webber, an analyst for the games on NBA TV, broke out his pleated cargo shorts. It was a tough day for all of us.
Bradley Beal can block shots… he averaged one per game over five contests in Las Vegas. Chris Singleton also threw his body around a bunch (“I feel like it’s going to help Chris Singleton out a lot,” said Shelvin Mack about the summer league 10-foul limit during Wizards mini-camp prior. “You know, he likes to foul, so he’s going to play a lot longer, so it’s good for us.”). This clip shows Beal blocking, or rather, thwarting a lob attempt off the backboard, and then Singleton diving over the first row of chairs for the loose ball:
It’s far from the dazzle of Michael Jordan or Jaromír Jágr, or even the marketing buzz of Midnight Madness or red carpets and police escorts for the 2010 No. 1 Draft Pick — all past pursuits of Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.
It’s just Randy Wittman returning as head coach. The team officially announced the moderately-anticipated news on Monday. The press conference received maybe 30-percent the media fanfare that a bigger name coach (like a Jerry Sloan, a Stan Van Gundy, a Nate McMillan, or a Mike D’Antoni) would have garnered. It was poker faces slow-playing low expectations.
Familiarity is the opposite of the buzz that budding pro sports owner Leonsis became associated with; now more familiar with the institution, dealing with realities such as economics, the choice of Wittman to helm his team’s hardwood action flies well below the radar. Familiarity is now one of the talking points of Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld when going over the merits of just the second head coach he’s hired during a nine-year tenure in D.C.
Actually, management has made it clear that Wittman, and staff, were already under contract. Grunfeld’s only new hire has been Flip Saunders.
Tonight the Wizards face a Houston Rockets team that they played fairly close about 10 days ago… Washington fell apart toward the end, per usual. But this game is different, new Wizards coach Randy Wittman, that dancing fool (as it IS ‘Dance Party Friday’ on Bullets Forever), will be facing off against friendly foe Kevin McHale. When the Washington Post’s Michael Lee attempted to pry some answers out of McHale about his old chums, Wittman and Flip Saunders, the Rockets coach said, “No thoughts. I’m pretty much not going to answer anything you’re asking on that. That’s usually a hint. If I don’t answer the first question, I’m not answering the second or third.” Then he offered Lee a dap. Whatever is clever… McHale probably just didn’t want to call the Wizards players dumb (since, after all, McGee did try that off-the-backboard dunk B.S. the last time these two teams faced). In any case, the drill is three questions, three answers, featuring TAI’s Rashad Mobley, Sam Permutt and John Converse Townsend. 3-on-3 starts now…
#1) Houston won just five of their first 12 games when they beat Washington on MLK Day, but overall won seven in a row before that streak was snapped by Milwaukee, in Houston, on Wednesday (the Rockets victory over the Wizards was win No. 2 in the streak). They now stand at 10-8, while the Wizards are 3-15, and normally you’d expect Washington to lose this game, but under a new coach, they might be a bit more hungry to get their first road victory. Which team comes out the aggressor?
MOBLEY: The Wizards. Unless you’re the Oklahoma City Thunder, and you’re trying to avenge a loss, no one is going to get up for the Wizards and come out aggressive, so the Rockets will start slow. The Wizards as a whole will be looking to continue their Randy Wittman-inspired momentum previously found against the lowly Bobcats. But more specifically, JaVale McGee SHOULD be motivated because a) he got dunked on by Chandler Parsons’ franks and beans in the last meeting, and b) he performed this ill-advised dunk.
PERMUTT: A coaching change can create a tryout-like atmosphere on a team. Players suddenly have newfound motivation to play unselfishly, to dive on the floor, to show their new leader (and minute distributor) why they belong on the court. Of course, the players are all familiar with Randy Wittman as an assistant. Nonetheless, expect the Wizards to be eager to please their new head coach in his first official game. Wait… the Bobcats are a real team? That game counted?!? Never mind. But still.
Kevin McHale once told Randy Foye, “Anything [Dwyane Wade] can do, you can do.” I doubt Wade would have come up short in three crucial game situations as Foye did in Chicago, but the team and fans are finding out that the 26-year old might be worth keeping after this season. He has stepped up his play in Gilbert Arenas’ absence, and has proven to be a high character guy.
Not counting the blowout in Cleveland (because the Wizards were going through mental shock from the last-minute indefinite suspension of Arenas and Foye didn’t even start), in the seven games Foye has filled in as the Wizards’ starting point guard, he has averaged 18.6 points (.438 FG%), 7.1 assists, 1.9 turnovers, and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Of course, give any player more minutes and his numbers will go up. Foye has averaged 38:40 minutes over his last seven compared to 17:39 over his first 32 games. To put his latest stats in perspective, it’s best to compare his numbers per 36 minutes between the defined pre- and post-Gilbert Arenas eras [note: Foye's one missed game came November 14th against the Pistons; he had a sprained ankle].
There was a mini-spike in Randy Foye news last week. On Monday, after watching a video about Foye on NBA.com, I wondered if he could be ‘the’ difference maker.
On Wednesday, the WaPost’s Michael Lee put together a nice piece on Foye off his notes from a previous meeting. Here, we learned of a potential style conflict between Foye and former T-Wolves head coach, current Wizards assistant, Randy Wittman. Lee also related something Kevin McHale once told Foye before a matchup against Dwyane Wade, “Anything he can do, you can do.” Foye battled and finished with 29 points to Wade’s 31. The game came down to a last second foul call that Foye did not get … Wade probably would have.
Most know about the time Ernie Grunfeld spent in the New York Knicks front office. And many probably have an idea that Madison Square Garden was Grunfeld’s home court for the final four seasons of his nine year NBA playing career. But did you know that Big Ern was on the floor the night Patrick Ewing made his NBA debut?
After playing his first two seasons in Milwaukee, and his next three with the Kansas City Kings, Grunfeld began his tenure in NYC in ’82-83 with the likes of Bill Cartwright, Bernard King (Grunfeld’s teammate at Tennessee), Paul Westphal, and one of my all-time favorite NBA names, Rory Sparrow. Grunfeld was 10th in minutes per game on a Hubie Brown led, 44-win Knicks team that made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals. But the Philadelphia 76ers, with Moses Malone, Julius Erving, and Mo Cheeks, swept the Knicks, advanced to beat Sidney Moncrief‘s Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals, and swept the LA Lakers to win the ’83 NBA title.
Grunfeld and the 47-win Knicks fell short in the ’84 playoffs as well. This time going down in seven games to the Boston Celtics led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and the Chief Robert Parrish. Just as the 76ers did the previous season, the Celtics subsequently beat the Bucks in the East finals, and won the ’84 NBA championship, taking the Lakers in seven.
Tough times found the Knickerbockers in ’84-85. Cartwright missed the entire season and King only played 55 games. Not even Darrell Walker, in his second season and averaging a career-high 13.5 ppg, could help. A mere 24 wins and a frozen envelope later, Patrick Ewing magically landed in the Big Apple.