• Dwight Howard exercising his $5.6 million option for next season is enough of a no-brainer that it barely qualified as news. The 33-year-old won’t be a foundational piece for Washington – certainly not in the long term and likely not even next season – but his presence adds another obstacle to a team that’s found itself in increasingly difficult circumstances.

    It’s simple to see why the Wizards felt that someone of Howard’s profile would fit their roster. Despite grading out as a middling rebounding squad over the last couple of seasons, they were comfortably in the league’s bottom half in terms of opponent points in the paint and second chance points. Both of Howard’s teams in those years, the Hawks and the Hornets, were superior in all three of those measures than the Wizards.

    This season, Washington got scorched in those categories – 24th in opponent second chance points, 29th in opponent points in the paint and 29th in rebounding percentage. It’s not entirely unexpected considering the roster was without its one true center for pretty much all of the year, but it does point to the gaping hole that Howard’s absence left.

    Which is to say nothing of the lob threat that Howard was supposed to be, providing a huge upgrade in the offensive paint on ground-bound Marcin Gortat for Washington’s guard combo.

    The fact that Howard missed all but nine games because of a back/glute issue couldn’t have been too high on the team’s list of expected outcomes, but they wouldn’t give a 32-year-old with a history of back injuries a player option if there wasn’t some belief that he could be an asset, even with some decline baked into the thought process. Then again, Ernie Grunfeld, the guy who handed that contract out is now looking for work.

    The Wizards believed that Howard would be a sort of missing piece to their roster, which featured a great backcourt combo and a prototypical 3-and-D forward in Otto Porter. Adding a voracious rebounder and lob threat to the mix was meant to give Washington some cachet in a weak conference.

    What a difference a year makes.

    John Wall is likely to miss all of next season and there are serious questions as to what player he’ll be when he returns, as his speed and athleticism could very well be shot after retuning from a ruptured Achilles.

    Porter is gone and in his place the Wizards added Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, who are neither the defenders nor the shooters that Porter was on his bad days. Howard is the missing piece on a roster that’s since been blown to bits.

    The immediate problem now becomes making Howard fit on a roster that’s not going to accentuate his strengths.

    The broader problem is that the Wizards now have another issue to work around in terms of determining their future and moving the team in that direction.

    With an ownership group that’s at least outwardly opposed to a full tank, the Wizards aren’t in the business of attaching first-rounders to clear the cap. Even if they were, you’d imagine that Washington would rather get rid of Ian Mahinmi’s deal than toss in a big sweetener to be rid of Howard’s relatively affordable contract.

    While there were flashes of a more cohesive team built upon Bradley Beal with Wall sidelined, the Wizards as constructed just aren’t going to have the juice to be serious contenders. Short of trading Beal and totally blowing it up – which, again, ownership doesn’t want to do – Washington has limited pathways to improving and risks wasting Beal’s elite prime.

    It would make sense for Washington to give Thomas Bryant as many minutes as possible after he impressed this past season (though Scott Brooks might not want that regardless of Bryant’s performance considering his history of overelying on veterans) and the Wizards are expected to try and retain he and Portis in restricted free agency.

    There have been rumors that there’s interest in bringing Parker back as well, though not on his $20 million team option, and both Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green have hinted that they’d like to stay too. Even if only the youngsters are re-upped, it still makes for a lot of bodies to play at the four and five spots with no consistent shooters in the bunch.

    As for how feasible that all is, Washington has about $90 million committed to Wall, Beal, Howard, Mahinmi and Troy Brown Jr. next season. No other players are under contract, and Portis, Bryant and Tomas Satoransky are in for notable raises as RFAs.

    It’s not looking great. Money’s going to be very tight and the Wizards need to add eight players, and their RFA group might be tempted by an offer sheet considering Washington’s standing and cap situation.

    There’s also the matter of who starts at center. Bryant didn’t do anything to lose the job, while Portis might be next in line. Howard’s reputation doesn’t paint him as the type to willingly accept a bench role, and the Wizards might have to either placate him or risk a sour Howard dragging down the dressing room.

    Beyond the court, where it’s clear that Howard provides a missing element at a reasonable price despite the fit, the Wizards are left to grapple with the philosophical question of whether they’d rather have Howard or the $5.6 million.

    Cap space is perhaps the most valuable asset for bad teams outside of draft picks, and the Wizards have bigger elephants in the room than Howard in terms of ugly deals. Perhaps he even plays his way into being a trade candidate given his expiring deal and workable salary.

    Still, Washington would rather not be in this spot. They should be angling to acquire futures in exchange for absorbing questionable contracts, not looking for ways out of their own.

    When you try and take stock of the Wizards – who they are, what they could be, and how they could get there – none of the best plans require Howard on this roster next season.

    And while $5.6 million isn’t breaking the bank, for a team with gaping flesh wounds on the cap sheet, he’s prolonging the inevitable at a subtle but not insignificant opportunity cost.

    Add another hurdle to the track.

Fantasy News

  • Derrick Jones Jr.
    SF, Miami Heat

    Derrick Jones Jr. won the Dunk Contest on Saturday in an epic showdown with Aaron Gordon.

