Mark R Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
On Wednesday night, Beal, 26, will begin his eighth season in Washington. It could become his first all-NBA campaign, as he will have plenty of opportunity to stand out without fellow all-star John Wall, who missed much of last year and could miss most or all of this season due to an Achilles’ injury. Instead, Beal will be the cornerstone of a rebuilding project. “I know it won’t be easy,” Beal said recently.
When the Wizards open the 2019-20 season against the Dallas Mavericks, Beal will potentially be surrounded six players in the rotation who are 22 years old or younger. Bryant, second-year pro Troy Brown Jr. and rookie Rui Hachimura are considered hard-working youngsters the team will eventually build a core around but their development wanes in comparison to Beal, the first guard left off last year’s all-NBA honor roll despite being the first player in franchise history to average at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in a season.
From the outside, things look bleak. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith recently assailed the current state of the Wizards without Wall, and declared it might be “the worst starting five in the last 20 years.” This week, the statistical website FiveThirtyEight gave Washington only a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs. No Wizards player or coach even earned a shout-out in the NBA.com annual GM survey.
For the Wizards, and their leader, there are rough days ahead. But by committing to the upcoming rebuild, Beal, whose current deal now totals four years and $130 million, has bought into the vision the Wizards have pitched.
“They kind of projected the future and kind of gave me a layout of what we can do in the future and it looked promising for me, to put me in a position to have a little bit of control in that as well,” Beal said. “I was honored by that because again you don’t get that type of position, that type of power. I’m taking advantage of it and now here I am.”
Without a second star like Wall, Beal often faced the brunt of an opponent’s defense. He needed more offensive sets and packages to get better looks.
“I want players who want to get better and challenge me to get better and he’s one. Give him credit. Three years ago, he couldn’t do what he’s doing now,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s really developed.”
The Wizards further addressed those on-court needs by adding more resources to the coaching staff with four new assistants, including an analytics specialist in Dean Oliver. Other franchises have someone like Oliver on the staff, but the Wizards gave him the title of coach, showing their commitment to analytics.
Beal also wanted to see more accountability. Last year, during a practice that went off the rails, he blew his fuse and directed some anger at Grunfeld. Over the last few seasons, the atmosphere around the team has been described as “too much drama” by a Wizards front office executive. A player like Beal, who had remained patient while the team brought in veteran relief on short-term or costly deals for quick fixes, wanted more stability.
This summer, the Wizards made those intentional moves to firm up the roster and salary cap. They refused to overpay their own free agents, foolishly trading Tomas Satoransky, and sprinkled in a few serious-minded veterans in Isaiah Thomas (awful move), Ish Smith and CJ Miles to bolster the youth movement.
In rethinking the Wizards, Ted Leonsis blocked the noise and called Barack Obama (and 77 others). Throughout the summer, Beal and his agent spoke “daily,” about the consequences of re-upping with the Wizards: The losses — there will be a lot of them — and the exasperation that comes with rising to new personal heights while young teammates are teetering in their development. Ultimately, Beal wanted to be at the head of a table. He saw the steps the Wizards were taking and wanted to lead the way.
Last Thursday, after Beal put pen to paper on his contract extension, he was steady while standing in front of reporters. No tirades about defense or boxing out. He calmly explained why he chose to stick around. He used a loaded word like “legacy” and fashioned himself as a someone who loves winning but can wait, as well.
He’s ready for the rebuild. After all, Beal signed up for this.