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From next great American to best on LPGA

From next great American to best on LPGA

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) The website for Stacy Lewis refers to her as the ``Next Great American Golfer.''

That's about as high as any American on the LPGA Tour had reason to aim. It has been 18 years since an American was LPGA player of the year, and go back one more year to find the last American to win the LPGA money list.

Even though the phrase ``global golf'' is now in vogue, the LPGA Tour was ahead of its time. It has been a magnet for the very best from every corner of the globe for the better part of two decades. The Americans had to contend with the power of Laura Davies, the precision of Annika Sorenstam, the athleticism of Karrie Webb and the influence of Se Ri Pak, who inspired a nation of South Korean golfers.

Who would have guessed that when Sorenstam won player of the year in 1995, she would be retired for four years before an American won the award?

And that's where Lewis comes in.

Sick of hearing that American women didn't work hard enough or were not as dedicated or simply not as good, Lewis set what she thought was a reasonable goal for this year. She wanted to be the top American in the women's world ranking. And when she won her second event of the year in June, she moved past Cristie Kerr to No. 3 in the world, officially making her the ``Greatest American Golfer.'' At least for that week.

But she didn't stop there.

Lewis won in Alabama and started building a big lead in the points-based award for player of the year. Inbee Park made a run at her with a win and runner-up finish in Asia, and it figured to come down to the wire. Lewis, though, delivered her fourth and biggest win of the year at the Mizuno Classic that effectively wrapped it up.

And when Park failed to win in Mexico last week, Lewis became the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to be LPGA player of the year.

Lewis closes out her dream season this week at the LPGA Titleholders, which now is more of a victory lap than a sprint to the finish line.

``All last year, there were all these questions of where the Americans were and why weren't they playing well,'' Lewis said. ``I got tired of answering the questions. The only thing I could do is play better and put a face to American golf.''

American golf didn't disappear entirely.

Juli Inkster, who as a rookie won two majors, returned from having her second daughter and won five majors, completing the LPGA Grand Slam. Meg Mallon added a pair of majors, as did Kerr. Morgan Pressel became the youngest LPGA major champion. Hilary Lunke became the most surprising.

But no American could claim to be the best in women's golf for a single season until now.

Daniel got so sick about hearing and reading how she was the last American to be player of the year that ``it started to feel like part of my name.''

``Here's my take,'' Daniel said. ``So many American fans are looking for an American superstar so bad that when someone starts playing well, they get grabbed and offered to do outside things. To win player of the year, you have to focus on playing all year long. And there's not a lot of American golfers that focus entirely on the golf course. They're making money off the golf course. Stacy is one of those people who can hold her focus.''

There were high hopes for Michelle Wie, who played in the final group of an LPGA major at 13 and had a chance on the back nine to win three majors at 16. Those turned out to be her best years on the golf course. Paula Creamer won her first LPGA event before going to her high school commencement, and she starred in a U.S. win at the Solheim Cup as a teenager. But her lack of power, occasional lapses in putting and injuries have kept her from reaching the top.

How fitting that this would fall to Lewis, who is rarely anyone's first choice.

She made her pro debut at Interlachen in 2008 at the U.S. Women's Open and had a one-shot lead going into the final round, though all the attention was on Creamer, who was one shot behind going into a final round that wasn't kind to either of them. Later that year, all the buzz at LPGA Q-school was Wie trying to earn her card after years of taking so many handouts. Wie made it, and it was a big story.

The footnote that day was Lewis winning the tournament by three shots.

Then again, she's used to that.

Lewis wasn't the best on her high school team. She had to earn her spot on the traveling squad at Arkansas, and despite winning six times her senior year, she lost out on NCAA player of the year. She played the Kraft Nabisco Championship as an amateur and tied for fifth, though no one noticed because Pressel won that year at age 18.

``At the U.S. Open I was overshadowed by Paula, and at Q-school it was even worse with Michelle,'' she said. ``I think I've always been second fiddle. I don't know if they just don't expect anything from me or don't pay attention. But it fires me up when I play well and all anyone talks about is someone else. That motivates me. That's been the story for me the whole way.''

No one can overlook her now.

It's a big moment for American golf on the LPGA Tour. It's a bigger moment for Lewis, a compelling story long before she became the top American.

Lewis was diagnosed with scoliosis as a kid and wore a back brace 18 hours a day for seven years to correct the curvature of her spine - taking the brace off long enough to practice golf. When it didn't heal properly, she had surgery after finishing high school to install a steel rod and five screws in her vertebrae. That didn't stop her from playing at Arkansas, from winning an NCAA title, from winning an LPGA major, and now winning LPGA player of the year.

``This was not even on my mind,'' Lewis said. ``I was trying to win a couple of tournaments and be the top American. Everything else has been a bonus.''

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John Wall and Bradley Beal trade rumors show Wizards are exploring all options

John Wall and Bradley Beal trade rumors show Wizards are exploring all options

The mounting losses and the hapless nature of those defeats has the 5-11 Washington Wizards entering new territory, a place the franchise has not been in years. The team's steadfast plan of building around John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. may be nearing its end. 

The time has come to at least consider something drastic.

That means, at least according to ESPN, essentially everyone on the Wizards’ roster is available in trades. That includes both Wall and Beal, two All-Stars who are just 28 and 25, respectively.

This would be a departure from their recent stance of withholding Beal, in particular, in talks for available stars like Jimmy Butler. But sensing the current roster may have run its course, the Wizards are exploring their options.

There is added urgency in the money they have committed. The Wizards have the sixth-highest payroll in the NBA and are due to pay about $12.4 million in luxury tax, according to Spotrac.com.

The Wizards’ thoughts of trading either Wall or Beal are very preliminary, according to a person familiar with the situation. This being out there simply lets other teams know they will listen.

Despite the whirlwind of reports, any major deal would likely take a long time to orchestrate. The Wizards would likely take months to lay the groundwork, even if matters get worse on the court. 

When you have two players as good as Wall or Beal, a good return needs to be guaranteed in a trade. Plus, both players have demonstrated over the years they can put on a good face through times of turmoil.

It’s also worth pointing out that this does not mean a rebuild is imminent. They aren’t close to being there yet. 

With two All-Stars in their 20s, the Wizards would first try to retool around them. And if they do trade one, that doesn’t mean they are also trading the other. Reactionary moves are not in the Wizards' nature.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski notes, the Wizards would prefer to first trade others on the roster, but so far have not received enticing offers for Porter, Kelly Oubre Jr., Markieff Morris and the like. The ideal option would be to trade one of them and give the new-look roster time to adjust before next steps are taken. They have forward depth and could replace any of those three in the short-term.

Porter, though, has a sizable contract. He’s owed about $81 million over the next three seasons. Though he’s only 25 and one of the game’s best three-point shooters, that is a lot of money to take on for a player who has yet to make an All-Star team.

Morris, meanwhile, is struggling this season. Oubre is having a solid year, but is due to hit free agency after this season and won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Beal is by far the Wizards’ most attractive trade asset, given he’s a young All-Star and due $81 million the next three seasons, a relatively modest price given his ability and today’s market.

Wall, on the other hand, has a supermax extension worth $169 million that doesn’t kick in until next year. He is set to become one of the highest-paid players in the NBA and will be owed $40 million-plus per season into his 30s.

That doesn’t mean Wall couldn’t be traded, if the Wizards choose that route. Several teams in particular stand out as logical fits. There are the Lakers, who will need to give LeBron James some better teammates at some point to compete for his fourth championship ring.

Wall has the same agent as James and would add a second All-Star to the Lakers’ rebuild. If they pulled in a third star, like Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis, they would be in business.

Two other teams that make sense, if the Wizards decide to trade Wall, would be the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic. Both have stacked top draft picks in recent years, but are in desperate need of a point guard.

Beal could conceivably field offers from half the league. An All-Star at his age and at his price is something most teams could use. He has zero character concerns and his game is compatible with anyone. He hits threes, is effective off-the-ball and plays defense.

The biggest question through all of this is how the Wizards’ front office would factor in. If they want to make wholesale changes, owner Ted Leonsis has to first determine who will be making those decisions. If shuffling the front office is at all an option he’s considering, that has to be weighed in the timing of any major moves.

The Wizards are a ways away from pulling the trigger on a major trade, but the seeds are being planted in case their situation gets even worse.

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Bradley Beal tired of the off-court drama: 'All I do is come in here and work'

Bradley Beal tired of the off-court drama: 'All I do is come in here and work'

WASHINGTON -- Bradley Beal held court with reporters following Monday’s practice and hours after a report emerged on ESPN about the sliding Wizards are perhaps open for trade discussions involving all their players. Washington fell to 5-11 Sunday after an “embarrassing” loss. The team hoped by now the skid would stop. It hasn’t.
Neither would the use of a power tool near the Wizards practice court where Beal tried answering questions about the report and offering explanations for this shocking season. With rumors swirling – including one about a highly emotional practice - and highly caffeinated opinions everywhere, a significant question is how the Wizards handle such buzz.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I’m mad or frustrated or angry by it,” Beal said of the report. “All I can do is control what I can control, and that’s totally out of my control. I’ll allow [Wizards team president] Ernie [Grunfeld] and my agent [Mark Bartelstein] to deal with that. All I do is come in here and work, work my tail off every day and make sure we’re better and try to win ball games.”

Beal continued, as did the maintenance work.

“I mean, I’m not going to be naïve to it, you know,” Beal said of the report. “I have a phone just like everybody else does. There were rumors weeks ago. Then, I didn’t buy into them. Now, I’m still not going to buy into them because if that’s my main priority and focus then I’m going to be messed up on the floor.”

On cue, the power tool erupted. Beal, nodding in the direction of the worker joked, “I can’t control him.”

Opponents have largely controlled Washington, which ranks 29th in scoring defense. The Wizards entered this season something of an all-or-nothing team. There were reasons for optimism, namely Beal and fellow All-Star guard John Wall along with improved depth. This bunch also drew numerous skeptics following a frustrating 2017-18 campaign where team chemistry concerns mushroomed.

Experience from other slow starts since he joined Washington in 2012 helps Beal navigate such rough waters. There was a difference this time, an evident change in outlook provided by his son. “A different type of dribbling,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington in Orlando earlier this month.

“[He] makes me realize basketball isn’t my life. I’ll drop basketball right now to take care of my son. That’s a no-brainer. It’s definitely put a lot of things into perspective for me.”

Beal, 25, led Washington in scoring last season while playing all 82 regular season games for the first time in his career. His work led to more national recognition, eyes opening around the league. New reality kicked in from all angles with the family’s new arrival.

“I think the biggest thing for me is embracing. Embracing who I am as a player. The position I’m in. The years I’ve put in. Being an All-Star. Being one of the best [players] and being a father now. Just embracing what all of that entails, good and bad,” Beal said.

The bad is now a daily headline. Monday it was the possibility of a team teardown. Most often, what’s wrong with the Wizards. Beal is here for now and perhaps the entire length of his career, though he grasps professional basketball is a business. Worlds may change overnight. Beal is trying to figure out how to fix things immediately.

Monday Beal cited past Wizards teams that stopped responding during slides. “You know what that feels like when you just show up every day and go through the motions. We don’t have that [now],” he said. What they have isn’t attitudinally enough even compared to last season’s frustrations.

“Last year we kind of had a little more sense of urgency,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington in Orlando. “This year we’re a little too lax. We need to be more pissed off.”

Beal’s annoyance popped publically following a 116-112 loss at Sacramento on Oct. 26 by saying players on the court were letting personal “agendas” take over. The take wasn’t surprising, but Beal told NBC Sports Washington he wishes he could have skipped airing grievances through the media. 

The real takeaway from that moment was the recognition of a problem just five games into the season. The fix remains elusive. Beal leads Washington in scoring (21.5) and handles his business often, but like others at times can get caught up with watching on defense and making bad choices when the offense stagnates.

Finding solutions isn’t up to Beal alone yet he’s one of the clear team leaders. Part of Beal’s dilemma: How to lead when you’re not the only influential voice in the locker room.

“I’ve been struggling with that,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington in Orlando. “It’s not about scoring points. … It’s like, OK, what more can I do to help us win? What am I not doing enough of? I don’t even point at my teammates necessarily first even if I’ve had a great game. It’s like what could I have done more? If that’s what I need to do than I have to do it.

“It is a little confusing. I’m still trying to figure it out, honestly. … It’s not just one thing. The biggest problem if you want to call it a problem is how do you turn around? Win. How do you win? You defend, you rebound, you play your style of basketball. I put a lot of that on my shoulders. If there’s more I can do I’m going to go do it.
It’s definitely something I’m in the process of figuring it out.”

That process is ongoing. The Wizards enter Thanksgiving week in unwanted territory. The new report of potential trades adds another element to the potentially combustible scene.

Beal understands the core group that reached the playoffs in four of the past five seasons might be broken up. He knows there’s little he can do other than play his game, practice with passion and, when home, raise his son with joy. The drama and the outside noise isn’t for him.

“All the behind the scenes stuff, I don’t like worrying about it,” Beal said Monday. “I don’t like consuming my energy with it because basketball is my muse. This is my place of peace, my happy place. If that’s going to be taken away from me, then I’ll be totally messed up. I can’t allow rumors and the possibility of [changes] affect what I do on the floor. At the end of the day, it is a business. [Ernie] has a job. He’s protecting himself. He’s protecting the organization. Nobody can be mad at that.”

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