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Don't dare ask Bradley Beal if he deserves All-NBA or suggest the Wizards won't make the playoffs

Don't dare ask Bradley Beal if he deserves All-NBA or suggest the Wizards won't make the playoffs

WASHINGTON -- Wizards owner Ted Leonsis relayed details of a conversation with soon-to-be two-time All-Star Bradley Beal shortly after the struggling Washington Wizards learned John Wall would miss the remainder of the season.

“Bradley Beal told me, ‘We got enough. We’re going to make the playoffs. We’re not going to let you down,’” Leonsis said in January.

Consider that position from Beal completely serious and one that remains despite the Wizards’ uphill climb with only 12 regular season games.

That’s just not the only reason Beal pleaded to the team owner for more time.

He wanted a reprieve from last season’s finish. He desired a chance to lead the Wizards.

Largely on the back of his stellar work over the last 35 games, the point at which Washington knew its cupboard wouldn’t be full the remainder of the regular season, Beal is delivering a campaign worthy of All-NBA status.

He scored 40 points in Saturday’s 135-128 win over the Memphis Grizzlies one night after dropping 40 against the Hornets.

"The way he's playing, the way he's improved, the way he's led, my very biased opinion he's all-NBA the way he's playing,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said.

There might be too many guards for the available six ballot slots, but it’s frankly preposterous to consider Beal unworthy. Seriously, don’t. Most of all, don’t you dare ask Beal directly if he’s a credible candidate.

“What do you think?” he shot back when a reporter posed that question after Saturday’s win.

There have been other times when Beal was asked effectively to justify his status among the league’s best, notably with the All-Star voting.

“I have to go through this again?” said the irritated guard.

Surrounded by the usual media horde inside the Wizards locker room, Beal passed on answering in words because his season-long performance made the response obvious.

There are numerous stats worth touting. Among them:

  • He leads the league in minutes played
  • Ranks third in scoring since the All-Star break with 31.2 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
  • He set a career-high with five 40-point games this season. That's the most by a Wizards player in a season since Gilbert Arenas in 2006-07
  • Saturday Beal set a career with nine 3-pointers on 12 attempts

Beal ended the media session using those in his vicinity as mouthpieces for the All-NBA question. 

“All in favor say aye.”

Those that spoke repeated as instructed two months after Leonsis and the Wizards’ front office heard Beal’s plea for a continuance.

Washington did trade away two key pieces in Otto Porter and Markieff Morris before the Feb. 7 trade deadline but didn’t tear down the roster to the foundation.

Maybe there isn’t enough overall talent to contend with the Eastern Conference heavyweights or even finish among the top eight. Sufficient help existed for Beal to push forward. Not for personal glory, but to lead the way, to see what is possible in that main man role.

Though Beal had that status for a chunk of last season when Wall missed 41 games with injuries, the point guard’s eventual return hovered over the scene. Beal and the team flourished for long stretches, but faded late, entering the playoffs as the eighth seed.

“[Brad] stepped up and delivered night in and night out, but it takes a lot to do that,” Brooks said Friday of Beal's 2017-18 work. “He wasn’t used to that. …You try to manage the physical part of it, but the mental part wears you down.”

Beal learned lessons from that experience. Despite the heavy workload, he remains stunningly productive.

Despite the personal growth, Beal’s focus remains team-oriented and win-centric.

After Friday’s 116-110 loss to Charlotte, he left the locker room before speaking with reporters and then woke up at 6 a.m. frustrated.

“I didn’t sleep well. I was mad all night,” Beal said. “Have been up all day just thinking the game from last night just thinking about how it important it was to get one tonight. No matter what it took.”

The obvious note is the starry stats. That’s not the key with Beal and this version of the Wizards. For the most part, they’ve remained competitive nightly despite the obvious rotation losses. Though 30-40 on the season, Washington is 17-18 over those last 35 games.

Beal’s focused team-first approach fuels the effort. He only took 17 field goal attempts for those 40 points Saturday. Beal wanted the win but knew this wasn’t just about his numbers.

“Every game matters at this point. I really wanted this game,” Beal said Saturday. “I just made sure I was locked in and led the team and the rest of the guys will follow.”

Despite Saturday’s win, the Wizards sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, three games back of the eighth-place Heat for the eighth and final playoff berth. Only 12 games remain in the regular season.

Should Washington fall short of the playoffs, only a certifiable loon or a basketball illiterate would lay blame with Beal. Then again, Beal likely puts the onus on himself if the goal isn’t reached. He keeps pushing for more from himself and teammates. That’s why he didn’t want Leonsis to sell.

