On Wednesday morning, many players on the Washington Wizards‘ roster woke up inside a five-star hotel overlooking a marina in California. An idyllic setting for team bonding — and a world away from Washington, where news of discord between the team’s two best players has once again bubbled to the surface.
During a televised special on Tuesday evening, John Wall and Bradley Beal separately shared candid comments to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Chris Miller.
Wall admitted he and Beal “have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.”
Beal acknowledged he and his back-court mate “lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”
With these confessions, suddenly fans’ hopes of the duo matching the dynamic of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson gave way to the fear of an unraveling more akin to Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, Chris Paul and everyone.
“They got to figure it out,” said Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell, who was a Wizards assistant from 2009 to 2014. “I’m not going to [say] who’s wrong or who’s right, but they got to figure it out.”
This isn’t the first time the two players have discussed their on-court quarreling.
A suggestion might arise that winning had masked this friction, and problems between Wall and Beal were predictably magnified by a dispiriting 2015-16 season in which the Wizards failed to make the postseason after advancing to the second round in consecutive seasons.
Nevertheless last November, coming off an appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Wall and Beal sat side by side and offered an honest glimpse into their relationship during an interview with ESPN’s Hannah Storm.
Among the revelations: They eat together at Benihana, they share disdain for President Barack Obama’s left-handed jumper and yes, they also bicker.
“We’re at a stage now where, like, if we go at it, people are like, ‘Are they going to fight?’ ” Beal said during the interview. “It gets to the point where we’re about to fistfight but then it’s like we’re brothers at the end of the day. That’s just the relationship that we have. Nobody else understands it. Nobody else gets it, really. We just know how each other reacts and how we are as people. We’re both competitive. We both love to win. We both love to be right at the same time and sometimes when we know we’re wrong, we’re wrong.”
Then, the year dragged on — with Beal and Wall as sole leaders of the locker room for the first time in their careers. While Wall was the constant before being sidelined the final five games with knee pain, Beal battled injuries throughout and started only 35 games. There was little time to perfect their union. The season suffered because of it. So by this offseason, both players pointedly called out their lack of cohesion.
But for one person who understands the Wall-Beal pairing, the latest revelations are no cause for concern.
“I think both were saying that they’re just leaders and very vocal leaders, so at times both of them want the stage,” said NBA trainer Drew Hanlen, Beal’s longtime shooting coach. “I don’t think there’s any beef between them because they are friends off the court.”
On Wednesday morning, Hanlen spoke from Los Angeles and when peppered with questions about Wall and Beal’s relationship, he plainly stated: “If it was a Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook thing, I would have not commented.”
“I don’t think there’s a [feuding] situation because I’m as close as anyone to Brad and he’s never said anything bad at John.”
This week in Los Angeles, the Wizards have spent time together lifting weights, scrimmaging and, naturally, bonding. Though the pair’s recent comments indicate that they could use some ‘we-time,’ Hanlen, who also knows Wall, believes they are simply two strong-willed players who are learning to coexist.
So forget those dinners for two at Benihana, the shooting sessions with the president at the White House Easter Egg Roll and the shared kinship as the highest-paid players at the Wizards’ Southern California minicamp — Wall and Beal must find a connection where it counts. Together, on the basketball court.
“Brad’s not dumb, he knows they need each other if they want to win. Both are huge competitors who share the goal and want to compete in the East,” Hanlen said. “I know that they’re going to figure it out.”