NBA teams’ rebuilding plans often do not go according to plan, although not always because the young players involved prove to be busts. Building a successful squad is often about fit more than talent and development, to the point where the team can disappoint even if the individual players can be said to have done nothing especially wrong. It’s an inexact science.
The Washington Wizards have been an excellent example of that difficulty. General manager Ernie Grunfeld opened this decade by selecting two very promising guards in John Wall (the first-overall pick in 2010) and Bradley Beal (third in 2012), and both have impressed enough to earn max-level contracts as the future leaders of the franchise. At the same time, the duo has not exactly dominated the East. Whether due to injuries, lackluster coaching, or other variables, Wall and Beal have not led the Wizards to steady improvement and a hoped-for position as the clearest challengers to the Cleveland Cavaliers for conference supremacy.
According to both players, the issue could be one of fit. From J. Michael for CSN Mid-Atlantic:
“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court. … We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball,” Wall said in a sitdown interview with CSN’s Chris Miller that airs tonight, Wizards Central: Offseason Grind, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“Now that you have your money you got to go out there and improve your game. I want you to be an All-Star just as much as I’m an All-Star. If we were playing well as a tandem like the other two superstars that play together as a backcourt, play as a tandem, one night it’s going to be his night, one night it’s going to be mine, some nights it might be both of us. Those are nights it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
Since the backcourt has played together for four years, there’s a tendency to asume that they’re best friends. But they don’t spend much time together outside of Verizon Center and they have had to be separated on more than one occassion after blowups. […]
“It’s tough because we’re both alphas. It’s always tough when you have two guys who firmly believe in themselves, who will bet on themselves against anybody else, who want to be that guy. We both can be that guy,” Beal said.
“Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other. I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in without John. John wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in without me, without the rest of the team. It goes hand-in-hand so it’s kind of a pride thing. We got to (hash) out our pride, fiigure out what our goals are individually, help each other achieve those goals, figure out what our team goal is, where do we see ourselves five years from now, 10 years from now and go from there.” […]
“I want it all to be on me. At the same time I want him to be right there with me. He’s my sidekick. I’m A. He’s A-1. He’s right there,” Wall said. “That’s something we got to do on the first day of training camp. We have to go in there and understand and get on the same page.
It’s safe to say that a team hoping to become a contender does not want its two most talented players to speak of each other in this way, especially when they’re roughly the same age and have been teammates for four full seasons. Wall and Beal talk about each other as if they are unfamiliar and distant, not inseparable stars. At this point, they should know each other’s on-court tendencies and when it’s time for one to defer to the other.
As Michael writes, the hope is that new head coach Scott Brooks will be able to facilitate the growth of their relationship in a way that Randy Wittmann was not. It’s not a silly idea, because Brooks has a proven track record of developing a young Oklahoma City Thunder team and getting ball-dominant stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to thrive together. Brooks doesn’t deserve all the credit for that relationship — they seemed to like each other just fine when P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach — but he certainly helped to sustain it for the better part of a decade. Perhaps he can help Wall and Beal to see eye to eye and come to understand each other.
The task figures to be quite difficult, though surely not impossible. The biggest roadblock is an obvious one — Wall and Beal already have a relationship that has developed over several years. People can change, but it will take a lot of work to undo the preconceptions and beliefs about each other that have built up since 2012. Brooks had the benefit of working with Durant and Westbrook when they hadn’t even played together for one full season. Wall and Beal know each other and might have already decided they’re not likely to be great friends. They may never do more than tolerate each other both on the court and off it.
At any rate, it’s a positive that they’re even making the effort. If nothing else, this first season with Brooks affords both players — and many others within the Wizards franchise — the chance for a fresh start. Here’s hoping they take advantage of it.
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