After a recent loss to the young, upstart and far-less-talented Sacramento Kings, various Washington Wizards players made comments that caused those who follow the league to raise their eyebrows.
It’s not that it was out of the ordinary to hear about turmoil and turbulence begin to creep around the edges of a Wizards campaign. After all, that’s become sort of the norm over the past few seasons.
But this quickly? Two weeks into the season, and we’re already learning about players with agendas and gripes about shot selection in Washington’s locker room?
It wasn’t a fringe rotation player or a career backup opening up to the media about these things, either. No, rather, it was the two stars of the team who, five games into the year, already felt the need to pull back the curtain on the Wizards locker room and vent about their relative frustrations.
Here’s what All-Star Bradley Beal had to say following the loss to Sacramento (via USA Today Sports):
“John Wall and Bradley Beal called out their teammates for having their ‘own agendas’ after a 116-112 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. Washington dropped to 1-4 to start the season, with the pair of All-Star guards blasting the Wizards’ effort on the defensive end of the floor, where Washington is giving up 122.8 points a game, second-worst in the league. ‘Sometimes we have our own agendas on the floor, whether it’s complaining about shots, complaining about playing time, complaining about whatever it may be,” Beal said. “We’re worried about the wrong (expletive) and that’s not where our focus needs to be and it’s just going to continue to hurt us.'”
And here’s what his stud backcourt partner John Wall backed him up with:
“We got guys who’s worried about who’s getting shots, where the ball is going on the offensive end,’ Wall said. ‘We should never worry about that. No matter if we’re missing or making shots, we got to be able to compete on the other end, and if you can’t do it on both ends of the floor, you don’t need to be playing.'”
It’s not like they’re wrong, either. Through six games, Washington has the sixth-lowest pass rate and ninth-lowest assist rate in the NBA. They also have the tenth-most isolation opportunities league-wide at this early point in the season.
Surely after that sort of public reaming, the Wizards collectively got together, aired out their issues and responded with a brilliant bounce-back performance in their next contest… right?
The Wizards followed that up by giving up 136 points(!) to the Los Angeles Clippers, in what was a 32-point loss that dropped them to 1-5 on the young season.
Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver put it best when he tweeted:
We’re barely two weeks into 2018-19, and the Wizards are already back in a familiar place: teetering on total disarray.
After their third troubling loss in a row, the Wizards now sit 27th league-wide in net rating (-9.6), ahead of two teams who have been rebuilding for what feels like an eternity at this point (the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns), and a third who lost the greatest player of his generation in free agency, and just fired their head coach (the Cleveland Cavaliers). What’s more, Washington is 23rd in offensive rating (104.9) and 26th in defensive rating (114.5).
The question is, where do they go from here?
It’s not like much help is on the way. Things are bad now; how are they going to be when Dwight Howard returns in the next few weeks and starts demanding looks on offense? Granted, at the very least, the enigmatic big man should make the Wizards less of a sieve defensively. But Washington desperately needs help on the point-scoring side of things too, and Howard likely won’t provide much of a boost there, if at all. If anything, by clogging up driving lanes and commandeering the offense on certain possessions to post up (ineffectively, at that), he might make things even more muddled on that end.
Truth be told, after years of underachieving and a general sense of awkwardness surrounding the team on a nightly basis, despite their still-impressive levels of individual talent, we may be approaching midnight on this grand Wizards experiment. Put simply: It might be time for Washington’s front office to come to terms with the fact that they don’t have the right blend of personalities in the locker room, and no matter what periphery pieces they add to the mix, it’ll never be enough to make a discernible difference.
It’s not even a matter of whether the Wizards are good enough from a talent perspective (even if they are, they never perform at a consistent level anyway), it’s moreso that the locker room seems to be broken and, even worse, it doesn’t appear to be fixable. That was the case when Randy Wittman was still around and hasn’t changed with Scott Brooks – who couldn’t be a more player-friendly coach – at the helm. And even if Brooks becomes the fall guy for this poor-fitting group, it almost surely won’t change with the next guy, either.
That’s not to stir up fake drama by saying Wall and Beal don’t like each other, or that Otto Porter doesn’t get along with his teammates, or that Kelly Oubre wants out, or whatever else. But when it comes to actually playing basketball together, the fit simply isn’t right amongst these guys. There’s too much talk about what they should be doing on the court after the fact, and never during games, when things are actually going south.
Whether it be the lack of a leader on the floor, an unwillingness to step on each other’s toes or not wanting to have tough conversations behind the scenes, these Wizards have never been able to figure out how to make things work, and we’re already in Year-3 of Beal and Wall both being bonafide stars. There hasn’t even been progress made on improving the team’s on-floor relations, and they appear to be getting worse as opposed to better.
Since the 2000-01 season, the Wizards have the fourth-fewest wins per every billion dollars spent in total salary, according to HoopsHype’s research that accounts for every team’s end-of-season salary outlook. Additionally, looking forward, Washington also already owes the third-most money in salaries for 2020-21.
How much longer will team owner Ted Leonsis continue to spend and spend on what’s proven to be an annual disappointment?
And once midnight finally does strike and the plug is pulled, what will be the first domino to fall?
Despite their huge contracts, Wall and Beal are still Washington’s two best assets. We saw just last year how another highly paid All-Star, Blake Griffin, got dealt despite the money left on his deal. The Wizards wouldn’t have all that hard of a time getting teams to bite if either gets put on the trading block.
The team’s third-highest paid guy, Porter, may not be as easy to move. Even though he’s an elite role player, capable of defending multiple positions while providing excellent three-point touch, $81.7 million over the next three years is still a ton of money to pay someone who, at best, can only be the fourth-best player on a contender.
Although there are other moves the Wizards could make to initiate a rebuild, only splitting up the backcourt and finding a taker for Porter would really be pressing the reset button. And unless Washington is satisfied with constant dysfunctional mediocrity, it’s probably the path they should seriously start considering.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.