Everything general manager Tommy Sheppard does as general manager of the Wizards will be scrutinized through the lens of a simple question.
Will this make Bradley Beal happy?
When Sheppard shipped Russell Westbrook to the Lakers and hired new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. in the offseason entering the first year of Beal's two-year max contract extension signed in Oct. 2019. While a 7-3 record out of the gates is a great start to convincing Beal to opt-in to his player option for 2022-23, Beal's state of mind will always remain at the forefront of Wizards fans' minds.
When the Sports Junkies inquired an update on Beal's happiness to NBC Sports Washington Wizards analyst Tony Massenburg on Wednesday, Massenburg left it at a neutral "different."
"I think he's (Beal) different, and that's what he says. He doesn't have to score 30 points in order for this team to win," Massenburg said. "In fact, he can score 26 or 25 points a game, and if he raises his assists one assist or two, then the team is going to be better off with that because they're better around him."
With Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell's contributions providing a boost to the Wizards' offense, Beal isn't focusing on his scoring outputs or contending for the scoring title like last season. Instead, as Massenburg notes, Beal is concentrating on the important things.
"So for him, what he's saying, is the fact that there's depth and rest keeps him ready for the fourth quarter and allows him to give a better defensive effort. That takes energy," Massenburg said. "If he has energy left to do that because he hasn't had to shoulder the entire scoring load for the entire game, then the team is going to be better for that - particularly in the fourth quarter."
The team has been better with that approach through the first 10 games of the season, sporting a record tied for first place in the Eastern Conference.
"Like a lot of people I'm a little surprised at their start because I didn't have them having this record at this point in the season," Massenburg said. "You're talking about eight new guys and again you lose an all-star in Russell Westbrook, a walking triple-double, and in return, you get back a bunch of pieces. Solid pieces at that."
Those solid pieces have begun to shift the tone in Washington. No longer are the Wizards playing a frenetic, fast-paced offense with less regard for defensive discipline. Unseld Jr. is getting the necessary buy-in from his newcomers, especially Montrezl Harrell.
"He's really the guy who basically is the face of this franchise. Yes, Bradley Beal is the guy, but when you talk about the personality of the team and the guy who is really the fan-favorite right now, it's Montrezl," Massenburg said. "You look at the way he plays, his style of play, his aggressiveness, he's an undersized post player and he just plays with a lot of hustle and a lot of heart. And guys are buying into that. He's also a leader, so when he goes some nights you're going to see the team go to know that he's one of the real personalities and leaders on this team."
While Harrell's infectious personality and press conference duos with Beal certainly have things looking up, Washington's end-of-season performance will surely have more influence over whether or not the franchise's No. 3 pick in 2012 will stay for potentially $50 million more if he opts out.
Still, while Beal has repeatedly stated his desire to take his time deciding his future, it's clear this team has re-energized him to focus entirely on winning formulas of defense, effort, and especially ball movement.
"That's what he's concentrating on now, making sure his teammates are involved and the ball movement, that's the most important thing in this Wizards offense because they do have good spot-up shooters, when the ball moves they get good looks and get high percentage shots," Massenburg said.