During a time of turbulence just below the surface for the Washington Wizards, one man is here to help. One even-keeled, laid-back, 6-foot-10 forward who signed on for a virtual news conference Tuesday morning with his Zoom account displaying not his given name but the one he has earned: Latvian Laser.
A five-year, $80 million contract can give a guy a lot of leeway.
Davis Bertans, whom the Wizards stamped as their priority in free agency practically the moment they decided not to move him at the trade deadline in February, is clearly feeling confident. He’s happy to be back in Washington and even happier to be settled in for a long stay.
The Wizards are equally pleased: Bertans may not be the caliber of franchise player the team has in Bradley Beal and John Wall, but the three-point specialist is foundational to what Washington wants to be moving forward. The Wizards made sure Bertans knew how much he was wanted and had owner Ted Leonsis along with General Manager Tommy Sheppard, Coach Scott Brooks and other higher-ups in the organization on a Zoom call to Latvia as soon as free agency began Friday evening.
That they re-signed the 28-year-old with no muss and no fuss lent a layer of stability to the team.
“What we got was one of the very best three-point shooters in the NBA but a sneaky good basketball player with extremely high IQ, one of the best transition defenders, quietly, that is around, at his size especially,” Sheppard said in a news conference this week.
Washington also gets a whole lot of scoring coming back when the season starts Dec. 22. Bertans averaged career highs in points (15.4), rebounds (4.5) and three-pointers made (3.7) coming off the bench last year. He ranked sixth in the league in three-point percentage (42.4).
The hardest part of free agency was having to wait so long to sign.
“We were supposed to be in this position in the beginning of July,” Bertans said. “Just waiting for the moment that it’s actually allowed to talk to the teams and we can start seeing what’s out there — there’d been talk from Tommy and the Wizards that they wanted me to stay. But until it comes to free agency, you actually get the call that the team wants you, you can’t be sure. I was happy that it wasn’t just some talk from Tommy and the whole team, that they really, really wanted me to come back.”
At a moment in which Wall has made it known he wants out of Washington, Beal has made it clear the team needs to win more games to keep him around and the Wizards have a plethora of either young or new players to experiment with during training camp, Bertans’s role this season and beyond may be the most settled thing in Washington.
Plain and simple, he is a shooter. The thing he focused on most during the offseason was the thing he does best — drilling shots from behind the arc. Bertans would like to improve on the defensive end, but he knows his impact is greatest on offense. He doesn’t particularly care whether he starts or comes off the bench or how many minutes he plays, just that he’s contributing and has permission to shoot as much as he sees fit.
His teammates’ and coaches’ trust in his game was the biggest draw to re-signing with Washington.
“Last season joining the team, I had the ultimate green light playing the way I used to in Europe, and that’s the way I enjoy playing the most,” Bertans said.
The promise of finally having Wall and Beal on the court at the same time also was a big lure. Bertans has never played with the franchise point guard; he has only watched Wall on film from the 2017 playoffs. He said the only guard he has ever played alongside with anything comparable to Wall’s abilities was DeMar DeRozan on the San Antonio Spurs in 2018-19, Bertans’s most productive year with the team.
He hopes Wall’s passing ability and quickness will send his shooting percentage soaring even higher. But even if the roster takes longer to jell than the team expects with Wall suiting up after a two-year injury hiatus, Bertans is glad to be part of the journey.
“Being on this team, coaches trust in me, teammates trust in me; that’s something you can’t just get anywhere. Maybe some teams are in better position to win a championship, but to me, I’ll be more happy if I’ll be part of a team that is growing together and then eventually maybe have a chance to win a title,” he said. “Even if it’s down the stretch in 15 years, if I’m part of the first steps in helping an organization to get to the championship, I’ll be happy with that. I’ve always been happier on the team that’s considered the underdogs than the one that’s supposed to win.”
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