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Wizards pregame: Okafor, Booker out vs. Knicks

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Wizards pregame: Okafor, Booker out vs. Knicks

Emeka Okafor and Trevor Booker will miss their second straight preseason game, Wizards coach Randy Wittman said during his pregame media session before Washington hosts the New York Knicks.

After Wednesday's practice Okafor told reporters he was anxious to return to action after a lengthy absence dating back to his time in New Orleans. Blame a bout of food poisoning for this latest missed opportunity. Booker has been sidelined with a sore left hamstring.

As expected John Wall (stress injury left patella) and Nene (plantar fasciitis) also will be in street clothes.

Wittman is sending out the same starting lineup that struggled offensively Sunday in Charlotte: Trevor Ariza and Jan Vesely at forward, Jordan Crawford and A. J. Price at guard with Kevin Seraphin at center. Point guard Jannero Pargo is expected to make his preseason debut after missing the opener with an abdominal strain.

The Knicks, set for their first preseason game, also have a host of missing players including Amar'e Stoudemire (bruised left knee) and Marcus Camby (strained left calf).

Carmelo Anthony, who scored 37 points in his only game against the Wizards at Verizon Center last season, starts up front along with Kurt Thomas and Tyson Chandler with Raymond Felton and Mychel Thompson in the backcourt.

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Bradley Beal not buying into off-court drama: 'All I do is come in here and work'

Bradley Beal not buying into 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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Wizards open to trading big names? New report says 'every player' available for discussion

Wizards open to trading big names? New report says 'every player' available for discussion

With the losses piling up, rumors about the Washington Wizards’ future will increase. Another report emerged Monday following Sunday’s 119-109 home loss to the Portland Trailblazers.

From ESPN’s NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski:

As the Washington Wizards' season spirals, the franchise has started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster -- including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal -- is available for discussion in trade scenarios, league sources told ESPN.Washington's preference remains to reshape the team around Wall and Beal, but poor play among key teammates is limiting their trade value and paralyzing the Wizards' efforts to make meaningful changes to a roster that no longer appears functional together, league sources said.

This isn’t the first time this season that a report emerged about Washington’s potential involvement in trade talks. There is a difference, however. Prior reports had the Wizards inquiring about adding All-Star talents like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard to the Wall-Beal pairing as a way to push the projected contenders up the Eastern Conference standings.

This new angle from Wojnarowski is more about breaking up the band because of the off-key tone emerging from this roster after 16 games.

Sunday’s loss dropped Washington to 5-11. Of those defeats, seven have been by at least 10 points including the last two.

The Wizards have several tradable assets particularly with eight of their 13 players entering some form of free agency this summer including starting power forward Markieff Morris and key reserve Kelly Oubre Jr. Moving any of those players could provide some help on the margins or provide a needed wakeup call for a slumbering group. A true shakeup means dealing Wall, Beal or Otto Porter.

Wall’s supermax contract extension starts with 2019-20 season. He will average $42 million annually over the next four years. There’s an additional cost with a move as Wall’s contract includes a 15 percent trade kicker. None of the financial or compensation aspects factors in any deal involving Wall would mean dealing the face of the franchise since Washington selected the point guard No. 1 overall in 2010.

Beal, 25, is the more attractive guard for other teams. His off-ball game would be an easy fit for virtually any team in the league. The All-Star’s contract extension is the more palatable of the trio even with a $28.7 million salary in 2020-21, the final year of his deal. Porter, whose deal also extends to 2020-21, is the Wizards’ highest paid player this season at $26 million.  

Players said last week they don’t want to see trades.

“Everybody just has to be calm and patient,” Wall told NBC Sports Washington Thursday before back-to-back losses. “You hear all the talks about trade everybody, blow the team up. There’s no need for that.”

The recent play offers clues as to why change could occur.

Portland led 32-12, by 21 points at halftime and 29 in third quarter.

"We've got to just play with more enthusiasm, more effort, more energy," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after the loss. "That's embarrassing."

Wall and Beal also weighed in Sunday on the lagging effort postgame.

"You can't teach effort. You can't teach heart," Wall said.

Washington’s deep reserves pushed back in the final period and cut the deficit to single digits briefly.

 “It was terrible,” Beal said of the work from the main rotation players. “The guys who were in it at the end of the game played their asses off – played the way they we’re supposed to play the whole game and we didn't do that.” 

The Wizards aren’t playing the way anyone imagined. With 66 games remaining, there is plenty of time for a turnaround. At the moment, everyone is searching for solutions.
 

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