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WASHINGTON – John Wall has been in the place where Bradley Beal currently resides. Rewarded a maximum contract following an injury-plagued season and before making his first All-Star team, Wall can relate to Beal getting paid more for potential and promise over actual production.
But as he sat down recently with his backcourt mate – with a résumé that now includes three All-Star appearances and two second-round postseason runs – Wall and the Washington Wizards both feel vindicated that the five-year, $86 million extension he signed in the summer of 2013 now looks like a bargain under the current salary structure. So, as Beal is set to start the first year of a five-year, $128-million pact signed last July, Wall asks for those looking for reasons to pan the deal to just chill.
“He had injuries the last couple of years and they’re like, ‘He don’t deserve it.’ Let him get a chance to earn it,” Wall told The Vertical. “Let him be an All-Star. Let him see if he can be healthy for a whole season and see what he can do. … I want him to be an All-Star, just like I am. It’s no fun when it’s just one guy. If another guy is there, it makes it more fun.”
Wall’s plea to give Beal some room to grow is evidence of the respect both players have for each other. Wall and Beal aren’t the best of friends nor the worst of enemies, although their willingness last summer to publicly admit that they don’t always see eye-to-eye on the court led to speculation that the union was too tenuous to survive.
When the story of their dissension hit, Beal said he and Wall were actually working out with other members of the Wizards during an unofficial mini-camp in Los Angeles. Both were amused by a situation that they believe was exaggerated. As young players both trying to establish themselves, they have had differences and “dislikes,” as Wall likes to say. They have argued. But they aren’t constantly at each other’s throats and have been able to co-exist – the duo is responsible for leading the Wizards franchise to back-to-back trips to the conference semifinals from 2013-15 for the first time since 1979.
“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”
“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”
Garrett Temple, a veteran point guard with the Sacramento Kings, played alongside Wall and Beal through their first four years together and believes the relationship between the Wizards’ two stars has improved from an early tug-of-war as both players have matured. Last season, the trio shared several dinners on the road, which Temple said helped strengthen the connection.
“Honestly, two young guys coming into their own in the league, with a young franchise that’s trying to win, you’re going to have moments where there is a power struggle,” Temple told The Vertical. “But that’s a good thing. That means you have two guys [who are] trying to be the best at what they do and trying to be leaders. But in a family situation, you’re never going to have everybody sing, ‘Kumbaya.’ If that’s the case, then you’re not going to win any games. But I think they understand each other and they understand that they need each other in order to be successful.”
After failing to make a big splash in free agency, the Wizards are going to rely even more on Wall and Beal to bounce back from a disappointing 41-41 season. Wall had surgery to remove bone spurs in both knees and feels that he will be able to finally flash all of his athletic ability. Beal declined to participate in the Olympics with Team USA so that he could prepare his body – primarily, the troublesome right leg that has caused him to miss time in each of his first four years – for the rigors of an 82-game season.
Little is expected of the Wizards this season, despite the arrival of new coach Scott Brooks, but Wall and Beal will use that as motivation as the grind begins Thursday night at Atlanta.
“It’s something we’ve dealt with. Been dealing with it,” Wall said, adding how a recent survey of NBA general managers didn’t include his name on the list of the league’s best passers despite being the only player not named Chris Paul to average at least 10 assists the past two seasons.
With trade deadline acquisition Markieff Morris in the fold from the start and what they believe is an improved bench, Wall and Beal are confident that the Wizards have the pieces to return to the playoffs in a much more competitive Eastern Conference. LeBron James continues to rule the East after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title. Boston added Al Horford. Indiana actively used free agency and trades to build around Paul George. Toronto pushed Cleveland to six games in the conference finals last season, but it isn’t lost on Wall or Beal that the Wizards swept the Raptors in the first round a year earlier.
“I think this year is going to be good for them,” Temple told The Vertical. “They’re still one of the more talented backcourts in the game. We were upset about last year, knowing the same exact team we swept made it to the conference finals. I think that’s definitely weighing on their mind. My guys are still competitive in nature, and they definitely hear all that and listen to all that and they want to prove people wrong.”
If the season doesn’t go well, or the Wizards stumble at the start, Wall and Beal both understand that their relationship will again be brought under a more discerning microscope.
“Just got to focus on in-house,” Beal told the Vertical. “Can’t worry about what other people think, because they don’t know what’s going on. They’re only watching. You don’t know our relationship. You don’t know how we interact. You don’t know how we interact with our teammates. It’s just the outside looking in. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But we can’t let it control us, or control our game.”
The Wizards are lacking the veteran leaders who guided the team through its previous two postseason runs – Trevor Ariza is in Houston and Paul Pierce is with the Los Angeles Clippers – but Wall and Beal still have the voices of Ariza and Pierce in their heads and think they are ready to handle the leadership roles.
“My individual goal is to add [Beal] to the All-Star game with me. I feel like if he’s not there, then I didn’t do my job of leading the team,” Wall told The Vertical. “We’ve proved it. I ain’t an All-Star if he ain’t playing. Simple as that. We’ve had arguments in games. You’re going to do that. But if I can put that to the side, see him wide open and make that pass … and if I don’t make that pass and take that shot …”
“I can’t feel any type of way about it,” Beal said, completing Wall’s sentence. “You can’t. He’s not going to see everything. And guess what, he has three other teammates out there who want the ball, too. … We know that we need each other. That’s the main reason I came back. I wouldn’t be who I was if I didn’t have this guy from the get-go. At the end of the day, we always know what it is.”
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