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Sunday basketball notes

How will Russell Westbrook fit with the Wizards?

At 32, Russell Westbrook is out to show he's still an elite player and triple-double machine.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

When John Wall hit the winning 3-pointer to send the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Celtics to a seventh game, an employee at the Verizon Center said, “This is the greatest moment in Wizards history.”

And he may have been right. The Wizards haven’t had much success since transitioning from the Bullets. Wall quickly became the face of the franchise after he was selected No. 1 overall in 2010. And for the past decade, he has attempted to lead the franchise to prosperity, mostly unsuccessfully, through little fault of his own.

But after missing most of the last three seasons because of injuries, and watching Bradley Beal, taken No. 3 overall in 2012, become the franchise cornerstone, Wall decided it was time to get out. He asked for a trade, and the Wizards obliged by moving him, along with a first-round pick in 2023, to the Rockets for Russell Westbrook in a swap of $40 million point guards.

Wall, 30, has not played since December of 2018, while Westbrook, who wanted out of Houston, is healthy and ready for a fresh start under former Thunder coach Scott Brooks.


Beal, who signed a lucrative extension in October, was shaken by the trade but understood the circumstances.

“You realize your brother is no longer here. He’s off to something better,” Beal said. “I never get into the game of playing GM. It’s definitely a tough situation because John is my brother and our relationship goes beyond basketball. We’ve had great years together. It was kind of shocking to see. The first thing you said, it’s a business. [Tommy Sheppard] is the GM and he has to make these tough decisions, and it was one of the toughest decisions our organization has ever had to make.”

There have been rumors for years that Wall and Beal didn’t particularly get along. Beal wanted the ball more. Wall denied him because he wanted to be a facilitator and scorer. But Beal said those rumors weren’t true. They were close and tried valiantly to bring a consistent winner to Washington. They fell short.


“A lot of people tried to break us apart, pull us apart. It was the total opposite” Beal said. “Our relationship continues. That last conversation [before Wall left for Houston] spoke volumes.”

Yet, Beal is excited to play with the energetic Westbrook, who, at 32, will be trying to show he is still an elite player and triple-double machine.

“I’m very adaptable. My job is to make his job easier. I don’t think it will be a problem,” Beal said. “We need him to play with that drive, with that leadership. Russ’s approach to the game will be perfect for us. I’ll feed off of it, too. I’ll learn a lot from him. He’s locked in. He’s a leader. He wants to be the best player on the floor.”

Sheppard, in his second season as the Wizards GM, had talked trade a few weeks ago with Rockets GM Rafael Stone. The talks picked up again last Wednesday, and the deal was done in a few hours.

“In 27 years in this business, this was the most difficult trade for me,” Sheppard said. “I had conversations with every single team in the league, and on Wednesday an opportunity came up to acquire Russell Westbrook. I had to remove the emotion from it.”


Brooks said he has remained close with Westbrook since their successful Oklahoma City days. The key will be blending Westbrook with Beal and the Wizards’ other core players.

“It’s going to be a pretty seamless transition bringing Russell into the group,” Brooks said. “There’s a lot of similarities. They remind me of each other. There’s going to be some figuring out to do with me and my staff. [Westbrook and Beal] have the great ability to make the three players on the court with them much better.”


Warriors are used to doing without

With Klay Thompson injured again, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will have to shoulder the load of the Warriors' offense.Joe Robbins

The Warriors were ramped up for a NBA Finals run before Klay Thompson tore his Achilles’ last month. In reaction, they added Kelly Oubre from the Suns, but they are not the same team. Thompson is an All-Star and one of the better shooters in the NBA.

The Warriors will counter with Oubre, an athletic energy player who has improved his offense, as well as rookies James Wiseman and Nico Mannion. Also, the Warriors return former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who will be expected to fill in for Thompson as the second scorer behind Stephen Curry.

The Warriors remain confident in their chances of a long playoff run, even without Thompson, who will miss his second consecutive season.

