Drama-free Wizards are the outlier in today’s NBA
Wall and Beal get along and no one is demanding a trade or has a secret social media account
The Washington Wizards practice facility seemed a galaxy away from this maddening NBA offseason during the team’s annual media day Monday. For one, the stars actually like each other and want to play together.
Bradley Beal on John Wall: “We are two different people. And we accept each other for who we are. And he wouldn’t be where he is without me and vice versa. I damn sure wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
Wall on Beal: “The toughest thing you have is two young players who want to be great. And sometimes it might work out. And sometimes it might not work out. But us being brothers, we put everything to the side. We make things work.”
Clearly neither member of the most accomplished backcourt in the Eastern Conference has received his I-Can’t-Play-With-You-Anymore starter kits. Maybe they can borrow Kevin Durant’s from last summer or Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Chris Paul’s from this summer.
It’s not just the stability of Wall and Beal that runs counter to the narrative of a league that saw more All-Stars change teams (nine) than any summer in NBA history. The entire organization is freakishly … normal.
The Wizards’ biggest offseason signings were their own players. Wall committed for the long haul and forward Otto Porter got like a gazillion dollars because the Wizards didn’t believe they could lose their own draft pick, who has developed into an important role player.
The only drama was experienced by Porter, whose mother forced him to take bass guitar lessons this offseason, resulting in some painful-sounding Instagram posts.
“What could I do?” Porter asked, throwing up his hands. “She wanted me to learn.”
Coach Scott Brooks needs to alert these guys to the reality of today’s NBA:
You can’t have your best players satisfied with playing with the guys already on the team. This is Chino Hills High School’s NBA now: You need clicks, your own show on Facebook. One veteran explains why no longer playing with the best player in the game makes sense. A prolific shooter expands his no-trade clause to allow a trade to a team with two players who like to shoot the ball more than he does.
Most of all, you can’t be happy. Not even after you win your first title and take home an NFL Finals MVP trophy. Uh-uh. You have to convey “I-told-you-losers-so” in all your actions. Because success isn’t just the best revenge; it’s a reason to say you were right and the world was wrong. Ask K.D.
So when you see pre-training camp camaraderie, such as forward Jason Smith cutting it up with guard Tim Frazier, or Wall getting Porter in a playful headlock, it just feels so … foreign.
If you think about Washington’s long, sordid history from the mid-1980s to this millennium – give or take a Chris Webber/Juwan Howard playoff team, a few sellouts for Michael Jordan and the exhilarating beginning of the Gilbert Arenas era – these guys are the un-Wizards.
But Wall, Beal, Porter, center Marcin Gortat and their teammates are suddenly the un-NBA, too. Someone has to tell them you can’t just be a regular franchise anymore, gradually building toward a title and waiting patiently for your young talent to mature so you can be good for 10-15 years in a row.
One of them, preferably a star, needs to pop off on social media, begin dating a Kardashian or collude to bring an All-Star friend to town immediately. You just can’t win 49 games for the first time since Wes Unseld played and expect to be covered by any media organization anywhere.
“It’s crazy,” agreed Rod Strickland, who was on more dysfunctional Wizards teams than he cares to remember. “I was so rebellious. I didn’t even pay attention to what they thought of us. These guys? It’s great to see. I think so much of it is about the growth of John Wall. He’s grown into not just one of the greatest players in the league, but a real leader.”
The symmetry of thought in Washington’s backcourt is where it begins.
“We’ve been together for six years – that’s a long time,” Beal said. “I feel us being together and other guys breaking up … it doesn’t change our dynamic. If anything, it builds us up. That’s a legacy we’re building together. We’re trying to accomplish something like the championship team of ’77-’78. We want our names up here one day.”
He added that Wall and he joke about the “report” of their animosity toward each other: “We love each other and we’re brothers at the end of the day. And this is our job.”
If anything, Wall said, “It was me trying to find my way in this league and him comin’ in as a rookie trying to find his way. … Like he said, ‘I couldn’t be the point guard I am without him and he couldn’t be the player he is without me.’ ”
He went on, actually campaigning for Beal to be an All-Star for the first time: “I remember when I got my contract, the media said, ‘Well, what has he done to deserve it?’ Well, he still hasn’t been an All-Star, but he showed y’all last year he deserves it. And that’s a testimony about what he is to our team. He didn’t even care. He should have been one last year. He definitely should be one this year.”
“That doesn’t mean we don’t compete,” Wall said. “We going to get on each other from time to time, we going to talk junk. Because that’s our competitive nature; we both want to be the best we can be. And without us having our back-and-forth battles, we can’t be the players we are.”
Beats all those wrenching breakups of ego and talent in Oklahoma City and Cleveland, no?
If this mutual respect and harmony keeps up, the Wizards might have to change leagues. They don’t fit in the All Lonzo-All The Time-Kyrie Leavin’-LeBron Cryin’-K.D.-Typin’ NBA.
Wall just committed long-term to the only place he’s ever played. Beal hasn’t been heard from in weeks because he’s been quietly working with the Bradley Beal Elite A.A.U. team in East St. Louis, Illinois.
While everybody a notch ahead of them participated in some dysfunction or completely remade their roster with malcontent stars, the Wizards stayed the course — their most splashy offseason acquisition was Jodie Meeks — and built around their foundation instead of detonating it.
They may just be that sleeper East team, as Boston learns to play together and Cleveland waits for Isaiah Thomas to get healthy. With neither drama nor dysfunction, they could win more than 50 games for the first in four decades.
Still, until someone issues a trade demand or gets his own website on USA Today, good luck getting on Sports Center, guys.