WASHINGTON (AP)Now Bradley Beal finally gets his chance to be the focal point for the Washington Wizards from the get-go, on and off the court.
The main issues of interest with this club at the moment are whether Beal’s play takes another step up and whether his future with the franchise will be definitively determined.
Wins? Playoffs? Those are really afterthoughts as new general manager Tommy Sheppard and the rest of an overhauled front office stress the importance of player development while attempting to begin the reconstruction of a roster for a club that was hoping to get to 50 victories a year ago and instead ended up with 50 losses.
”I know a lot of people are down on us. Questioning: How are they going to be? What’s their identity? What am I going to do? There’s a million questions,” said Beal, an All-Star shooting guard. ”But I’m all about proving people wrong. We have a hungry team. I’m a hungry individual. I believe in myself. I believe in my teammates.”
With so many new faces, so many young faces and so many injuries – most prominently, point guard John Wall is sidelined for most, and possibly all, of the coming season after rupturing his Achilles tendon – setting goals is not easy.
Accomplishing goals will be difficult, too.
”I don’t know how good we’re going to be,” coach Scott Brooks said, ”but I know we’re going to be scrappy, and we’re going to be tough. We’re going to play together and we’re going to play hard.”
Two-thirds of last season’s players are gone, but it wasn’t as if Sheppard, who replaced the fired Ernie Grunfeld, had a lot to work with in terms of draft capital or salary-cap space as he was beginning his overhaul.
So he had to make smaller moves, stress patience and let everyone know this is about the long haul, not the short term.
”Every player on our roster,” Sheppard said, ”we want to see him get better.”
Some other things to know about the Wizards, who open the regular season at Dallas on Oct. 23:
Wall is starting a four-year deal worth $170 million, but there’s really no way to know what the Wizards will get for that. The expectation is he will not see the court much, if at all, in 2019-20. ”He’s not going to play until he’s ready,” Brooks said. In the meantime, Brooks, Sheppard and Wall all have spoken about the guard’s role as a sort of assistant to Brooks, helping players, especially the team’s youngest, with what his veteran eyes see.
”My job is to try to help as much as possible,” Wall said. ”I’m basically like a coach this year.”
All sorts of other players were hurt in the offseason, including backup point guard Isaiah Thomas, potential starter C.J. Miles, second-year guard-forward Troy Brown Jr., and backup center Ian Mahinmi. That means only two of five starting spots – Beal and center Thomas Bryant – were solidified heading into training camp. Brooks definitely has his work cut out for him.
Sheppard’s initial draft pick was forward Rui Hachimura of Gonzaga, who already is a big deal in his native Japan. His progress as a rookie will be monitored closely back home – and by the Wizards, of course, as they try to determine how best to take advantage of his versatility.
”That’s kind of the best thing about him, because now we can mold him into what we need him to be,” Beal said. ”He can shoot the ball. He can rebound the ball. He can put the ball on the floor. He can defend most of the positions.”
After more than 15 years with the Wizards, Sheppard finally gets a chance to run the team as its GM.
”Let’s revitalize. Let’s really get people here that we’re proud of, that we feel we can grow,” he said. ”And it’s not just here with the players, right? It’s the staff; it’s all the support staff.” Wall’s been around Sheppard his entire NBA career. ”Let’s see what he can do with it. What adjustments can he make for the team? What can he do for the organization to change things around?”
Beal averaged 25.6 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds last season, all career highs. He, and his team, expect even more this season in Wall’s absence. ”Me and John have sort of shared the spotlight the last few years,” Beal said. Now the Wizards are all about him – and what happens next, too, because Beal has been offered an extension that would keep him in Washington beyond the two years remaining on his current deal. ”Really excited to see what Bradley Beal does this season,” Sheppard said. He’s a tremendous cornerstone of this franchise. We’re very blessed to have him.”
AP freelancer Ian Quillen contributed to this report.
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