The high temperatures outside the arena at Las Vegas summer league, where John Wall sat courtside to watch the Wizards play, were punishing.
Bradley Beal walked in with his girlfriend, fresh off agreeing to $128 million max contract, and when he sat down there was a gulf of unfilled chairs between the two.
The two self-described “cornerstones” of the Wizards couldn’t have been farther away from each other.
It’s no secret that the Wizards‘ future — and two best and highest-paid players — have work to do with builidng their relationship. It’s Wall’s seventh season and Beal’s fifth.
“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.
Last season, Alan Anderson made peace after preseason game when Beal was upset. Two seasons ago it was Garrett Temple, Beal’s best friend on the team who now is with the Sacramento Kings, to restrain him. Both veterans are gone after free agency this summer.
In piecemeal, Wall and Beal have spoken publicly about how they can disagree with passion.
In a 41-41 season that had the Wizards out of the playoffs, Wall concluded the overall bickering amongst teammates was as much of a problem as the injuries.
One of the early signs of the season going south came after an embarrassing 123-106 loss to the Indiana Pacers in which Wall remarked postgame he’d only gotten nine shots up in 31 minutes. He didn’t mention anyone by name, but it appeared to mean he likely was unhappy that Beal took 22 in comparison. The next night, in a road game vs. the Charlotte Hornets, Wall predictably had nine shots by the end of the first quarter in a 101-87 loss.
Beal’s first injury last season was a shoulder contusion that came a few games prior to that episode, when he went down to the floor for a loose ball and took a knee against the Atlanta Hawks. While teammates ran to his aid, Wall bypassed Beal and walked to the other end of the court during the dead ball. This sort of body language speaks more than any words.
A good sign for both was towards the end of last season they did hang out during a road trip in New York, but it will take more than that if they are going to be the backcourt they were in the 2015 playoffs when the Wizards were Wall’s broken hand/wrist from advancing to the conference finals.
The 2016-17 version of the Wizards won’t have Nene, Jared Dudley, Temple, Anderson, Drew Gooden, Paul Pierce or Trevor Ariza to calm tense situations. If Wall and Beal are truly going to be leaders, they have to be the voices of reason and not fan any flames with the likes of Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Oubre and likely Jarell Eddie.
“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.”
It’s a rough patch that coach Randy Wittman never was able to smooth out. This is where new coach Scott Brooks is expected to help in their development as the leaders witth the core veterans gutted from the roster, some of whom insisted that during games it can be difficult to get through to the backcourt when they’re frustrated.
“Guys got to know their role. I think that’s the key. I think with coach Brooks coming in he’s going to hold everybody accountable starting with me,” Wall said. “Just make sure everybody know what their role is. If everybody buys into their role, we’ll be fine.”
Wall signed an $80 million deal for five years in 2013 for what was then a max deal under a $58.7 million salary cap. Beal signed his max for five years under a $94.1 million cap.
This was viewed as Wall’s team since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, became a three-time All-Star and second-team All-Defense. Beal, who played a career-low 55 games last season, has yet to achieve those sorts of honors. Wall has to be willing to share.
“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.
“If we’re not on the same page and we have our ups and downs we’ll keep dealing with the same problems. We have to get control of it. I think it’s hanging out off the court, doing those little things (helps).”
Wall called on his brief college experience when he spent one year at Kentucky. He had All-America teammates in DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Wall, of course, was everyone’s favorite. Cousins is an All-Star and now has won a gold medal as an Olympian for USA Basketball. Bledsoe is a starting point guard for the Phoenix Suns.
“It kind of goes back to when I was in college,” Wall said. “Me and DeMarcus, E-Bled, they all knew I was getting all the media attention but every time I win I brought those guys along with me. I didn’t leave them behind. That’s because we hung out so much. We built a bond together. When you build that bond it’s kind of hard to break.”
Ideally, Wall and Beal will reach that comfort level but they can’t force a friendship. They can be, however, better professionals as both admitted in exit interviews. To grow into the leaders they claim to be for 2016-17 means they can’t contribute to the chaos that produced players-only meetings (called by role players) in two of the last three seasons.
The way they vibed during the 3-1 start last season, with both taking turns leading the way to close fourth quarters, is what they have to be for most of 82 games. Not what they were for the other 78.