WASHINGTON -- With the Wizards having lost four of five games and their last two in "embarrassing" fashion, their leaders are starting to speak up and in ways that are likely garnering attention both from the coaching staff and the front office.
Bradley Beal told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller that the team is being affected by anxiety related to the trade deadline and expiring contracts. He also said just making the play-in tournament, which the Wizards are currently on pace for, would represent a step back for the organization.
After their 35-point collapse against the Clippers on Tuesday, Kyle Kuzma said "something's gotta change" and that the degree to which the team is struggling is "comical" at this point. He also expressed frustration they haven't sorted out roles in the rotation this far into the season.
In recent days, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was asked about the messages sent by his top two scorers. He read Beal's comments and can see where he's coming from.
"In general, I do [believe players are on the same page]. I just think at times those things that Brad spoke about do creep in. We’re all human and it’s a normal human reaction to real circumstances. I think what he talked about, the trade deadline, all those things; those are coming up soon and I think that does weigh on guys’ minds at times. We understand this is a business and the team has to do what’s best for the team and players sometimes, they’re concerned about extensions, they’re concerned about their future," Unseld Jr. said.
There was a follow-up question later in Unseld Jr.'s press conference regarding whether the organization feels the same urgency Beal appears to hold about winning. Beal's assertion about the play-in tournament suggests he wants them to make the playoffs outright, which would require qualifying for at least the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards are currently six games back from the Bucks, who are in sixth.
What makes the timing of him saying that more interesting is his own contract situation. Beal can opt-out of the 2022-23 season to earn a new deal, whether it is in Washington or elsewhere.
Team president Tommy Sheppard has said on numerous occasions the front office does not want to skip any steps towards building a sustainable winner, but the Wizards have an opportunity to speed up their timeline soon with the trade deadline on Feb. 10. The team's overall sense of urgency could be gleaned by the magnitude of the moves they make.
"Yeah, I feel that [urgency]. I think it’s important that that’s reiterated because we’re all connected, we’re all in line," Unseld Jr. said. "I don’t think anyone’s happy or pleased with where we’re at right now or how we’ve played recently. It’s not a sense of panic, but I think we have to refocus and that’s the priority."
Unseld Jr. has input on the Wizards' roster direction, but ultimately a trade would come down to decisions made by Sheppard and his staff. While Kuzma's comments could also relate to the big picture direction of the team and what the front office can do to change their course, he more specifically talked about the roles of players in the rotation. That would fall under Unseld Jr.'s purview.
The Wizards' coach interpreted what Kuzma said more so as a matter of team chemistry than of his staff needing to be more clear in stating those roles.
"I think it’s one of those things where they’re still trying to figure each other out. I can’t say that they’re unaware of their roles. We’ve had a lot of games where guys were maybe playing a little more than normal because of absences, COVID, injuries, what have you," Unseld Jr. said.
"But I think it’s one of those things where they’re still trying to figure each other out. I know we’ve played a lot of guys and it’s been choppy. It has not been easy for guys to get a rhythm and that might be part of it. But I think they’re aware of how we want to play and they’ve showed that at times. I think they’re aware."
Both Beal and Kuzma have made it clear they want the team to make some changes. Unseld Jr. has heard them. These next few weeks and months will demonstrate how the Wizards organization decides to respond.