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Beal finds aggressive spirit in Boston

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Beal finds aggressive spirit in Boston

Since the start of training camp it's become essentially a daily ritual writing about Bradley Beal, the Wizards latest first round pick. Hey, without John Wall and Nene around, the third overall pick stands out on a roster devoid of star power and in a year where rookies have dominated the D.C. sports landscape. However, dating back to the final game of the preseason and including the first two official games of the 19-year-old's career, the focus has been more on struggles than positive play. That's not an editorial decision, but rather a case of reporting the facts.

The fact is Wednesday night in Boston Beal played with renewed confidence, got his hustle on with an early block against one of Boston's All-Stars and knocked down several shots including his first one in eight days. Told you he'd been struggling.

Beal logged the most minutes on the team (38) in Washington's 100-92 overtime loss in Boston as Wizards coach Randy Wittman had the newbie on the court for the opening tip and crunch time. The Florida product matched Kevin Seraphin and Martell Webster with a team-high 16 points and A.J. Price with three 3-pointers including a break-the-ice bomb midway through the first quarter.

With Washington trailing 11-2 after yet another slow and clanking start, Price pushed the ball up court in a semi-fast break situation and found Beal open on the left wing. Splash. The 3-pointer snapped a string off 11 straight misses from any angle and slowed Boston's early momentum. The basket came shortly after Beal raced over to swat a Paul Pierce attempt out of bounds, which came days after Wittman suggested that contributing in other areas would get the sweet-shooting guard's touch back in gear.

More assertiveness came in the third quarter. At the tail end of a 2-on-1 fast break with Pierce defending, Beal took a pass from Trevor Ariza and attacked the right side of the rim. After making contact with the physical Pierce, the 6-foot-4 guard cocked the ball well behind his head before following through with a shot off the glass and in. He completed the 3-point play and gave the Wizards a 49-44 lead, which would be their largest going forward.

In the fourth quarter of the back-and-forth affair and Boston holding an 82-80, Beal was one of only two starters on the court as the clock ticked under two minutes with Washington looking for a score. After heading toward the baseline with Celtics guard Rajon Rondo in pursuit, Beal jogged to the high post and set a forearm-leaning back screen on Kevin Garnett while Kevin Seraphin headed toward the rim. With Chris Singleton holding the ball on the left wing beyond the arc and Garnett occupied, Rondo dropped back to stop the Wizards big man, leaving Beal to roam.

The rookie found space at the top of the key. Singleton found the open man. Curling off a non-existent pick, Beal caught the pass, raised and fired without hesitation. The straight on shot went in-and out, kissed the backboard before sliding through the net, giving Washington a one-point lead.

There were misfires in between and after the makes - Beal finished 6 of 15 overall - not to mention a costly turnover during the Celtics 8-0 run in overtime. That will be discussed before the Wizards' next game, a home date Friday against Milwaukee. After a stretch of funky play, let's focus on the positives, which included four rebounds and three assists. Beal is certainly feeling better.

“Most definitely, and not even in terms of scoring, because I could care less about that," Beal told reporters after the game. "It was just the fact that I was aggressive on both ends of the floor. I was rebounding, I was playing defense and I was scoring some points as well. When coach took me out the first time, he told me I don’t care if you keep missing, because he was saying I was being aggressive. I was proud of myself in just doing that. They got me back to having fun; I was laughing on the court and having a ball. Eventually it just started flowing to me, it felt right.”

Asked about the importance of the game specifically for Beal, Wittman told the media post game, "This isn’t about individuals, it’s about guys learning how to play and Bradley’s part of that. Kevin’s part of that. A lot of guys are in that spot, but Bradley came out aggressive tonight. This is probably the best game he’s played so far. He made quick decisions and had a lot of good looks that didn’t go in. As long as you are getting good looks and taking good shots, that’s all you can ask for."

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

“How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?”

That brain-busting question from a current NBA general manager came before the February 7 trade deadline when rumors involving Wizards guard Bradley Beal swirled.

Another migraine-inducing conundrum is forthcoming whether Beal receives All-NBA honors or not.

Should the league’s upcoming announcement of its first, second and third team include the two-time All-Star, the Wizards may have no choice but to break up the backcourt pairing with John Wall that fueled the franchise’s most sustained success since winning the 1978 title.

This honor comes with a financial reward-- if extended to Beal by the Wizards --  in the form of a supermax contract worth approximately $193 million over four years that would begin in 2021-22. He still has two years and $56 million remaining on the valued five-year, $127 million deal he signed in 2016.

The issue is less about Beal’s hefty chunk of the Wizards’ salary cap, but combining it with Wall’s four-year, $170 million supermax deal that begins next season. Offer Beal the supermax and, should he accept, approximately 71 percent of the team’s future salary cap beginning in the 2021-22 season would be chewed up by two players.

Beal and Wall, when healthy, are All-Stars. They’re not Jordan and Pippen.

NBC Sports Washington spoke with over a dozen league sources in recent weeks including three current or former general managers, other executives, NBA coaches and scouts, about Beal’s contract situation and the Wizards’ overall equation coming off a 32-50 campaign.

Some dutifully tried putting themselves in the mindset of Washington’s next front office leader knowing Beal’s contract status and other limiting or uncertain factors.

The executives shared opinions on whether to boldly hold or sell high on the Wizards’ best player. Regardless of their stance, their initial instinct almost unanimously landed in the same place as this current lead executive: “I have no idea what you would do.”

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There’s an incredibly strong argument for doing nothing. How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?

