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Before everyone trades Bradley Beal away, consider why Wizards should keep him

Before everyone trades Bradley Beal away, consider why Wizards should keep him

For all the recent buzz about the possibility of the Washington Wizards trading Bradley Beal, consider the following:

Maybe they shouldn’t.

Dealing away the two-time All-Star makes sense purely based on maximizing assets. Teams around the league including if not foremost the Los Angeles Lakers would logically be interested in an ascending playmaking guard who ranks among the league’s top players.

Beal just completed a near All-NBA season in which he and MVP candidate James Harden were the only players to average 25 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals per game.

If the next Wizards general manager believes in rebuilding after a 32-50 season, moving Beal with two years remaining on his value contract for a bevy of long-term assets turbocharges the process.

Bringing young, impressionable players into the fold won’t solve all issues if the culture reeks. That’s not to suggest what the Wizards have is rotten even though last year’s laborious start to the season stemmed in part from a contentious vibe.

It’s to say that the mature Beal, a natural leader despite not turning 26 until next month, is the tone-setter this franchise needs.

“Keep Beal as the vet who sets the culture, identity,” a league source familiar with the Wizards’ situation told NBC Sports Washington.

Team owner Ted Leonsis in Thursday’s “Wizards Talk” podcast called Beal one of the team’s “pillars” along with John Wall. Beal certainly dazzled throughout the season despite a myriad of roster changes and the underachieving Wizards falling far short of pre-season expectations.

Only the uninformed place significant blame for the 50-loss season with Beal. Only the unsophisticated think Beal’s significant campaign was based on numbers alone.

Signs of concerns began during training camp. The Wizards then opened the season losing seven of eight. Things would not get better.

Wall’s first heel injury ended his campaign just after Christmas. His second just before the Feb. 7 trade deadline altered the organization’s plan. Within 48 hours, Beal and Wall were the only high rotation player on the roster from the 2016 playoff team that came within a win of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.

The situation left in the hands of others may have deteriorated quickly. Washington stood 13-22 after Wall’s first injury. Over the next 35 games, the Wizards went 17-18.

That’s hardly contender status, but certainly competitive despite the many challenges. Throughout this stretch, Beal scored plenty and led more. Just ask theWiz kids coming off their first full NBA season what about the All-Star stood out most.

”My takeaway is how he handles everything,” center Thomas Bryant said of Beal as the season wound down. “He’s always been the leader on this team. When John went down he absolutely stepped it up. ... It’s great just to be around him.”

“I would just say [Brad’s] mentality, honestly,” said Troy Brown Jr., Washington’s 2018 first-round selection. “He's a mentally strong person. ...He's always stayed the same leader that he was at the beginning of the year. He's never changed. He's always been positive. That would be my biggest thing.”

That’s a big thing for a franchise searching for a direction. With Wall likely out for much of next season, an immediate return to contender status isn’t a logical forecast.

While the next GM faces roster-building challenges because of Wall’s injury and supermax contract starting, an opportunity exists.

Beyond Beal, Brown is the only other (healthy) player currently on the roster considered a true future asset. Around half of the 2018-19 roster is entering some form of free agency including Bryant, Tomas Satoransky and Bobby Portis. Some will return, but that potential for turnover opens a path for establishing a new identity and culture. Beal is an ideal role model -- if he stays.

The shooting guard’s current deal lasts two seasons. His trade value will never be higher under the current terms than this summer. Waiting means the Wizards risk diminished trade returns or losing him to free agency in 2021.

There’s also value in letting Beal run the locker room flat out from the start of the season for the first time in his seven-year career.

In February 2018 before a game in Orlando, Beal told a reporter, “Leaders are born, not made. I feel like I have always been a leader ever since I was a kid. Every team I’ve been on, I’ve been a leader. Now I feel like this is what it was destined to be.”

Beal’s teammates responded this season like they believed. Eventually, the shorthanded roster and no-playoff realities overwhelmed the group over the final 10 games, but what if a Beal-led team develops chemistry and flashes that show a competitive form starting with those initial training camp practices?

Maybe the Wizards avoid a 1-7 start and instead pull off some gritty wins early while gaining confidence. Plant those seeds and see what grows this season and beyond.

Empowering Beal might deepen the connection with the only NBA organization he’s known. For the long haul, that could become the savviest decision anyone in the organization makes.

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Go-Go GM Pops Mensah-Bonsu's empathy put to test at open tryouts

Go-Go GM Pops Mensah-Bonsu's empathy put to test at open tryouts

WASHINGTON -- Capital City Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu often says one of the primary reasons he retired as a player to join the front office ranks was to bring his perspective as a journeyman pro to the GM position. He played for 18 professional teams across the NBA, G-League and overseas and was cut from quite a few of them. He once lost his job five minutes before his contract was guaranteed.

Those memories of disappointment and resolve have stuck with him to this day and he is reminded of them every time he has to cut a player. That experience makes him acutely aware of how a player feels when delivered the news.

"There is a way you can do business with honesty and integrity," he said.

That approach helped lead to a year-over-year change in the way the Go-Go held their tryouts on Saturday. Last year, Mensah-Bonsu delivered roster moves by taking players aside during scrimmages. The guys in the open morning session who were good enough to earn an invite to the closed afternoon tryout were told to stop playing and wait around.

