“Yeah, I was talking to Brad,” Temple said after the game. “That’s like my younger brother, literally. I spent four years with him, continue to still be a really good friend of mine till this day."
At the moment Temple sought out the pup he had once mentored into becoming one of the Wizards' big dogs, the team’s 1-6 record was fresh. Beal was visibly exasperated as he shook his head at Temple and covered his lips while responding. In the mass of player greetings, Temple then spotted the Wizards’ franchise point guard and again, as celebratory music blared throughout FedEx Forum, he crowded John Wall’s personal space. Temple appeared even more demonstrative than he did with Beal.
Temple may wear the teal and blue of a different team’s uniform, but he’s concerned enough about the Wizards to offer unsolicited encouragement in light of the team’s bad start.
“Just telling him to try to figure out a way to get this together," Temple said of his conversation with Wall. "They have too much talent to, you know, have this record. He knows that. I was saying the same thing to John.”
So much talent and yet, the Wizards are tied for the worst record in the NBA. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers, who recently canned their head coach, Tyronn Lue, are off to a similarly dismal start.
So much potential to end the season hosting a first-round playoff series and somehow, Washington owns the worst point differential in the Eastern Conference.
Just like any NBA observer, Temple looks at the Wizards and sees a team that should be much better than 1-6. But far too often, Beal has had to share his postgame comments in the low murmur of defeat. Beal, whose energy after losses verges on catatonic, again mumbled his thoughts Tuesday night when asked what went wrong in Memphis. His response seemed to fit perfectly for the team’s start to the season.
“I don’t know,” Beal said. “I really don’t.”
Beal could have had his pick of issues.
The Wizards' long-range shooters showed up this season and forgot how to shoot. The half-court offense can seem like congested traffic when the team plays with traditional, slow-footed centers; often on Tuesday, Wall or Beal crashed into Ian Mahinmi or Jason Smith after receiving a screen. Against the Grizzlies, Wall threw away several possessions while trying to navigate a pick-and-roll play and committed nine turnovers. Also, Austin Rivers, who often plays with Beal and Wall, is still trying to find his fit with his new teammates — and judging from his 19 minutes on the floor Tuesday night, he seems to have far to go.
But Temple, sharing an unbiased opinion from the other side, summed it up best.
“It’s just a matter of defensively, they’re not cohesive,” Temple said. “On the offensive end, I don’t know if they know their identity yet. But I think defensively is where they’re not as cohesive as they should be. That’s what they got to figure out.”
Against a Memphis team that struggles to score in a new motion offense, the Wizards allowed the Grizzlies to tee off from the arc in the second half; they connected on 9 of 14 attempts. Those three-point makes, especially four in the final frame to fend off a Wizards' rally, drained the defense. And the losses have emotionally drained the players.
There was a point early in the first quarter, when an animated Beal walked back to the Wizards huddle, whipped out his mouthpiece and barked at his teammates about taking bad shots.
“C’mon!” Beal yelled before grabbing a seat.
But by the third quarter, with the Wizards trailing 72-57, that same fire was missing. Beal never lifted his head as he walked back to the huddle. He breathed deeply, not saying a word, as he plopped down on a padded chair.
After the loss, Wizards Coach Scott Brooks repeated the importance of sticking together. Players echoed the message in front of reporters.
“A little frustration, it’s not the point where we wanted to be, not the way we wanted to start the season,” Wall said. “We’re all in it together.”
Curiously, the Wizards' former glue guy shared the same advice. During the four-game losing streak, several Wizards have shared how they only have themselves to count on to get out of this funk. But from a great distance away, inside the Grizzlies' locker room, someone else cared about the Wizards' well-being. Temple may now be an opponent but he wants his former teammates to get back on track.
“I think they’re going to figure it out,” Temple said, then added. “I hope they do.”