“Well, I think it will be easier than last year,” coach Steve Kerr said of being without Thompson. “I mean, last year was difficult for a number of reasons. The injuries were really difficult, but so was just the rebound off of five straight years of deep runs, emotional seasons.


“I feel like Steph and Draymond [Green] are going to have great years for us. I’ve kept in touch with them during the summer. They are basketball players. They love to play. They’re competitors. They’ve had a long time off. I think they’re ready to compete again.”

But it’s a different league since the Warriors won three titles in four years. They have been almost forgotten. The Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and even the Suns are factors in the West.

“The basketball part is going to be tougher just because we’ve got a lot to work on, a lot to figure out. Before last year, we were on cruise control in a lot of ways,” Kerr said. “We knew exactly who we were for five years. So we could come into camp, kind of ease our way into it. By opening night, we were pretty much ready to roll.

“A lot more work that’s going to have to go into this year with all the new players, without Klay. There’s work ahead, but there’s an excitement for competing again from [Curry and Green].

“I don’t think we really need any extra motivation right now, given that we had the worst record in the league last year. We’re coming off a horrible season. We want to bounce back and have a good year. Everything else we’re sort of used to, the noise, whatever you want to call it. There’s part of this job that is just the expectations, the judgment, the criticism, the praise. It all lumps into one thing.”



George: Rivers not at fault

Paul George doesn't blame Doc Rivers for the Clippers' collapse to the Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Paul George was a guest on Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes’s “All the Smoke” podcast this past week and essentially pointed the finger at former Clippers coach Doc Rivers for the team’s 3-1 playoff collapse in the Western Conference semifinals to the Nuggets. George said the Clippers did not make adjustments after the Nuggets began their rally in Game 5.

Los Angeles blew halftime leads in the final three games and Rivers essentially said his team was out of shape and lacked chemistry. George agreed with the latter assertion, saying the team wasn’t together long enough because of injuries and COVID-19 issues.

Because of the collapse, Rivers lost his job and then took the 76ers’ head coaching position three days later. The Clippers then hired Rivers assistant and former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, and the team retooled by bringing in Serge Ibaka, Luke Kennard, and Nicolas Batum.

George was supposed to join with Kawhi Leonard to lead the Clippers to prosperity but admitted after the playoff collapse that the team did not have the “championship-or-bust” mentality as the players had preached from the beginning of training camp.

George got a lot of criticism for his lackadaisical attitude and putrid playoff performance. He defended his words, saying Friday that he wasn’t blaming Rivers for the disappointing finish.

“That’s what everybody got misconstrued,” he said. “We all take responsibility for that. Me being one of the top players on the team, I wasn’t at peak performance. The fact I gave up a 3-1 lead being on that floor sits with me and haunts me.

“I want to clear things up. I respect Doc. Doc is a hell of a motivator, hell of a coach. It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything we did. But that does not belittle the fact that I respect him and I respected him in that position. You heard it from me. You heard it from Mook [Marcus Morris]. We felt like we were the better team. They played harder than us and ultimately got past us. I said what I said.”

Rivers has many friends in the league and is a popular figure. But he left Los Angeles with several players unhappy with his style and favoritism toward stars. George was one of those players who benefited from the preferential treatment. But perhaps Rivers wasn’t stern enough with George and Leonard. That is expected to change with Lue.

“I am to blame in that situation as much as anybody else,” George said. “At 30, I don’t feel the pressure that my window’s closing. I know what I put into this game. The ultimate goal is to be a champion. If I don’t so be it, but I know I will give myself a chance. I will give everything I have.”

The beginning of this season is light years from last season. When George joined the Clippers through trade, he was supposed to be the final piece to the championship puzzle. A native of Palmdale, Calif., George was coming home to play for one of the hometown teams. George and Leonard were supposed to push the rival Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the title. Instead, the Clippers couldn’t even reach the conference finals for the long-awaited showdown with the Lakers.

George has an opt-out clause after this season but said he is committed to staying in Los Angeles.