 “We’re positive. I know I am,” Beal said Saturday of the team’s playoff hopes. “At the end of the day, I want to make the playoffs. I’m sure everybody else in here is to. We’re not out of it until the end of the year games. …We’re going to keep fighting and pushing because we’ve got a chance. It’s going to be tough… but I love the direction we’re headed in.”

There's a strong argument the Wizards are better off leaning into their current draft lottery status rather than aim for the playoffs. Just don't try selling that to Bradley Beal.

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An important summer of decisions for the Wizards, from free agents to Scott Brooks

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An important summer of decisions for the Wizards, from free agents to Scott Brooks

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 3: WHICH FREE AGENTS AND COACHES WILL RETURN?

The Wizards enter this summer with only six players under contract for the 2019-20 season and that includes Jabari Parker's team option worth $20 million that is certain to be declined. With Parker accounted for, that essentially gives them eight impending free agents to decided on.

Eight players is more than half of a 15-man NBA roster and that is not to mention Dwight Howard's player option worth $5.6 million. If he opts out, they could have nine open spots.

Whomever the Wizards choose to replace Ernie Grunfeld as team architect will determine who will stay and who will go. Before they make that call, and they remain relatively early in the process, it is difficult to project which players will be back.

If they promote senior VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard from interim general manager to long-term status, that will mean a different course than if they go completely outside of the organization. Everyone has their own philosophies and a brand new voice would have no ties to those currently on the roster.

The same could apply to the coaching staff. Head coach Scott Brooks was not assured of his return at the end of the season and owner Ted Leonsis indicated that would be up to the next GM.

As far as the players go, each will present pros and cons. Some have more upside while some are older. Some will be more expensive to retain while some might be worth bringing back based on their relative cost.

Some could also depend on what the Wizards accomplish in the draft. They have the sixth-best odds and could luck into a top-four pick. Most mock drafts have this year's class top-heavy with wings and forwards. A top pick could affect how they view others at the same position.

Here is a look at each of the Wizards' free agents...

Tomas Satoransky, PG (RFA): Satoransky has a good chance of coming back because he can be a restricted free agent and most teams would like to have a player like him. He's versatile, committed on defense and an unselfish passer.

If Sheppard assumes the full-time GM role, expect signing Satoransky before he hits restricted free agency to be a top priority. Even if an outside person takes over, Satoransky could very well still come back. But what could end Satoransky's time in Washington is his price tag. Will he get starting point guard money, or will he be had at a lower price?

Thomas Bryant, C (RFA): Like Satoransky, Bryant may be immune from a new GM wanting to move on and make change for the sake of change. The reasons to bring him back far outweigh the reasons not to. He's only 21 (he turns 22 in July) and has obvious potential. He's a young big man who gives an honest effort every night and has a great attitude. Those guys don't grow on trees.

Bryant also loves playing in Washington. But as a restricted free agent, he could field some nice offers and cash in on what was a breakout year. As a former second round pick with only two years of NBA experience, his contract situation could also be very complicated.  

If Sheppard takes the reins moving forward, signing Bryant will be a major goal. But even if someone from the outside comes in, it seems likely the Wizards will make an effort to keep him.

Jabari Parker, PF: Parker really genuinely enjoyed playing in Washington and would like to return. He proved a good fit offensively as a complement to Bradley Beal and has potential to get better at only 24 years old.

But Parker's price will be important and difficult to gauge until he starts talking to teams. Will anyone pay him $10 million-plus annually? It's really hard to tell based on how his stock has fallen and his injury history. Also, a new GM could choose to move on in favor of defense or something else.

Bobby Portis, PF/C (RFA): Portis is likely to be the most expensive of all of the Wizards' free agents to keep. The fact he can be a restricted free agent helps their cause, but he is reportedly looking for upwards of $16 million annually and it's just hard to see the Wizards paying that.

Now, Portis may also have the highest upside of any of these guys. He's only 24, is fast, can rebound and shoot. In fact, he can shoot very well for a big man and could turn into one of the more accurate stretch-fours in the league. But is that enough to pay him a big deal?

Trevor Ariza, SF: The biggest questions for Ariza's future center around price, whether the new GM wants to win now and whether Ariza wants to play for a contender. He made $15 million this past season which would be way too much for the Wizards to pay to bring him back. If that price comes down considerably for a guy who turns 34 in June, then maybe. 

But if a new GM wants to tear it all down and start over and sees missing the playoffs next season as not the worst thing, Ariza wouldn't help that cause. And Ariza may very well want to chase another ring this summer, something he couldn't do in Washington. That said, as he moves into his mid-30s, money may be the most important priority, as he only has so much time left to make an NBA salary.