That process led to a good deal of confusion. Some players who didn't know their fate came up and asked Mensah-Bonsu personally. He called it "heartbreaking."

So, this year he switched it up. He brought the roughly 100 players out to the main court and had them sit in the stands as he read out the jersey numbers of those who made it.

There was still some uncertainty from players about who had advanced to the second tryout. Several players pulled their jerseys off to double-check their numbers in disbelief.

Still, it was better than last year. With this being only the second season for the Go-Go and the second for Mensah-Bonsu as GM, that's all they can really ask for.

"You know how good things are in the first year by how the second year goes," Mensah-Bonsu said. "This year, we kind of knew the ropes and what to expect and how to do things. This year, we kind of hit the ground running. It was more seamless than it was last year."

Last year was unique because they had to build the team from scratch as an expansion franchise. This offseason, they were looking for fewer players overall, without the need to complete an entire roster.

The open tryouts generally bring a handful of players to the afternoon session where they then choose two to four as training camp invites. Those who are brought in for training camp then compete for roster spots on the Go-Go, which would put them one step away from the NBA.

Mensah-Bonsu said the goal was to take five or six players from the morning group. They ended up with 15, as he was once again surprised by the talent pool offered by the D.C. area.

That afternoon session, though, is a different level of basketball. There are players with decorated college careers and some with NBA resumes. Some of the invitees included Josh Selby, who played at Kansas and has 38 career NBA games under his belt, Maurice Creek (George Washington), Trey Dickerson (Georgetown) and Frank Howard (Syracuse). 

Everyone involved is chasing the NBA dream, some giving it one final shot.

"I empathize with these guys. It's not easy," Go-Go coach Ryan Richman said. "Come here, stretch, learn some plays and then play games. It's not an easy job."

It's not easy for the Go-Go staff, either, to evaluate 100 players all within a few hours. It can be confusing in its own way. And for Mensah-Bonsu, there was a moment on Saturday that was particularly disorienting.

In attendance for the morning tryout was a player named Kojo Bonsu. That's a familiar name.

"He's got the exact same name as my brother, so I looked and made sure he wasn't out there. It was eerie to see that. It's rare you see somebody with the exact same name as you or a sibling. It was interesting," Mensah-Bonsu said.

It is already hard enough for Mensah-Bonsu to make cuts. At least he didn't have to cut his brother.

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Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

One of the WNBA’s most dominant players is Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces. She’s unforgiving, wears her heart on her chest, and is truly one of a kind.

When the center is playing her finest basketball no one in the league can stop her. Sunday's Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Washington Mystics had Cambage playing at her finest. 

Matching her season-high, Cambage waltzed to 28 points in only 27 minutes of playing time. Several Mystics took their turn at trying to slow her down. Every Mystic had a chance to help at least at double-teaming the Ace's leading scorer. Primarily it was Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders that drew the assignment responsibility, but everyone had a role.

It did not matter in Las Vegas. Throughout the whole contest, Cambage rolled over the interior of the Mystics defense. She scored at ease as the tallest player on either roster for the Mystics and the Aces. 

The Australian knew she could not be stopped. Postgame she analyzed why she was able to command the post so well on ESPN2’s broadcast. In the process, she put several Mystics on blast. 

“They got small forwards guarding me. If they can’t handle it, get in the weight room or get out of the post. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my thing inside,” Cambage told Kim Adams.

She’s talking about the 6-4 Meesseman, the 6-3 Sanders. But it doesn't matter whomever the Mystics put on the 6-8 Cambage, there will be a significant matchup advantage for the Aces. 

Not only does she have a clear edge in her height, but she does her build as well. Cambage possesses the ideal structure of a WNBA center. She stands at 216 pounds, 30 pounds more than either of the Mystics primary defenders on her. Sanders’ lanky frame has its advantages in the Mystics run-and-gun offense, but not what you see from a stereotypical center. Meesseman is a better matchup defensively, size-wise but she spots Cambage five inches. 

This is not an oddity though for Washington. There are a minute few in the WNBA that can walk alongside Cambage. As the third-tallest player in the league, only the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittany Griner (6-9) and the New York Liberty’s Han Xu (6-9) position higher.

Despite the clear physical dominance, Cambage is erratic at times. While she wears her emotions, those also tend to get her in trouble with her aggressive play and in dealing with officials. When frustrated, sometimes she struggles to even get a shot on rim.  

This is partly why Cambage’s play was highlighted so much in Game 3. The first two games of the series had Cambage as her own worst enemy. Visibly she was upset with some calls and non-calls by the officials. Timely fouls also limited her flow on the court. 

Neither was the case in Game 3. Fouls went her way. She even got away with a brash elbow to Meesseman’s face why trying to keep the lane clear. The non-call resulted in Mike Thibault losing his cool and getting a technical foul.

It’s also not the first time that Cambage has flailed an elbow to Meesseman. Game 2 saw her earn a technical foul for that same behavior. 

Either way, Cambage is a matchup nightmare against the Mystics. During the regular season, the Mystics – led by Sanders’ defense – kept Cambage to under 15 points in all three of their matchups. In three games in this series, the 28-year-old has 19, 23 and 28 points; progressively getting better in each game. 

Washington still holds a 2-1 lead and is a game away from returning to the WNBA Finals. However, they have to find an answer to slow down the tenacious Cambage. 

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