The Summer of Grunfeld

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After a surprising Elite Eight appearance last season, the Wiz are on a bit of a roll. First they re-signed Marcin Gortat, then they landed Paul Pierce, and now they’ve made a series of sensible moves:

*Kris Humphries, PF — 3 years, $13 million (third-year team option)
*DeJuan Blair, PF — 3 years, $6 million (third-year team option)
*Drew Gooden, C — 1 year, $1.5 million (veteran minimum)
*Garrett Temple, G — 2 years, $2 million
*Kevin Seraphin, C — 1 year, $3.8 million

Well, maybe the Seraphin move wasn’t sensible, but the other four shore up the bench nicely, especially in the frontcourt behind Nene and Gortat. Trevor Booker left for $10 million over two years with Utah, but that’s all right. The Wizards got better this week, and they figure to be better next season.

In concert with adding/re-signing the aforementioned and along with expected improvement from Wall and Beal, Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. are looking good in Vegas. It’s just Summer League, but they’re averaging 40 per, and Porter’s development is sorely needed.

The East is also more wide open now. Miami lost LeBron and Indy lost Lance Stephenson, so the top two teams come back to the pack.

Cleveland will emerge with LeBron, and Chicago could be very good with a healthy Derrick Rose. Toronto, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Atlanta figure to return to the playoff mix, but the Wiz have better NBA championship odds than all of them.

So 2014-15 is looking good, and it’s not at the expense of pursuing Kevin Durant in 2016 either. But that’s a long way off. For now, let’s celebrate this summer, and a job well done by Ernie Grunfeld.

Taking Stock of the Nats Coming Out of the Break

Following our first-half Winners & Losers, here’s Bryan Frantz with a look at this Nats’ season so far, and what lies ahead.

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Nats fans should be encouraged by the team’s showing, and Matt Williams has got to be pleased with the team’s 51-42 record. When you consider all of the factors — offensive stagnancy for stretches, so many impact players missing time with injury, Bryce Harper struggling with both of the aforementioned, Ian Desmond spending time atop the leaderboard for fielding errors, Ryan Zimmerman being unable to play the position he’s held for years, a consistent inability to beat the Braves (3-7 so far) — it’s easy to see how the Nationals could be sitting at 42-51 (or worse).

But thanks to a bounce-back year from Adam LaRoche, a breakout season from Anthony Rendon (who’s apparently not a baseball fan), Desmond regaining his fielding acumen and some flat-out dominant pitching, the Nats hold a slim lead for first in the NL East, third in the NL and seventh in MLB.

Let me throw some numbers at you to show how good this team’s pitching has been compared to the rest of MLB:

*lowest ERA
*fewest walks allowed
*second in HRs allowed
*best strikeout/walk ratio

The Nats don’t have any impressive stats to show off when it comes to team batting or fielding, though, unless they’re bragging about how good their record is despite those things.

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Durant-to-D.C. Is Not Completely Irrational

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There are probably better texts regarding Kevin Durant’s free agency in the summer of 2016 and the possibility of him signing with the Wiz, but this is one I happened to read. From a Sports On Earth exchange between Michael Pina and Patrick Hruby, here’s Pina:

Washington has flexibility, especially when you consider the projected salary cap bump to $80 million in 2016. Nene’s contract expires then, and it’s tradable if they need to move it. This team is on a path to incrementally improve from within, while building around the margins. The foundation is set. And from a team-building perspective things aren’t too different from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Washington isn’t as talented, but they successfully used the draft to find their core. I’m not a Grunfeld fan by any means, but the Pierce signing is significant. This team will be attractive in two years, with Beal and Wall hopefully All-Star Weekend regulars by then. If they keep the cap sheet clean enough to offer Durant a max contract, there’s honestly no reason to assume his interest heading East won’t be piqued.

There’s also this, from CSN Washington:

The hiring of David Adkins, who coached Durant in high school, from the University of Maryland’s women’s team as assistant coach to player development for the Wizards this past week isn’t a coincidence.

See? The Wizards will have a decent team, cap space, his old coach … WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT, DURANT? COME HOME!

I’m sure he won’t tire of hearing that for the next two years.

Tyler Clippard Earned It

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The news that the Nats will have an all-star after all, and that that all-star will be Tyler Clippard, is a little puzzling. Basically because Rafael Soriano is the closer, and he has a 0.97 ERA to boot.

Clippard’s ERA (2.03) isn’t quite there, but his other numbers are. He leads the pen in innings (40) and strikeouts (53), and he handles high-leverage eighth-inning situations. Plus, he’s been doing it for years.

This may be his best year, though. His FIP’s never been lower (2.49), and his Ks per nine innings have never been higher (11.9).

It’s Clippard’s second all-star selection. You could say he’s come a long way since Jim Bowden got him for nothing.

Signing Paul Pierce Is Big, If True

The Wizards surprised everyone late Saturday night by signing future HOFer Paul Pierce for two years and $10.2 million. The move is a good one in all sorts of ways, as outlined over at Bullets Forever.

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I’m thrilled about it myself, and much prefer The Truth at two and 10 to Trevor Ariza at eight and 32. Not that Pierce is a better player at this point in his career, but look at what this does for the Wiz:

*Gives them both short-term value and long-term flexibility.
*Helps them to keep spreading the floor. (Pierce is 37% from 3.)
*Gives them a crunch-time option and savvy postseason operator.
*Enables them to develop Otto Porter without really relying on him.

