Martell Webster and Bradley Beal were shooting three-pointers at the conclusion of Friday’s practice when Beal stepped back and Webster tripped over him, sliding face first into the floor. Webster then gave Beal a glare to remind the rookie to look where he’s going and Coach Randy Wittman looked on, waiting until Webster got up, unscathed, to shoot some more.
Webster’s fall was one of the few times that he didn’t look good while sharing the floor with Beal, as the duo has come off the bench in the first two preseason games to halt some of the offensive lulls of the starting unit. They are the only Wizards to score in double figures in each exhibition game and Wittman intimated that one — or likely both — will get the opportunity to start when the team plays the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I’m not thinking of coming here and stealing somebody’s spot. I’m thinking about helping, making this team better,” Webster said. “I know if I do what I’m supposed to do, it’s all going to speak for itself. That’s just common sense.”
Webster was attracted to Washington during free agency because it presented an opportunity for him to compete for minutes, and possibly claim a starting job on the perimeter. And with Trevor Ariza having a difficult adjustment in his first two starts at small forward and the incumbent Chris Singleton playing mostly at power forward with the Wizards’ depleted front court, the 6-foot-7 Webster is making an early statement after scoring a team-high 18 points against Charlotte and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds against New York.
“He gives us shooting, spacing on the floor. I think he’s gone and he’s tried to rebound the ball for us, help us on the boards some,” Wittman said of Webster. “All our bigs are missing in action right now so we’re piece-mealing some things. He has good size, and he’s given us a good spark off the bench.”
The Wizards were perhaps hopeful that Beal would have a solid start after drafting him third overall last June, but Webster was considered a low-risk, low-cost acquisition when he signed in August. He had a reputation as a shooter but is a bit of a reclamation project after his body betrayed him in his past few seasons in Portland and Minnesota.
Webster shot just 33.9 percent from beyond the three-point line last season, when he was recovering from his second back procedure in as many years. The Timberwolves were eager to cut ties with him, giving him a $600,000 buyout to avoid being on the hook for his full $5.7 million salary. Webster didn’t expect to return to Minnesota but he hadn’t thought about joining the Wizards until his agent, Dan Fegan, called him in Florida to let him know that the team was interested.
The Wizards signed Webster to a one-year deal worth slightly more than the league minimum, and he has taken on a role as a leader by example. He has been one of the more vocal players during practice, offering encouraging words and the occasional joke or dance to help his teammates remember that the game should be fun.
Entering his eighth NBA season, Webster won’t turn 26 until December, after being one of the last players to enter the league out of high school. Always prepared with a wise adage or phrase to explain a problem, Webster uses words that any coach would appreciate. As he spoke with reporters after Thursday’s game about the importance of competing and fighting in practice, Wittman walked by, smiled and asked, “Y’all hear that?”
Webster repeated Wittman, then laughed when asked if he ever considered becoming a coach when his playing career is complete. “No. I have three kids. I’m already coach,” he said. “Coaching a whole bunch of knuckleheads? I can’t do that.”
But Webster has a grasp of what he has been asked to do, and he also wants his teammates to understand what it is going to take for the Wizards to be competitive with so many missing pieces — specifically John Wall and Nene.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’re all we got,” Webster said. “Nobody is going to come in here with a cape and save us.”
While observing the Wizards from afar last season, Webster said he could see that the team was fun to watch but was too inexperienced to know what it took to finish games. He said the Wizards should use the past few seasons of mediocrity as motivation.
“Losing,” he said. ‘When you get enough of that, you see attitudes start to change. With me, I’m always going to have a smile on my face, always joking and keeping things loose. But when we get on that court, it’s business.”
Webster scored 14 fourth-quarter points in Charlotte and helped the Wizards cut an 18-point deficit down to six when he stole the ball from Bobcats guard Kemba Walker and converted a three-point play on the other end. After making the free throw, he backpedaled and shouted, “Let’s go!
Wittman was aware of Webster’s shooting ability when he arrived, but he has been pleasantly surprised by his ability to put the ball on the floor and do some of the little things that go unrecognized in the box score.
“He likes playing basketball. I can tell that, just being with him a short bit of time,” Wittman said. “I’m sure it’s a fresh start for him. This is probably one of the first time he’s been healthy through a camp, so far.”
Then, thinking about all of the injuries have already encountered this season — and perhaps recalling Webster tripping over Beal a few minutes before — Wittman leaned against the new mahogany wall in front of the Wizards’ locker room and said, “Knock on wood.”