Wes Unseld Jr.

Wizards Notes: Unseld, Starting Point, Muscala, Omoruyi

While the Wizards‘ new front office has publicly shown support for incumbent head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who was hired by the previous regime, Josh Robbins of The Athletic believes 2023/24 will be a “make-or-break season” for Unseld’s future with the organization.

As Robbins writes, the Wizards have gone 35-47 in each of Unseld’s two seasons at the helm. After trading away Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, Washington likely took a short-term step backwards, so evaluating Unseld by the team’s record might not be prudent.

Robbins is interested to see how much buy-in Unseld will be able to coax out of the many new faces on the roster, and if the team’s young draft picks will develop over the course of the season, among other evaluation tools.

Here’s more on the Wizards:

  • In the same mailbag article, Robbins thinks Tyus Jones, who was acquired from Memphis in the Porzingis trade, has the edge for the starting point guard job heading into the season. His main competition is likely Delon Wright, who has been in trade rumors this offseason. As Robbins notes, Jordan Poole should have plenty of on-ball opportunities as well, even if he’s technically slotted as the shooting guard.
  • Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington evaluates what big man Mike Muscala will bring to the Wizards. As with Jones, Muscala was acquired in the Porzingis deal (from Boston). The 32-year-old makes quick decisions and is a strong off-ball mover in addition to being a threat from deep, Hughes writes.
  • The Wizards signed forward Eugene Omoruyi to a two-way deal last month after he split last season with the Thunder and Pistons. According to Bijan Todd of NBC Sports Washington, Omoruyi is a late bloomer, as he didn’t start playing basketball until he was a sophomore in high school. The 26-year-old is known as a strong cutter and versatile defender, Todd notes.

Winger To Have “Carte Blanche” Over Wizards’ Roster

New team president Michael Winger, who had been the Clippers’ GM since 2017, will have “carte blanche” to potentially overhaul the Wizards‘ roster going forward, writes Ava Wallace of The Washington Post.

Winger has been tasked by owner Ted Leonsis to develop an “identity” as well as “setting a fresh direction for the team,” according to Wallace.

Echoing a previous report, Wallace says Winger will hire a “general manager-type figure” to focus solely on the roster, though she suggests that may happen after the draft and free agency. Winger is also responsible for the WNBA’s Mystics and the G League’s Capital City Go-Go, which are owned by Leonsis’ Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the parent company that controls the Wizards.

The veteran executive is expected to be “empowered” to change the team’s coaching staff as well, Wallace reports. However, it sounds unlikely that head coach Wes Unseld Jr. will be going anywhere, at least for now, as he’s a favorite of Leonsis and is well-regarded within the Wizards, sources tell Wallace.

Wallace writes that Winger has a positive reputation amongst work colleagues, who refer to him as a “crucial voice” within the Clippers who is known as a “fair negotiator ready to lead his own organization.” While the 43-year-old didn’t speak to the media as a Clippers executive, Wallace hears he’s a “strong internal communicator” who’s adept at breaking down advanced concepts, including aspects of the CBA, into “layman’s terms.”

He’s really good at seeing the whole board,” one executive who has worked with Winger told Wallace. “He’s super organized and really smart. Process-driven to the nth degree. He won’t be reckless or let his team make big mistakes.”

Southeast Notes: Unseld, Wizards, Hornets, Vincent

Wes Unseld Jr.‘s coaching staff will be undergoing some changes this offseason, according to Ava Wallace of The Washington Post, who reports (via Twitter) that assistant coaches Alex McLean and Dean Oliver won’t be returning to the Wizards for 2023/24.

As Josh Robbins of The Athletic tweets, McLean had been with the Wizards for the last six seasons and also served as the team’s director of player development. Oliver is an analytics specialist and had been with the franchise for four years.

The expectation, as Wallace notes, is that Unseld will have more power to shape his coaching staff and to hire new assistants going forward.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • The Wizards‘ search for a new head of basketball operations is moving at a deliberate pace and is still in the early stages, according to Robbins (Twitter links), who says the team continues to compile a list of viable candidates for the job. Washington hasn’t hired an outside firm to run the search, which has been led more by ownership, Robbins adds.
  • The Hornets are hosting a group of six prospects for a pre-draft workout on Friday, the team announced in a press release. Led by Eastern Michigan forward and former five-star recruit Emoni Bates, the workout will also include Meechie Johnson Jr. (South Carolina), Jaylen Martin (Overtime Elite), Landers Nolley (Cincinnati), Jalen Slawson (Furman), and Trey Wertz (Notre Dame).
  • After evolving into more of a play-maker and distributor during his time in Miami, Heat guard Gabe Vincent has been asked to take on more scoring responsibilities since Tyler Herro went down in the first round. As Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald writes, Vincent – an unrestricted free agent this summer – has responded admirably, averaging 15.1 points per game and making 40.4% of his three-pointers since the playoffs began.

