Wall stated this week that he has learned enough from veterans Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington over the past two seasons to become more vocal about holding teammates accountable and demanding more of them. Two days later, Beal agreed that they don’t have to keep looking around for guidance.
“John and I, we both have to. We’re thrust into that position, but I think we’re ready for it,” Beal said on Thursday from UNLV’s Cox Pavilion, where he watched the Wizards’ summer league team lose, 97-81, to the New Orleans Pelicans. “We’re capable of leading a team and we’re capable of getting on our teammates. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re the two best players on the team. We have to act like it.”
Wall and Beal took significant strides last postseason, when they both embraced Pierce’s in-your-face attitude and trash-talked their way through a first-round sweep of the Toronto Raptors. Wall’s unfortunate broken hand in the second round against Atlanta forced Beal to assume more responsibility. He didn’t shudder. Then, Wall came back earlier than expected and risked a more severe injury to implore the urgency of the moment upon everyone within the organization.
As one half of the self-proclaimed best back court in the league, Beal was expected to assume a seat among the game’s top shooting guards last season — along with James Harden, Klay Thompson, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant — but had those plans scuttled by injuries to his wrist and annually troublesome right leg and, at times, passivity within the offense. The postseason brought out a more determined and aggressive version of Beal as he led the Wizards in scoring for the second straight playoff run, averaging 23.4 points. That performance gave the 22-year-old Beal the confidence that the success will translate over a full 82-game schedule.
“It boosted it,” Beal said. “I love playing in the playoffs and whenever I get a chance to showcase myself and do what it takes to win, that’s what I’m going to do. Nothing like the playoffs, I’ve got to continue doing what I do.”
Beal is eligible to receive a four-year contract extension before the start of next season but has tried to not let the situation affect him. The Wizards locked up Wall with a maximum extension in 2013 before allowing him to hit restricted free agency but Beal’s situation is a tad more complicated. Since the Wizards already gave Wall a five-year deal as the team’s designated player under the collective bargaining agreement, Beal has to choose between the financial security of a four-year deal that exceeds $90 million — especially since he has missed 54 of a possible 246 games because of injuries in his first three seasons — or waiting to hit free agency next summer to score a more lucrative five-year deal.
With NBA salaries set to explode in 2016-17, Beal has already declared that he’s “not going to sell myself short” in terms of seeking a maximum contract. Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, confirmed that he will soon begin serious negotiations with Grunfeld about an extension.
“I don’t know. I don’t worry about it. I let my agent handle it. I let him work it out, because regardless, I’m going to stay in Washington. That’s not going to change for another year or two,” Beal said. “I haven’t met with my agent about it. I don’t even think he’s talked to Ernie. I’m blind. I have no idea what’s going on. I’m blessed either way.”
Beal has placed his primary focus on helping the Wizards build upon a season in which they won 46 games, the most in 36 years. He watched first-round pick Kelly Oubre for the first time on Thursday and was impressed by his aggressiveness on defense. “I think he can help us,” Beal said.
After losing Pierce, Beal was pleased with how the team responded with Dudley, Anderson and Gary Neal.
“I love it,” he said. “I think we still got our core together. We just got to make sure we stick together. We’ve got to work hard. Everybody is on the same page and it starts with me and John.”