Sam Dekker, PF (RFA): Dekker was in and out of the rotation, but overall played some of the best basketball of his young career so far during his four months with the Wizards. Helping his cause to return are a few things. For one, he is young and turns 25 in May. Secondly, he might be cheap and the Wizards will need some inexpensive players to fill roster spots next season.

Granted, a new GM from outside of the organization could want to clear out anyone that they can in order to start over with their own players. Dekker could be seen as expendable.

Chasson Randle, PG (RFA): For Randle, it is much of the same as Dekker. He's a young player with some upside to get better and he's not going to cost much. That is extra important for him as a point guard, it would seem, with John Wall set to miss most of, if not all of, next season due to injury. They can only apply so many resources to the position.

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How the Wizards' new GM could shape the organization's future this summer

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USA Today Sports

How the Wizards' new GM could shape the organization's future this summer

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 2: HOW WILL THE NEW GM PUT THEIR STAMP ON THE ORGANIZATION?

Predicting which direction the Wizards will go this offseason when it comes to trades and free agency is a pointless exercise right now, as nothing can be projected until we know who will be in charge of the front office. Owner Ted Leonsis, with help from consultant Mike Forde, is still in the evaluation process of his organization, top-to-bottom. They have yet to begin interviewing candidates to replace dismissed team president Ernie Grunfeld.

Once Leonsis makes that hire, the future will become a little more clear, though any new GM may take time to truly make their mark. The Wizards have limited financial flexibility and only one draft pick. It may be a year or two before the roster truly feels like theirs.

That said, by the end of this summer, we should know plenty about what makes the new team architect tick. They will explain their philosophy at an introductory press conference and demonstrate it in decisions they make. 

The most telling in the short-term will be how they handle the large group of players set to hit free agency. That list includes Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis, Thomas Bryant, Jeff Green, Sam Dekker and Chasson Randle. There is also Jabari Parker, who has a $20 million team option for 2019-20 that is a lock to be declined, no matter who takes over.

If the Wizards move forward with interim GM Tommy Sheppard, who was Grunfeld's No. 2, that likely means Satoransky and Bryant are coming back. They are both restricted free agents and Sheppard was integral in acquiring them. 

He scouted Satoransky as a teenager and helped convince him to leave Europe for the NBA. He had a first round grade on Bryant when he came out of Indiana in the 2017 draft and took a strong stance in favor of claiming him as soon as the Lakers put him on waivers last summer.

Sheppard staying in place could also increase the likelihood Ariza, Parker and Portis return, though any of those three would have to be for the right price. A new GM could conceivably want to clear those players out and bring in his own guys.

Also telling will be how the new front office handles Bradley Beal's contract in the event he makes All-NBA and qualifies for a supermax. It projects to be worth about $194 million over four years, a ton of money to commit with John Wall already signed to a supermax that begins next season. If it comes to that, perhaps the new GM will determine a trade is the best course of action, to turn one player into multiple assets and rebuild for the future.

Also on the docket will be Ian Mahinmi's contract. The Wizards can either ride out the final year of his deal and shed $15.5 million off the books next summer, or use the stretch provision to spread that money out over the next three seasons and free up about $10.3 million more to work with this summer.

A major decision for the new GM will be the Wizards' first round pick this June. They have the sixth-best lottery odds and will know their selection on May 14. If they get lucky and land the No. 1 pick, there will be no mystery, as Zion Williamson is the clear-cut star of this class. But any other pick will require a difficult decision, including whether to draft a point guard with Wall under contract for the next four years.

If the Wizards do not find lottery luck and vault into the top four, it would probably be smart to trade back. They have a dearth of draft assets and a new GM will likely want more of them. This year's draft class doesn't appear to be a deep one. Trading back from eighth, for example, to pick up an extra first or a pair of second rounders might be the move to make.

There are other ways the new GM can shape the organization's philosophy, ones that will be less noticeable to the public. They could either invest more or differently in analytics, for example. 

Though they have a fairly robust operation led by VP of basketball analytics Brett Greenberg, a sharp, young Duke grad who may someday be a GM himself, and though they also use outside consultants, there are other teams (like the Sixers) that employ more people with that focus.

Also, Greenberg oversees salary cap management as well. Perhaps a new GM has expertise in that realm or adds staff with those duties.

Speaking of staff decisions, there will also be one made about head coach Scott Brooks. His status is currently in limbo.

Even with little resources to overhaul the Wizards' roster in a major way this summer, the franchise is about to undergo significant long-term change. The next few months will give everyone the first major signs of what is up ahead.

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