DALLAS — After the Washington Wizards defeated the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, John Wall revealed just how a recent players-only meeting went awry. The session was intended for open and honest dialogue but while some players spoke freely, others shut down.
“We had our team meeting,” Wall said Friday. “A couple guys took it the negative way and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit.”
Wall brought up the meeting as he answered a question about the team’s penchant for not playing with consistent effort. So in this context, it seemed as if Wall had tried to explain how the failed meeting might have led to Wednesday’s showing against the Charlotte Hornets, when the Wizards lost, 133-109.
On Sunday, several teammates shared their thoughts about the closed-door gathering for the first time. Although no one seemed to remember the date of the meeting — a telling fact to how fruitless the session turned out to be — players recalled feeling as if not every topic had been addressed.
“It was tough. I try to keep all our stuff as personal as possible but I think in a way not everybody got a chance to speak whenever they wanted to,” Bradley Beal said. “They didn’t want to bring up an issue or something they had a problem with on the team. Regardless of what may be going on, as men we’ve got to be able to accept what the next man says, be respectful about it and move on from it. I think it was one of those situations where we didn’t necessarily get everything that we wanted to get accomplished.
“Honestly, it was probably — I won’t say pointless,” Beal continued, “but we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting.”
Jason Smith, a 10-year veteran skilled in locker room diplomacy, admitted to feeling less than hopeful that the team issues had been rectified. But Smith said he believed the meeting was necessary, even if it turned unproductive at times.
“Sometimes you need those moments to just get everything out in the air,” Smith said. “Just like any family. You got to let things out. You can’t hold it in and let things fester.”
Coach Scott Brooks said he never knew about the meeting. Even if he had known, Brooks said he would not have meddled in the players’ discussion or asked how it played out. Without knowing the topics, Brooks has been in the NBA long enough not to be surprised it had gone poorly.
“I’ve been in the league 30 years now. There’s been a lot of good meetings, a lot of not-so-good meetings. You just take them for what they are,” Brooks said. “But I’ve never been in a meeting where the issue is not two things: playing together and playing hard. That’s what always the meetings are about. ‘Guys, we’re not playing together. We don’t trust each other. We’re not playing hard.’ ”
Despite the struggles on the court, the Wizards (26-20) appear to like each another when cameras are not around. After the team’s practice inside American Airlines Center on Sunday, players talked excitedly about the NFC title game. Smith and Tomas Satoransky began chanting “Skol,” the Minnesota Vikings’ slogan as a way to tease assistant trainer Jeff Bangs, who’s from Philadelphia and was supporting his favorite team by wearing a green Eagles cap. Soon, Wizards players were clapping their hands over their heads from across the court and shouting “Skol” as Bangs laughed and fought back by flapping his arms like wings.
Such scenes of camaraderie make games like the loss to Charlotte so perplexing — because the Wizards played like a fractured team.
A lack of effort showed on the defensive end, and the starting unit mostly looked disconnected and unconcerned. The problem, however, is that the meeting may not have led to this dud. The Wizards have suffered ugly losses all season — including two other blowouts by the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets, teams that owned records under the .500 mark.
“We’ve had that identity before . . . I think it’s been since the beginning of the season when we played Lakers and Sixers and the losing teams,” Smith said. “We struggled with those teams because those teams — if you look at it, they play hard. They may not have the talent or the well-known superstar guys out there, but they go out there and they play hard. And sometimes we don’t respect a team, and they go out and outwork us, [and] they get the win.
“So I don’t think it was the team meeting that kind of created any dysfunction,” Smith said. “I just think that we had that trouble this year overall.”
For his part, Beal is done with the talking.
“We just need to win ballgames,” he said. “Like I told the guys, it doesn’t matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we’re not mentally prepared for each game, we’re going to lose again.”
Wall holds a similar opinion. Players already had a chance to speak their minds, he said. And if games like the Charlotte loss happen again, then 14 guys sitting in a locker room will not be able to fix it. Wall extended his index finger to the ceiling and suggested the issue would have to be promoted to a higher power.
“Upstairs,” Wall said. “Front office got to figure it out.”