Paul Pierce might be a bit coarse in his demeanor, but he was every bit as comfortable being the villain in his own locker room as he was on the road when taunting opposing teams and their fan base. He was the one player willing to tell and teach most of the Wizards who still remain about themselves, and he'd even acknowledge it publicly.
If the moment calls for it, who will do this:
The Atlanta Hawks had ripped through the Wizards 120-89 just two days earlier. The mood going into a Jan. 13 game with the San Antonio Spurs, who'd beaten the Wizards 17 times in a row, was too jovial. It ticked off Pierce. "There was a little bit of laughing in the locker room. There was only a couple guys in there and I told them, 'We just lost by (31). We need to get more focused." -- Pierce
They responded by conquering the Spurs 101-93.
Based on what Jared Dudley has observed -- and he picked up on this quickly after he was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks -- the Wizards were in dire need of such a strong voice. He went to train with them in Los Angeles, after John Wall called a players-only team-building workout before training camp opened.
"You see who’s an alpha dog, who’s not," Dudley said of that experience. "On this team everyone seems a friend. No one seems like they’re the aggressor so I could see why Paul was perfect. He was that guy, that lone wolf. I’m not to that level as Paul when it comes to that but I’m similar when it comes to camaraderie."
The next time Pierce made a public statement about the Wizards' focus was during a first-round series with the Toronto Raptors. He'd witnessed players goof off on the road, which coincided with their 6-14 stretch from Jan. 17 to Feb. 27. Then the Wizards lost three games in a row during a crucial West coast trip, to the L.A. Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. The latter two were by 23 and 31 points. The sluggish performances showed something was amiss, evident in the locker room before a game when some were eating less-than-ideal foods such as pizza to fuel up 90 minutes before tipoff. This isn't college where there's a bed check or curfew. Players have to be professional in policing themselves, and each other. This was Pierce's take on April 25, after the Wizards took a 3-0 lead on Toronto, on how he set everyone on the right path when he'd seen enough:
"Being with a young team sometimes throughout the 82-game season the focus isn't always there on a night-in, night-out basis. You're going to have your mental lapses. The young guys, a lot of them don't have any kids, they have good times on the road, they go out, party sometimes, that's the way it is. When I was a young guy I did those things. Sometimes you'e not locked in for the full 82. That's what it is. That's what the whole NBA is. I told them last week of the season, let's throw all that stuff out the window."
Told of Pierce's comments and about that situation, Dudley shook his head in agreement. It happens everywhere, and when it does something has to be said. He hasn't won an NBA title like Pierce, but he was on perennial contenders with the Phoenix Suns who had consummate pros like Steve Nash and Grant Hill. They pushed the L.A. Lakers to six games in the conference finals in 2010.
"When you deal with the NBA, it’s a fast life. Guys like to go out and stuff like that," Dudley said. "There’s a time when to go out and have fun, and when not. … Who’s working, who’s not? If you’re hurt, who’s in the training room? It’s a way to be a professional. Grant Hill taught me very well when he came in, getting your work done."
On Media Day, an event that precedes the opening of training camp where players do pack interviews, photo shoots and TV/radio spots for various outlets, Wall impressed Dudley in a subtle way.
"John was here early getting shots up," Dudley said. "That’s not something that he has to do. That there sets a precedent, sets a tone of how it is."
When Wall speaks, will his teammates listen? And will they show him the type of respect that they showed Pierce by responding positively?
Coming back to play in the conference semifinals with a broken and and wrist -- and averaging 18 points and 10 assists in those two games -- is a major building block. The players workout that he arranged on the West coast is another.
How Wall handles himself every day before, between and after the 82 games of the 2015-16 season will tell the ultimat truth in answering the ultimate question.
And if he does it correctly, the answer will be, yes.