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Ted Leonsis shares his goals for the Wizards next season

Ted Leonsis shares his goals for the Wizards next season

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis recalls a day in the fall of 2018 when he and other members of the team's board of governors were meeting in a room that overlooked the practice court at St. Elizabeth's in Southeast. Through the glass window, he noticed Thomas Bryant, one of the organization's newest players, sprinting back on defense like a madman while practicing with the Capital City Go-Go.

Bryant was so demonstrative that Leonsis remembers his partners and members of the coaching staff laughing. It was clear to Leonsis that Bryant knew he was watching and was going out of his way to be on his best behavior.

Bryant, though, didn't need to exaggerate much. He only knows one gear when he's on the court and that is going full-out with the enthusiasm of a man who genuinely loves playing the game of basketball.

Leonsis wants more of that. He wants more players like Bryant, ones who are coachable and aren't jaded by NBA life.

In fact, that is the main directive from Leonsis for next season. He has had no problem in the past specifying his expectations, previously stating publicly goals of winning 50 games and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Last year, he made headlines for coupling those desires with a "no excuses" command.

But for the 2019-20 season, Leonsis is not putting a number on the wins or a stage in the playoffs he wants the Wizards to reach. This time, what he wants will be harder to define by numbers.

"Next year, I just want a team that progresses, that is really hard to play against and that fans fall in love with because of their hard work and effort," he told NBC Sports Washington.

That sounds like a simple goal, but it is something the Wizards haven't had enough of. In recent years as they chased deep playoff runs, they surrounded their core with proven veterans. As they fell short of their goals, the Wizards got older and more expensive.

They brought in too many players who had been satiated by large contracts and long careers. They weren't hungry and were harder to coach.

One Wizards veteran last season irked the coaching staff at a morning shootaround with a dismissive quip. When asked why he was just going through the motions, he replied: "I get paid for what I do at 7 p.m."

It is commonly believed that veterans are supposed to set the tone in a locker room, but sometimes benefits can be had the other way around. Sometimes youth and the eagerness of unproven players can rub off on more established ones who have lost their edge or need a push. 

There will be a learning curve for the Wizards with the youth they now have on their roster. Including Bryant, they now have seven players at Age 22 or younger. That is a lot of guys who could still be playing in college.

But the Wizards feel they are bringing in the right types of young players, ones that will show maturity in their work ethic and their on-court demeanor. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Admiral Schofield are perfect examples. They are smart, tough and determined.

General manager Tommy Sheppard believes they all can help establish and grow into a new culture for the Wizards.

"We have a lot of young players, there's no question," Sheppard explained. "But those players; guess what? They're coachable, they're hard-working, they're high-character guys," 

"I think if we imprint them from Day One on what we're about - playing hard at both ends - I think fans will be really excited to see these players compete every night."

Competing every night has not been a trademark of the Wizards the past two seasons, particularly this past year when they bottomed out to a 32-50 record. Their biggest downfalls were defense and rebounding, two areas of the game that reflect effort and will. Though they still lack rim protection and proven shutdown defenders, the Wizards could make strides in those parts of the game this season simply by giving a more consistent effort. 

It could also pay long-term dividends in free agency. This offseason has shown that good players want to play for good organizations. The Clippers and Nets were the biggest winners in free agency in part because of their style of play.

Ultimately, success in the NBA comes from having the best players. But as the Wizards retool their roster and build parts of their organization from the ground up, they are seeking what they believe are the right type of players, ones that will improve their culture and that fans will appreciate, even if it means more losses than wins in the short-term.


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Bradley Beal excitedly tweets reaction to signing two-year extension

Bradley Beal excitedly tweets reaction to signing two-year extension

ICYMI, Bradley Beal finally signed a contract extension with the Washington Wizards. The two-year, $72 million deal begins in the 2021-22 season and includes a four-year player option available in 2022-23.

After a career year for shooting guard we know and love to call Panda, as well as a tumultuous year for the Wizards, Beal faced many options, like requesting a trade or holding out. Instead of requesting a trade, he put the pen to paper with a deal that's flexible for what's to come Washington's way over the next five seasons. Making this happen is a huge win for the Wizards front office and is a significant success for general manager Tommy Sheppard to add to his resume.

With all of that said, Bradley Beal is pretty excited about the extension, too.

We're doing the same dance moves over the good news, Brad! The Wizards' future looks bright and filled with panda swag.



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Why Bradley Beal decided to sign another extension with the Wizards

Why Bradley Beal decided to sign another extension with the Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Bradley Beal is not your average NBA star and Wednesday's news of his contract extension with the Washington Wizards is the latest piece of evidence. In a league where stars forcing their way out is en vogue, Beal has yet again differentiated himself from his peers.