Wizards Fire GM Tommy Sheppard

Tommy Sheppard has been dismissed as general manager and president of the Wizards, the team announced in a press release. The move comes after another disappointing season for Washington, which compiled a 35-47 record and failed to qualify for the play-in tournament.

Sheppard, 53, had been with the organization since 2003, starting as vice president of basketball operations. He had served as GM since 2019 when he was promoted to replace Ernie Grunfeld. He received an extension and a promotion to president of basketball operations after the club got off to a strong start in 2021/22.

The Wizards never won more than 35 games in a season under Sheppard’s tenure and they reached the playoffs just once, advancing through the play-in tournament in 2021 before losing to the Sixers in the first round.

“Failure to make the playoffs the last two seasons was very disappointing to our organization and our fans,” owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement explaining the move (Twitter link from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski).

Sheppard’s departure means someone else will handle key financial decisions in what should be an important summer for Washington. Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis are both expected to turn down their player options for next season and test free agency, although Porzingis is involved in extension talks with the team.

The new GM will also try to improve on Sheppard’s performance in the draft, as Washington holds the No. 8 spot heading into next month’s lottery.

Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon and Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly are names to watch as the Wizards launch their search for Sheppard’s replacement, tweets Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

The front office shakeup won’t affect Wes Unseld Jr., who just completed his second season as head coach, according to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), who hears from sources that Leonsis remains a strong supporter of Unseld.

Wizards To Retain Wes Unseld Jr. For 2023/24

The Wizards were officially eliminated from the postseason race on Tuesday night and have fallen short of their preseason expectations, but the team’s disappointing season won’t cost head coach Wes Unseld Jr. his job.

Unseld will continue to hold his position as Washington’s coach entering the 2023/24 season, reports Josh Robbins of The Athletic. President of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard confirmed as much on Tuesday.

“He is our coach moving forward,” Sheppard said of Unseld.

Unseld, whose contract runs through the 2024/25 season, was hired by the Wizards to replace Scott Brooks in 2021. In his two seasons since taking the head coaching reins, Unseld has led the team to a 69-92 (.429) overall record and has missed the postseason in back-to-back years.

As Robbins notes, Unseld arrived in D.C. with a reputation as a defensive tactician, but hasn’t improved Washington’s unit, which placed 20th in defensive rating in the last season under Brooks. That ranking dipped to No. 25 last season and is at No. 20 again this year.

Despite the team’s underwhelming performance under Unseld, he has supporters, according to Robbins, who suggests that the Wizards’ relative lack of two-way players and injury woes have been factors in their struggles. Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyle Kuzma have played together just 35 times this season, Robbins observes, though it’s not a great sign that Washington hasn’t even played particularly well in those games, going just 16-19.

It will be a big offseason for the Wizards, who are expected to attempt to negotiate new contracts with Porzingis and Kuzma and are in position to secure a top-10 pick in the draft lottery. I’d expect the club to enter the fall anticipating a playoff-caliber season, with Unseld facing increased pressure to deliver on those expectations.

Wizards Notes: Beal, Kuzma, Davis, Tanking

Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma didn’t play on Sunday and the Wizards’ high-scoring duo may be shut down the remainder of the season.

Beal has a mild left knee sprain, while Kuzma is nursing a sprained right ankle. Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said he “hopes” they return this season, Ava Wallace of the Washington Post tweets. However, the Wizards are now tied with the Pacers and 3.5 games behind the Bulls for the final play-in spot, so it may not make sense to play the duo again.

We have more on the Wizards:

  • Without Beal and Kuzma, as well as point guard Monte Morris, the Wizards fell to the Raptors 114-104. That ensured the team would finish with a losing record for the fifth consecutive season. Kristaps Porzingis admits that without those players, the team is in a tough spot. “Those guys (Toronto) right now are a level higher. Us without our main guys, it’s different,” Porzingis told Wallace. “Difficult task.”
  • The play of lottery pick Johnny Davis was a bright spot on Sunday, Wallace noted in the same story. He scored a career-best 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers. “I feel like I just needed to see one go down,” Davis said. “It’s been a while since I hit a three. So once I saw that first one go, it just built up my confidence to be able to take and make open shots.”
  • The best thing for the Wizards’ long-term outlook would be to have the losses pile up the rest of the way, David Aldridge of The Athletic opines. The team needs another impact player and its best hope of getting one would be to have some lottery luck.

