Even after signing a three-year, $25 million contract this summer, Bryant remains a fireball of energy. He still slaps teammates with low fives so ferocious that they sound like skin-to-skin detonations and still roars out instructions over all others while playing defense. And he’s still the one guy passionate enough to celebrate a 14-12 scrimmage victory on the third day of training camp.
This is why the Wizards hold up the 22-year-old Bryant as an example of who they want to be.
“He’s exactly what we talk about as a Wizards player,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “He wants to get better every day. He’s coachable; he plays with enthusiasm and passion."
Beal’s voice has carried throughout the practice facility during camp, and he returned to voluntary workouts weeks earlier than usual. The two-time all-star is the unquestioned leader of the team, but on a roster as young as the Wizards', Bryant sets a more relatable example.
“Everybody’s built different. Sometimes people get it quicker than others, and sometimes they get it slower than others,” Bryant said. “Being a person they can look to and say, ‘That guy has come to where he was to now,’ I’ll take that with pride.”
This summer, Bryant earned a special shout-out from Ted Leonsis, when the team’s managing partner described the way the Wizards want to find young, raw talent and develop those players into contributors.
Bryant "was kind of an exemplar, if you will, of a hard-working, energetic, coachable big man that we were clever in picking off the waiver wire,” Leonsis said July 19.
In 2018-19, when Dwight Howard couldn’t play because of back troubles, Bryant earned the starting spot ahead of the older and more experienced Ian Mahinmi. Despite his background — Bryant spent most of his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers in the G League before getting cut in the summer — teammates took to his infectious energy and style of play.
Though Bryant briefly moved to the second unit after a February trade brought in Bobby Portis, he remained the silver lining in a 32-50 season. After averaging 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, Bryant re-signed with Washington, splurged on his new car and became a model for the future as the team began its youth movement.
The Wizards have 10 players in camp with two or fewer years of NBA experience. In Bryant, they can see what’s possible.
“The opportunity that he got, making the best of getting cut, it’s incredible for me to observe,” said second-year player Moritz Wagner, who spent his rookie season with the Lakers before moving on to the Wizards. “I’m very happy to do this with him together."
Bryant is enjoying the spoils of his breakout season, such as that $124,500 luxury SUV custom built to fit his 6-foot-11 body.
“Oh, hell yeah!” Bryant exclaimed when asked whether he had driven the vehicle to Thursday’s practice. “I drive that thing everywhere!”
Bryant remains the same player he was last season, but instead of a surprise outlier, the Wizards view him as a model for the franchise’s future.
“His effort, his energy, his love, his passion, his smile, everything about him I love,” Brooks said. “I just love his enthusiasm. He’s always coming in with a great attitude and it’s hard. Everybody has bad days, down days, stuff going on [but] he doesn’t let it affect him in our facility, and that’s what we want to have a whole entire team like that, and I think we’re there.”
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