The only downside, aside from Pierce being almost exactly my age, is he can’t defend the perimeter like Ariza. But whatever, it’s not like defense wins championships or anything.

Plus, I think he kinda hates LeBron. Okay by me!

(Image taken with love from The Score, which is very good on Instagram.)

Nats 2014 First-Half Winners & Losers

It’s been some time! Let’s hand out midseason labels …

Jordan Zimmermann

Winners

Jordan Zimmermann — After winning 19 last year he’s clearly been the Nats’ best starter this year, which is not an easy thing to be.

Doug Fister — Even better than he was in Detroit.

Tanner Roark — A crash seems likely, but he’s been fantastic.

Adam LaRoche — My dad says LaRoche can’t hit,* which doesn’t speak highly for the Nats, because ALR leads them in OPS (.863). He’s actually posting a career-best OPS+, too (139). Must be the beard.

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Gortat’s New Deal Is The Same Old Grunfeld

Here’s guest writer Bryan Frantz, back with another crack for Mr. Irrelevant.

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So, the Wiz re-signed Marcin Gortat, as you may have heard.

That’s fine, he was a huge part of the team last season, and he brings a toughness and interior presence that nobody else on the roster can offer. His 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game were vital to the Wizards’ regular-season run, as was his particularly stellar play in April and May, and there was little else available in free agency if they didn’t bring him back.

However, did you see those numbers? Five years and $60 million? For a 30-year-old big man? The wrath of Ernie Grunfeld strikes again.

A deal for $12 million annually is a bit much, but it wouldn’t be an issue if Washington was off the hook in 2017 or maybe 2018. Instead, the Gortat is on the books until 2019, when he’ll be 35.

This is a win-now move, but is Gortat really the player that they need to contend for a title? Does Grunfeld believe that this team, as currently assembled, is one role player away from a championship? Because it’s not.

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18 New Redskins Names Inspired By Marvel Comics

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We’re approaching the point where literally every person in America with a soapbox of any kind will have weighed in on the Redskins name. As part of staking their flag into a small square of this hotly disputed rhetorical soil, most of those people will suggest possible alternate names. Eighty-five percent of those names will be the goddamned potato joke, and the remaining 15 percent will be terrible.

The current front-runner for worst in the clubhouse comes from Fortune Magazine managing editor Andy Serwer, who suggests in a Politico column (for a section of the site, it’s worth noting, that is literally called “Soapbox”) that the team be renamed the Washington All-Americans.

Serwer’s argument hinges on three points. First, the obvious squishy liberal inclusiveness the name implies. Second, “All-American” has a positive connotation in a sports context. And third … well, I’ll let him tell it:

I did some digging around and discovered that “All-American” used to be an obscure Marvel comic book super hero back in the 1980s. And get this, he was a football player! The All-American character was ‘really’ Giovanni “Jack” Magniconte, star quarterback of the fictional New York Smashers, nicknamed “Mr. Magnificent” by the press.

And … yeah. Hoo boy. Using this as an argument for choosing a team name is like naming your baby “Ishtar” because it was the title of a big-budget movie with some big-name stars. Let me get my geekhat on so we can do a deep nerd-dive on this.

Magniconte was the star of a doomed book called Kickers Inc., which was one of the launch titles in an equally doomed Marvel sub-imprint called the New Universe. Launched in 1986, the New Universe was meant to be “the world outside your window!” — a more realistic look at people with super powers running in something like realtime, basically — as an attempt to recapture the IP-generating lightning in a bottle that was the launch of the original Marvel Universe 25-ish years prior.

Kickers Inc. was arguably the stupidest book in the line, and was one of four launch titles canceled at the end of its first year. The imprint as a whole lasted just two more years, flailing around in increasing desperation before being mothballed. In those two years, Magniconte resurfaced as a supporting character whose role is basically “government stooge.” Not exactly a pop-culture icon to name a football team after.

Just to drive the final nerd-nail into the coffin of this idea, there’s this: The New Universe popped back up in 2008 as an even grittier “re-imagining” of the concept. This time around, Magniconte’s powers manifest while he’s on the field mid-game, which results in a graphic, on-panel depiction of him stiff-arming a dude so hard that he explodes in a spray of guts and bones. This is EXACTLY the kind of association the NFL is trying to draw in these days of concussion awareness and increased player safety concerns. (For a fun thought experiment, try to imagine the league’s earnest “don’t use super-powers on-field” ad campaign following that disaster!)

In summary, the “Washington All-Americans” idea is every bit as terrible as you think it is, and dragging in this stupid Marvel reference only makes it worse.

Which is not to say that the idea of borrowing some of the names or concepts from the Marvel Universe is inherently terrible. Here are 18 other Marvel-inspired potential names that are marginally less awful, or, at least, better thought-out. Continue reading

Bryce Harper Has An Awesome A$AP Rocky Shirt

The first-place Nats won in 16 at Milwaukee last night on Ryan Zimmerman and the bullpen’s heroics, and Bryce Harper homered in a rehab start at Potomac, but this is what I choose to blog about:

If you can’t read it, Bryce’s t-shirt says, “I LOVE BAD PITCHES THAT’S MY XXXXX PROBLEM.” And if you don’t know what that’s a reference to, here’s A$SAP Rocky’s “F**kin’ Problems,” which is a jam:

And if it’s jams you want, here are my top three candidates for the 2014 Song of Summer, with a primary assist from Rubie Edmondson:

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Mr. Irrelevant is a D.C. sports blog covering the Redskins, Nationals, Orioles, Wizards, Capitals, Terrapins and more.