With about half of their projected opening night roster featuring new players acquired in the offseason, the Wizards are hoping to build chemistry quickly and that has led to some of their most experienced veterans using tactics that took some of their teammates by surprise.
Bradley Beal made a passionate and serious speech to the team about unity recently. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has been good friends with Beal since they were teenagers, described it as "shocking" because he had "never really heard him talk like that."
At the end of Friday's practice, Montrezl Harrell called an impromptu players-only meeting. While players-only meetings have taken on a negative connotation over the years, this one was described as purely a step towards getting everyone on the same page.
The Wizards have constructed a roster with one clear-cut star at the top (Beal) and a long list of established veterans around him. They need to be a sum of many parts and that's exactly what they are trying to do.
"[Beal] was talking about just being that one unit, doing everything together. Even today, we had a players-only meeting and that’s what we talked about; holding each other accountable and being there for each other," Caldwell-Pope said.
Caldwell-Pope, Harrell and Kyle Kuzma all arrived in an offseason trade from the Lakers where Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma won a championship last fall. All three have been on contending teams and are used to winning. They believe they understand what it requires to get the best out of a group of NBA players.
Kuzma highlighted the off-court work in between practices and games like stretching, massages and cold tub treatments.
"You’re only on the basketball court two-to-three or four hours a day," Kuzma said. "So, what are you doing the rest of the day?"
Caldwell-Pope has been harping on off-court bonding between teammates. He described the Lakers locker room as "a brotherhood."
"In L.A., we talked every day. We were out for dinners, we got invites to pretty much everything. I just see us just doing that. Communication is key," he said.
The players-only meeting, Caldwell-Pope explained, was for that purpose. Harrell apparently called all the players over to talk amongst themselves, as the coaches walked away.
When asked if it was a little early for that type of meeting, as usually those happen midseason when things aren't going well, Caldwell-Pope pushed back.
"I feel like the earlier the better. The earlier we can start building that chemistry in training camp, even before training camp when we knew we had a lot of guys here, I feel like the earlier the better. The more we can build each day and get to know each other," he said.
The Wizards have 18 days until their first game, against the Raptors in Toronto. Though they have a full training camp for the first time since 2019, as last year's was shortened due to the coronavirus, it still isn't a ton of time to build the connections their veteran players believe are necessary to establish.
Clearly, those veterans aren't wasting any time trying to get there. Perhaps that can help them avoid a slow start to the season, which has been a problem for the Wizards in recent years. Last season, they started out 0-5 and didn't really start ascending until they were 5-15.