Wizards Notes: Wright, Nunn, Morris, Gill, Unseld Jr.

While Delon Wright was recovering from a severely strained hamstring, he was able to notice how much the Wizards need him, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. The numbers back up his observation — Washington is 13-6 with Wright in the lineup, but only 7-20 when he doesn’t play. He’s especially been a difference-maker on defense, where the team’s rating is 6.0 points better with him on the court.

“Once I had seen that I have that type of impact on the game, it made me more confident. It made me feel more welcome here,” Wright said. “A lot of times when you get to a certain team, they will say that you can do certain things. But even if you’re doing it, you still might get subbed or might not have your minutes as much as you want. Here I feel like I’m playing a decent amount of minutes and my role is enormous.”

It’s a rare feeling for Wright, who is with his seventh team in the past five seasons. He’s being used as a backup, starting just one of the 19 games he has played, but he’s having a significant impact in his 20.9 minutes per night, leading the league in steals per 36 minutes.

“I actually signed (with the Wizards), so that means a little more than getting traded for,” Wright said. “I feel the most confident I’ve been with an organization since I was in Toronto (from 2015-19).”

There’s more on the Wizards:

  • Kendrick Nunn had a strong debut for Washington on Wednesday in his first game since being acquired from the Lakers in the Rui Hachimura trade, notes Bijan Todd of NBC Sports Washington. Nunn expected to have a larger role in L.A. after signing with the team in free agency in 2021, but a knee injury prevented him from playing last year and he was averaging just 13.5 minutes per night in 39 games this season. He played 22 minutes in his first game with the Wizards and helped spark a comeback with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. “I just wanted to come in and impact winning,” Nunn said. “Play hard, be aggressive, be myself and just impact winning.”
  • Monte Morris has provided the type of leadership at point guard that the Wizards were hoping for, but that may made him of the team’s best trade assets heading into the deadline, according to Ava Wallace of The Washington Post. General manager Tommy Sheppard doesn’t plan to blow up the team’s core, Wallace adds, but more roster moves are likely coming.
  • Anthony Gill has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and will miss tonight’s game in New Orleans, Wallace tweets.
  • In an interview with Wes Hall of NBC Sports Washington (video link), coach Wes Unseld Jr. talks about the challenges he has faced midway through his second season with the team.

International Notes: Brown, Basketball Without Borders, World Cup

Former NBA wing Anthony Brown has agreed to terms on a deal with Russian club Unics Kazan, writes Alessandro Maggi of Sportando. A former EuroLeague club, Unics Kazan now competes in the VTB United League.

After being selected with the No. 34 pick by the Lakers in 2015 out of Stanford, Brown bounced the NBA and G League for several seasons. He suited up for the Lakers and their NBAGL affiliate, at the time called the Los Angeles D-Fenders (now the South Bay Lakers), the Magic and their affiliate team the Erie BayHawks/Lakeland Magic, the Timberwolves and their NBAGL club the Iowa Wolves, and the Pelicans. In 41 total NBA games, the 29-year-old has averaged 3.9 PPG and 2.5 RPG across 18.6 MPG.

Brown first headed overseas in 2018, and has since suited up for teams in Serbia, France, Spain, Turkey and Israel. While playing for Maccabi Rishon LeZion in Israel Super League competition last season, the 6’7″ swingman posted averages of 16.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG and 1.0 SPG, with a shooting line of .465/.396/.821.

Here are more international basketball odds and ends:

  • Several NBA players and coaches will head overseas to take part in a Basketball Without Borders camp set for Cairo, Egypt, per a league press release. The event will run from this Sunday, August 28, through next Wednesday, August 31. Sixty-four of the best boys and girls hailing from 26 African nations, aged 18 and under, will travel to the camp. Jazz center Udoka Azubuike, Magic center Mohamed Bamba, Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon and forward Grant Williams, and retired Hall of Fame center Dikembe Mutombo will be among the camp’s coaches, with Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups, Pelicans head coach Willie Green, Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr., Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, Bucks associate head coach Charles Lee, and Hornets athletic trainer Quinton Sawyer also participating. The camp’s roster of directors will be pretty star-studded as well, led by Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Cavaliers GM Mike Gansey, and Clippers scout Lance Blanks.
  • With almost exactly one year to go before the 2023 FIBA World Cup tips off, Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press checks in on USA Basketball as the organization ramps up its preparation for the event. The first games in next year’s competition are scheduled to be played on August 25, 2023. Fielding a lineup that features G League and international-caliber American players, Team USA currently has a 6-1 record in the World Cup qualifiers. Next year, Steve Kerr will coach Team USA, featuring a likely-star studded roster. This year, that task falls to former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen. “We’re learning a lot because the NBA game has changed over the last seven or eight years, too,” Sean Ford, the U.S. men’s national team director, said. “There’s much more shotmaking. It’s just unbelievable, incredible the amount of 3-point shots that are taken, the freedom of movement, the flow of the game. But the international game has stayed the physical way.” 
  • Former Thunder swingman Terrance Ferguson has made the jump to overseas play, signing on with Polish team GTK Gliwice. Get full details here.

Southeast Notes: Young, Bol, Isaac, Unseld Jr.

Hawks guard Trae Young has adopted a new offseason routine this year, writes Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Instead of taking his usual month off, Young was back in the gym a week after Atlanta’s loss to Miami in its first-round series. He’s undertaking a workout regimen that he plans to continue through the NBA Finals, explaining, “because that’s where I want to play.”

“I think it’s gotta be,” Young said. “It’s happened for a lot of the guys who’ve won championships and all the big-time players that’s come before me, throughout this whole league. Everybody has to go through something to push through, to get to that next step. I think this could be that thing.”

The Heat were able to rattle Young by attacking him with multiple defenders, leading to subpar numbers throughout the series. He averaged 15.4 points and 6.2 turnovers in the five games while shooting 31.9% from the field and 18.4% from three-point range.

“I think this is just a learning experience in the early chapter stage of my career that I needed to go through,” Young said. “The Heat did a great job, their defensive schemes, placement, where their guys were, switching it up, making it difficult. Just looking back at some of the mistakes I had, I know I’m going to learn from them, and it’s only going to make me better, and I think that’s a scary thing, if I’m young and I still have a lot to grow from. I think it’s a good thing that I can learn from it.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Magic big man Bol Bol is continuing rehab work on his injured right foot that required surgery in January, according to Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. Bol wasn’t able to play for Orlando after being acquired in a February deal, and he’ll be a free agent this summer. The Magic can make him restricted by extending a $2.7MM qualifying offer, and it sounds like the team still believes in his future. “Bol’s working very hard,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said. “He’s working diligently. He’s working every day. He continues to ramp up. He’s just doing individual work right now. We’re going to be careful with him as we are with everyone to make sure he doesn’t skip steps in his rehabilitation.”
  • Speaking as part of the ReAwaken America Tour, Magic forward Jonathan Isaac explained his decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, per Johnny Askounis of EuroHoops“Viewing it, it seemed forced. It seemed that there was so much pressure in doing it,” Isaac said. “I don’t see the wisdom in putting something into my body that’s not going to stop me from getting the virus or transmitting it. That is why I decided to be the only player on my team to not get vaccinated.”
  • First-year coach Wes Unseld Jr. has been selected to represent the Wizards at Tuesday’s draft lottery, the team tweeted this week. Washington has a 3% chance of landing the first pick and a 13.9% chance of moving into the top four.

Southeast Notes: Unseld Jr., Capela, Wright, Hunter, Carter

Following a rough start to his new career as a head coach, the Wizards Wes Unseld Jr. said the team needs to establish a defensive identity in his second season, he told Josh Robbins of The Athletic.

“We said we were going to be a defense-first team. We’re not there yet,” Unseld said. “That’s a big piece of our identity. To value and share the ball, I think, is another big piece. We’re starting to see that. I think it’s good carryover into the summer, and then we’ve got a lot of things we have to accomplish. We’ve got to spend a lot of time with our guys and put a lot of work in.”

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • Center Clint Capela felt soreness in his knee as the Hawks were eliminated by the Heat on Wednesday, Chris Kirschner of The Athletic tweets. Capela, who didn’t return in the fourth quarter, said he won’t require offseason surgery on the aching joint.
  • Veteran guard Delon Wright said he’d like to stay with Hawks but was noncommittal regarding free agency this summer, Kirchner tweets. Forward De’Andre Hunter echoed similar sentiments regarding a potential extension, Kirschner relays in another tweet“I don’t necessarily have a number I’m looking for, but we’ll see,” Hunter said.
  • Can Wendell Carter establish himself as one of the league’s top 10 centers? That could be the next step for the Magic big man, according to Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel.