- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2015


If you think Washington Wizards top draft pick Kelly Oubre Jr. was talking trash when he declared on draft night, “Whoever gets me is getting a jewel,” well, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

Before the draft, Oubre left a trail of smack in his wake that would make Mr. Swaggy P himself, Nick Young, blush.

Here is what the 19-year-old freshman out of Kansas had to say about himself to anyone who would listen before the Wizards decided he was the one they had to have, moving up and giving away two future second-round draft picks to get him at 15 in the draft:

“I’m not a slouch,” he told reporters following a pre-draft workout for the Indiana Pacers. “I’m going to be one of the greatest to ever play the game.”

“I’m just here with a smile on my face and a calm, cool demeanor because I know I’m going to be great one day,” he said after a workout for the Utah Jazz.

Oubre also said following that workout that he studied film of three NBA players he looks up to — Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden — and determined that he “can be as good as or better than those guys. Whoever calls my name on draft night, I’m going to help them win a championship and give them the best shot.”

Better than James Harden? Boy, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld really did get a steal on draft night.

“I feel like I’m a little more mature than the other freshmen,” Oubre said after a workout with the Detroit Pistons. “I can go into any setting and perform. I’ve had multiple adversities, through Kansas, through my life. I feel like I’m ready for whatever the NBA has for me.”

Good luck, Randy Wittman.

He’s got a kid that his boss coveted and to whom his reputation — such as it is — is tied.

That generally spells trouble for any coach working for Grunfeld.

Grunfeld failed to back Jeff Van Gundy in New York after the general manager went out and got Latrell Sprewell, and, shockingly, became a discipline problem for the coach. And, as we know in Washington, Grunfeld cut the knees out from under Eddie Jordan in battles with Gilbert Arenas and Flip Saunders in his struggles with Andray Blatche.

Remember, despite the credit Grunfeld may get for sweeping out the “knuckleheads” — Young, Blatche and JaVale McGee — they were his knuckleheads, and the broom didn’t come out until he was told to clean house after Wizards owner Ted Leonsis fired Saunders.

“I was a proponent from day one of changing that whole atmosphere,” Saunders said on my radio show, “The Sports Fix,” on ESPN 980 in 2013. “Having been in situations where we had success in both Detroit and in Minnesota, we didn’t have that. … When I was there, I made my feelings pretty well known, and actually, when I left — and had meetings with Ted Leonsis when I left — I pretty much said the same thing: that the team is not going take any type of steps until you clean out some of that knucklehead factor and get everyone more on the same page.”

From day one, Saunders wanted them gone, and they weren’t gone until he met with Leonsis upon leaving the franchise.

Again, good luck, Wittman.

The general manager is already preaching patience with his crown jewel.
“He has a big defensive upside,” Grunfeld told reporters. “He has a big offensive upside. It’s just going to take time.”

This is general manager job security — drafting players who will need “time.” He might as well be saying, “I’ll need some time, too.”

Now, the kid said some encouraging things as well in his pre-draft publicity tour. He took ownership of his early struggles in Kansas under Bill Self.

“When I was sitting on the bench, it was because of my doing,” Oubre said, according to The Oklahoman. “It wasn’t because somebody was slighting me. It didn’t come as a surprise. But as I continued to watch guys around the country who were top recruits in high school thrive in their college systems, I kind of said, ‘No more of this for me,’ so I just turned it up a notch and sat with coach and got over that hump.

“[Self] was just trying to let me know that my defense was my offense. I can’t just be a one-way player. Once that message got across to me, the sky was the limit from there. I took off.”

But that was as a freshman under a college coach with the power and security to decide who plays and who doesn’t.

That hasn’t always been the case with “jewels” in Washington.

And that was before the pinky ring and the gold spiky shoes and the declarations of maturity and greatness for someone who has done absolutely nothing thus far.

“Just being stylish, man,” Oubre told reporters about his draft night costume. “You know, I have swag, so I know for sure that I can steal the show with some of the stuff that I put on, so that definitely went into my decision-making, and I’m a confident person. My swag pretty much resembles that, and it did tonight with my shoes and my suit.

“I’m a grown man,” he said. “I have my own style, I have my own mind, I have my own heartbeat, so I walked out of my room today knowing that I was going to shut it down with these shoes.”

Good luck, Randy Wittman.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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