“I want to retire a Clipper. I’ll say that. I’m happy being here,” he said. “I’m home. It’s one of the teams I grew up loving for a long time. This is where my heart is. Regardless of what happens, I’m happy being here.”

George was coming off a career season in Oklahoma City when he came to Los Angeles. But he also needed shoulder surgery and missed all of the preseason. He said that affected his overall play. George then struggled when the season resumed in the bubble and said he was dealing with mental health issues because of his poor play.

He said he’s in a better mental and physical state as this season kicks off.

“I’m my toughest critic at the end of the day,” he said. “I know what’s not good and what’s not acceptable. Last year was an unacceptable year for me. And I know that. I feel like I’m in a good place. I’ve been working hard, putting in a lot of hours on my body in the gym. A lot of it was just inconsistency with my body. Shoulder injuries are one of the toughest injuries to come back from. I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t able to do things I’m comfortable with.

“I knew last year was a down year for me. It was a rough year for me. I’m only 30. I’ve still got time. I’ve still got a lot of years in the tank. It gave me a big motivation coming into this season. I’m ready to dive right into this.”

Leonard kept repeating after last year’s collapse that the team needed to be better and admitted the players had issues sticking to the game plan and making adjustments.

“It was a lot for us last year. We should have won. We could have won,” he said. “We came into the pause with the COVID and then we get to the bubble and guys got family issues. We had three guys get COVID. All that played into accountability and chemistry. I think that all played a big role. For me, this year is not skipping any steps. These are things that build a player. These are things that I like. I enjoy the process. We’ll see how strong we are and if we can build from things like this. This is what makes players.”

In his low-key style, Leonard said he was disappointed by the finish and said it was on the players.

“The motivation definitely comes from the player,” he said. “Coach can’t put a battery in your back and tell you to play hard and go win games. You have to have that mind-set, train your body. My leadership role is not going to change. I’m going to keep doing the same things I’ve been doing.”

George promises better results and a more focused approach. But he also realizes he will need to be better because there are no more excuses.

“Our ultimate goal is making sure this is a winning environment,” he said. “Making this about this year, a winning attitude, a winning environment. If we put winning above everything else, everything else will iron itself out.”


The NBA has decided not to conduct random marijuana tests this season, which could serve as a relief for those who use the recreational drug in the offseason or perhaps are already in the league’s drug program. It’s a sign that the league is beginning to view marijuana as an alternative for injury treatment and recovery. For some teams, including the Celtics, the season turnaround is less than three months and the league has decided to make roster and philosophy adjustments to accommodate the players. It also erases a quandary for the league because marijuana use is legalized in some states that have NBA teams, such as Colorado, Oregon, and Massachusetts … Nate Robinson’s second-round knockout loss to YouTube star Jake Paul went viral because the former NBA slam dunk champion was knocked cold for several moments. It was a lesson to NBA players who may have considered taking up boxing. But not everybody was laughing at Robinson. Former teammate Glen Davis admonished fellow NBA players for their criticism and chiding of Robinson for his choice. Robinson is in a difficult position many aging players find themselves. At 36, Robinson does not want to stop playing in the NBA, but he hasn’t played since a two-game stint with the Pelicans in 2016. With no Big3 league this season and a chance to earn money, Robinson accepted the $600,000 payday and decided to try boxing. Perhaps Robinson can resume his basketball career overseas, but his situation spotlights athletes who still want to compete but are no longer welcomed by their sport. It’s also a lesson that boxing is not a sport that can be mastered in a few months … A veteran NBA coach still available to help a staff is former Clippers and Celtics assistant Armond Hill, who was not invited to Doc Rivers’s staff with the 76ers. Hill has long been a respected assistant coach and mentor for younger players and was part of the staff along with the likes of Kevin Eastman, Tom Thibodeau, and Mike Longabardi to help the Celtics win the 2008 NBA Finals. Speaking of the Celtics, former G-League Maine coach Darren Erman has joined Thibodeau’s staff with the Knicks. With the uncertainty of whether the G-League will play this season, Erman decided to return to an NBA staff. He has coached with the Pelicans and Warriors.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.