    Jones and Gordon extended the Dunk Contest into overtime and treated us to some of the best dunks in recent memory. Jones put on a spectacular performance with one 360, between-the-legs dunk that was reminiscent of Vince Carter. Gordon dunked over Tacko Fall in his final dunk and put up dunks worthy of a trophy himself. Jones earned the nickname of Airplane Mode on Saturday and is an option at the end of your bench in 14-team leagues.

  • Buddy Hield
    SG, Sacramento Kings

    Buddy Hield beat Devin Booker and Davis Bertans with 27 points in the final round of the 3-Point Contest on Saturday.

    Hield had to hit the final shot to beat Booker by one point and take home the 2020 3-Point Contest trophy. Hield is third in made 3-pointers this season with 207. He has been on a roll lately and is a top-30 player over the past month while averaging 21.1 points and 4.5 threes per game. Hield should have a top-50 finish to the season.

  • Bam Adebayo
    C, Miami Heat

    Bam Adebayo beat Domantas Sabonis in the final round of the Skills Challenge to take home the victory on Saturday.

    Adebayo beat Spencer Dinwiddie, Pascal Siakam and Domantas Sabonis on his way to winning the 2020 Skills Challenge. Adebayo was able to showcase his talents on Saturday and has been a top-40 player in 9-cat leagues this season. He will have early-round value moving forward.

  • Evan Turner
    SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Evan Turner is set to work out for the Clippers, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

    Turner is working on a buyout with the Wolves and Minnesota never had any intention of holding ET back from other work. He's only appeared in 19 games all season and would be at the end of LA's rotation, so there's minimal fantasy impact if Turner finds his way to the Clips.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Miles Bridges
    SF, Charlotte Hornets

    Miles Bridges took home the MVP Award of Team USA's 151-131 win over Team World in the Rising Stars game on Friday night, scoring 20 points, grabbing five boards, dishing out five assists and chipping in three steals.

    He hit some big shots, including a couple of three of three pointers (3-of-7 3PT). The MVP winner was not immediately obvious after the game and Bridges was the beneficiary of a wide open field. He is clinging to value in standard 12-team leagues and has been a little better of late, averaging 20 points and seven rebounds over the past two weeks. If you have an open roster spot, Bridges offers consistently average production if you need a space-filler.

  • Collin Sexton
    PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Collin Sexton played 20 minutes Friday in the Rising Stars game in Chicago, putting up 21 points, five rebounds and three assists.

    Sexton was not pleased about being left off the original roster for Team USA. He got an opportunity due to Tyler Herro's injury and had a good showing Friday evening. He has been very consistent thus far, holding top-125 value on the season and ranks in the top-75 over the past two months. Keep running him out there.

  • Brandon Clarke
    PF, Memphis Grizzlies

    Brandon Clarke was in the starting lineup for Team World in the Rising Stars game Friday night and put up 22 points on 11-of-15 FG and added eight rebounds.

    Clarke has the best shooting percentage out of all NBA rookies this season, sitting at a cool 62.3% from the floor. He didn't let up Friday, only missing four of his 15 shots. Clarke has sneakily almost cracked the top-75 in standard leagues this season and needs to be owned across the board. The Grizzlies are surprising everybody and currently hold a spot in the playoffs, so Clarke should maintain his value.

  • RJ Barrett
    SF, New York Knicks

    RJ Barrett had 27 points, six rebounds, five assists and chipped in three steals in the Rising Stars game Friday against Team USA.

    He had a decent night shooting the ball, going 11-for-17 from the floor, although he missed all four of the triples he attempted. Barrett's fantasy output has really been disappointing so far this season. He ranks outside the top-300 and fantasy managers, if you've managed to hold on to him all the way to this point, should be hoping the Knicks decide to really commit to letting their young guys loose after the All Star break.

  • Wendell Carter Jr.
    C, Chicago Bulls

    Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle sprain) is hoping to play next Thursday, the Bulls' first game after the All-Star break.

    Carter has been sidelined since leaving Chicago's game on January 6 and was hit with a 4-6 week timetable, so a return out of the break would certainly line up with that. His return will likely eliminate Cristiano Felicio from the rotation while Luke Kornet will take a sizable hit to his playing time as well. Thaddeus Young also stands to lose some minutes but is worth hanging onto as long as Lauri Markkanen remains out, even if his ceiling will be lowered. Now would be a great time to make sure that WCJ wasn't dropped in any of your leagues.

    Source: Cody Westerlund on Twitter

  • Kevin Knox
    SF, New York Knicks

    After Kevin Knox played just 10 minutes on Wednesday, Knicks coach Mike Miller said, "Just having minutes isn’t the end-all."

    Miller's starting to get questions about why some of New York's younger players are still buried in the rotation, often in favor of lower-upside veterans. Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. are obvious cases, with Frank Ntilikina and Allonzo Trier in a similar boat. Miller believes that development is more than just playing a lot. "It’s about how these guys get better just if they get 10 more minutes in a game. There are a lot of things that go into the development to make these guys better… I think there are other ways and other factors [than minutes]." Leon Rose might think otherwise, but it doesn't sound like changes are coming unless it's via an edict from above Miller in the organization.

    Source: New York Post