Several NBA sources largely acknowledge the choice almost gets removed from the Wizards front office should Beal receive the All-NBA nod. Even if Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson or Ben Simmons trump Beal in the voting, events from early February may effectively force the Wizards’ hand.

Washington faced its second consecutive luxury tax payment, diminishing playoff hopes and the knowledge that Wall would miss the rest of the season with a heel injury.

Despite those negatives and salary cap concerns with only five players catapulting the team over next season’ salary cap, big picture hope existed. The headliners -- Wall, Beal and Otto Porter -- previously put the Wizards in a playoff contender mode. “We're not trading any of those players,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said at the time.

There’s a good reason to believe Leonsis meant what he said. Then life intervened and forced change.

Wall’s left Achilles ruptured during the first week of February. The recovery time means an entire calendar year and perhaps the full 2019-20 season. Those negatives, especially with the salary cap, were now amplified.

Washington dealt with that financial scenario two days after the Wall status update by trading Porter and Markieff Morris to slide under the luxury tax.

Another life event requiring a financial decision could happen this week.

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There’s no debating whether Beal is worthy of the All-NBA accolade. Some believe he is a favorite to snag one of the two guard spots on the third-team.

The dilemma is can the Wizards justify offering a contract with those hefty terms knowing what’s already on the books, plus the upcoming challenges.

Pass and the likelihood of trading Beal at peak value becomes a leading option. Hold Beal regardless and his trade value effectively decreases over the next two seasons with the possibility he leaves as a 2021 free agent without compensation.

“The Wizards is a hard job right now,” a former GM told NBC Sports Washington. “There’s a lot to figure out. Timelines can’t be certain with John Wall in particular. For Bradley Beal, that's a decision… Hard to walk in [to those interviews) with a specific plan.”

Leave the supermax contract off the table and the human element arises. Those familiar with Beal’s mindset do not see a Robin to Wall’s Batman. Co-headliners, cool, but then pay and appreciate accordingly. Maybe folks could start referring to the pair as Beal and Wall once in a while.

Forget the money, which isn’t Beal’s driving motivation. As one source familiar with Beal’s thinking stated, “Brad needs to be in the playoffs. He’s not disruptive...Brad just wants to win.”

The Wizards might not be in playoff position next season even if Beal maintains his All-NBA level. It's a near lock they won't if the 2012 first-round pick is traded.

Beal averaged 30.9 points in February, the same month he dropped a season-high 46 at Charlotte and his All-NBA buzz soared. Beal joined 2019 MVP finalist James Harden as the only players this season to average at least 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.5 steals.

The wing guard’s leadership kept Washington tangibly in the playoff race until realities of the undermanned roster kicked in.

“I think [Brad is] an all-NBA player in my eyes,” said Wall, an All-NBA selection in 2016. “You know how tough it is to make that team? It’s always tough. The year he’s had speaks for itself.”

How do you trade that player especially one groomed by the organization since selecting him third overall in 2012? You can't -- but the Wizards might not have a choice.

Nobody recognizes this more than Bradley Beal.

"Honestly, I’m here until I’m not here," Beal told NBC Sports Washington earlier this month. "I’m not thinking too strong on it. My personal desire is to be here and see the direction we go. Hopefully, the correct direction.

"I keep hearing the possibility of rebooting, trading Brad and getting assets back. It’s a business. I understand both sides of it. I can’t be mad at it."

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Bruno Fernando

School: Maryland
Position: Center
Age: 20 (turns 21 in August)
Height: 6-10
Weight: 237
Wingspan: 7-3
Max vertical: 33.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.9 bpg, 60.7 FG% (5.1/8.4), 30.0 3PT% (0.1/0.3), 77.9 FT%

Player comparison: Jusuf Nurkic, Bam Adebayo

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 24th, NBADraft.net 12th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 28th, Ringer 37th

5 things to know:

*Fernando tested the NBA draft waters last year before returning to school and clearly helped his stock by doing so. He went from a likely second round pick to someone who could fall in the lottery. Fernando is ranked in most mock drafts as the third-best big man in this draft behind Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes.

*He is one of the best rebounders in this class. He averaged 10.9 boards per game as a sophomore and had five games of 15 or more. That includes a 19-rebound performance against Nebraska on Feb. 6. Fernando is a strong, physical forward so there is reason to believe those skills will translate to the next level.

*Concerns about Fernando include his lack of an outside shot. He attempted only 13 threes in college and did most of his damage around the rim. But the potential for Fernando to become a reliable scorer in the NBA appear to be there. He has soft touch around the rim and can finish with power.

*Defensively, Fernando needs some work. He has the physical tools with his size and long arms, and he averaged 1.9 blocks per game in college, but some evaluatiors criticize his defensive instincts and discipline. As long as Fernando can block shots and rebound in the NBA, he should be fine on that end of the floor.

*Fernando is originally from the country of Angola and has played for their national team in several international tournaments. Angola basketball is famous for being the subject of one of Charles Barkley's most memorable quotes. During the 1992 Olympics, he said of USA's next opponent: "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble."

Fit with Wizards: Fernando would fit the Wizards in a variety of ways. Rim protection and rebounding are their biggest needs and he would help them to different degrees in both areas. With rebounding in particular, he could be a big plus.

But two questions about Fernando could give the Wizards pause. One is if they can justify taking him ninth when he may fall into the teens and second is what his ceiling will ultimately be. Does he have All-Star potential or will he top out as an Enes Kanter-type rebounding specialist?

Ideally, the Wizards would find someone with very high upside to give them hope for a true franchise building block moving forward. There may be better options than Fernando at No. 9, even if they play positions that are less of a need for the Wizards.

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