Several Washington Wizards players engaged in heated verbal altercations with each other throughout a practice late last week and hurled pointed, and sometimes profane, comments at Coach Scott Brooks and team President Ernie Grunfeld.
Multiple people who are familiar with what happened described the scene as normal during a long and grueling NBA season. They also expressed unequivocally the arguments did not turn physical and that players hashed out their differences afterward and expressed regret for growing heated in the moment. Even so, the mounting anger and embarrassment felt among players during this 5-11 start to the season have reached a boiling point, leading to a rare team fine levied at Wall and the revelation of Beal’s private frustrations directed at team management.
“This is embarrassing,” a person familiar with the team said. “This is crazy.”
After the Wizards won a third consecutive game for the first time this season Wednesday, the team returned to its practice facility the next day. The practice was competitive but something about the atmosphere seemed off, which irked both players and coaches, who reminded everyone that little had been accomplished with the string of wins because the team was still under the .500 mark. That’s when the practice derailed.
Wall, the five-time all-star, and Green got into it. Green, who has attempted to be a vocal leader within the Wizards locker room since signing with the team this past summer, challenged Wall, which led to the players exchanging words.
When Brooks tried to mitigate the situation, Wall did not appreciate a coach’s interference into a player-to-player talk. Brooks told Wall to get off the court, and Wall responded by yelling back that he was already off the court. Then, according to several people, Wall told his head coach, “F--- you!”
The team fined Wall an undisclosed amount for the explicit comment in what is believed to be one of the first times the Wizards have punished their franchise player in this manner. It wasn’t the first incident in which Brooks has been the target of a player’s profane ire, however.
According to an eyewitness, forward Kelly Oubre Jr. cursed out Brooks during a recent game. Although Oubre’s tirade happened on the court, Brooks addressed his fourth-year player following the game in the locker room.
These outbursts, however, only scratch the surface of the Wizards' early-season meltdown. Beal spread his emotional explosion around for everyone to hear, including Grunfeld.
In a separate incident during the Thursday practice, Beal and Rivers also engaged in a verbal tiff. As the team scrimmaged, Rivers grew upset after he thought he was fouled but didn’t get a call, according to several people who observed the practice. Though Beal was not the player Rivers had addressed as fouling him, Beal nevertheless took umbrage. Beal essentially told Rivers not to worry about getting foul calls, and that teammates complaining too much has been a problem during games. Play went on, and so did the words. Neither player allowed their lively talk to disintegrate into personal insults, but Rivers and Beal went back and forth verbally over the next several minutes.
Later, Beal, still fired up, went off about the current culture within the organization. According to people who heard Beal’s tirade, Beal yelled something to the effect of, “I’m sick of this s---.” Beal also gestured toward Grunfeld, who was sitting on the far baseline, and said he has been dealing with it for seven years and that, “It starts at the top.”
Despite Beal’s expression of dissatisfaction with the Wizards in the heated moment, he has not requested a trade, according to people familiar with the situation.
The revelation of the recent unrest comes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that Washington’s management has signaled to other teams “an impression that every player on their roster” could be available for trade discussions.
“I’m not going to be naive to it, you know,” Beal said Monday after seeing the ESPN report. “I’ve heard those rumors weeks ago. Then, I didn’t buy into them. Now, I’m still not going to buy into them because if that’s my main priority and focus, then I’m going to be messed up on the floor.”
Multiple people in the league who have familiarity with the Wizards and how their front office operates believe the team has no plans to move on from either Wall or Beal. A Wizards spokesman, meanwhile, cited team policy when he responded to the ESPN report by saying Grunfeld “doesn’t comment on rumors, so he won’t comment on this one.”
Following last week’s blowups, players cooled off. Wall, who hosted his foundation’s annual turkey giveaway after the practice, is said to have made amends with Green on the spot after their disagreement. Wall also apologized to Brooks.
Rivers and Beal talked for at least 30 minutes after the practice, and both took responsibility for their part in the fiery exchanges.
The Wizards have lost two straight games to the Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trail Blazers following the practice altercations. People familiar with Monday’s latest practice described it as the best one the team has had. However, with the disputes inside a closed-door session now becoming public, another chapter has been added to the narrative of a Wizards’ season spiraling out of control.
“They just need to blow the whole s--- up,” one person connected to the team said. "It’s all bad.”
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