Beal, 26, could have asked for a trade. He could have viewed the grass as greener in L.A. or Miami or some place else. Instead, he committed to at least the next three years in Washington with a player option on the fourth.

The reasons why are numerous, as Beal explained on Wednesday at the team's practice facility. But most important to him was loyalty and the desire to be part of building a winner from the ground up.

"It's easy to think it's all about money when it's not," he said. "I guess it's legacy at the end of the day. This is where I've been for the last seven years going on eight. I have the opportunity to be able to turn this thing around. A lot of people doubt that and I view it as a challenge."

Beal did several interviews in recent weeks where he said he had not thought much about the extension, which was first offered on July 26. Technically, that's true as he left much of the negotiating to his agent.

But there were some moments along the way that gave him clarity. One was a meeting in Chicago last month between him, his representatives and Wizards' brass.

According to multiple people familiar with the negotiation process, Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis flew to Chicago along with the team's general manager Tommy Sheppard and other executives. They met at the offices of Priority Sports with Beal's team of agents led by Mark Bartelstein and Beal was able to ask questions about where the organization was headed.

The Wizards made sweeping changes to their front office and coaching staff over the summer. They also reworked their roster to create financial flexibility and replace veterans with young players that present upside. What the Wizards had to sell Beal on was a view of the future that can't necessarily be proven in the short-term.

Beal had a lot to consider ahead of the Oct. 21 deadline to make his decision, but ultimately gave all sides the go-ahead to strike a deal.

"I just felt comfortable with where we were going," Beal said. "I talked to Ted and they kind of projected the future and gave me the layout of what we can do in the future."

Some of the other times Beal grew more convinced to stay in Washington involved the city's other sports teams. He went to several of the Mystics' playoff games while they were en route to winning the first title in franchise history. And he attended Game 3 of the NL Championship Series between the Nationals and his hometown Cardinals.

Though the Nats beat his favorite team, he looked around the stadium and saw potential for what the Wizards can do someday in Washington.

"I can't neglect that because they've all built powerhouses. They're having success and continual success over the last couple of years. I can't ignore it," Beal explained.

"I view it as something a lot of D.C. sports [teams] have been a part of, rebuilding something and building them into championship-caliber teams. So, why not me? Why sell myself short of a great opportunity I have in my hands right now? I'm blessed to be in this position and honored, too. I also think I'm ready."

Beal has given the Wizards' newly-designed front office a major victory just months into their tenure. Sheppard already has a major success to count on his record.

He was also part of the previous administration that re-signed John Wall to a second and a third contract. When it comes to keeping stars, the Wizards have been able to buck league trends.

"We've always been able to retain our free agents," Sheppard said. "We feel this validates a little bit of what we're trying to do."

Aside from occasional meetings, and continuing conversations with Bartelstein, Sheppard said he took a hands-off approach to Beal as he awaited his decision. Sheppard said he himself doesn't like to be nagged over and over by those who ask him favors, so he gave Beal distance.

"I left Bradley alone," Sheppard said.

Instead of bothering Beal about it, he paid attention to his actions. Sheppard said he took his cues from Beal showing up to the Summer League in Las Vegas to support the team and from him participating in voluntary workouts before training camp began. 

Beal, it turns out, wasn't leaving the Wizards in the dark completely despite taking months to decide on his new contract. According to a person familiar with his thinking, Beal was up front with the Wizards on his plans, indicating early on that they wouldn't string the Wizards along. The silence on his part was a good thing, not a bad thing. If he wanted out, he would have told the Wizards from the get-go.

The time that passed was only for Beal and his camp to see the front office and coaching staff changes through and to then evaluate where the organization was headed. Once the dust settled, negotiations ramped up and a deal was achieved.

Now the Wizards can move forward with the comfort of knowing their best player is in it for the long haul. And, as Sheppard explained, that will have significant benefits as they aim to develop young players in the mold that Beal has followed to become a star.

"I think what this does for our young guys is it shows tremendous leadership and commitment from one our franchise's top players," Sheppard said. "I think he sets an example for everyone to strive towards. If you work and you perform, the Wizards will take care of you."

What this new contract ultimately does is buy the Wizards an extra year, given he can opt-out of the final season of his contract in 2022-23. But Beal has said over and over he doesn't want to play anywhere else.

And until that changes, maybe it's time we take him at his word.

"I love D.C. This is where I've always wanted to be and this is where I want to be for the rest of my career," he said.