They will forever be tied together. John Wall and Bradley Beal, arguably the greatest backcourt the Washington Wizards have ever had. Wall owns the most assists in team history. On Saturday night, Beal joined him in the record books as the franchise’s leader in made three-pointers.
And yet, will there come a time when the Wizards pull the plug on their pillars?
The question will loom over this season. And a tough answer awaits if the Wizards can only celebrate individual accomplishments by their core, which also includes Otto Porter Jr., without reveling in a deep playoff run.
Beal acknowledges it. He recognizes that wins speak louder than words.
“We still got to go out and win, and we realize that,” Beal said. “I think we’re pretty much done talking about it. Coach is sick of hearing it. Ted [Leonsis] is damn sure sick of hearing it, and we just got to go out and win games, man.”
Wall senses it. He understands the opportunity for contention won’t last forever.
“It’s a window,” Wall said at his locker before Saturday night’s 117-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Capital One Arena. “We ain’t going to have too many more windows where we can stay together, you know what I mean?”
The Raptors are a case in point. They know continuity can last only so long until tough decisions must be made.
Toronto took a flamethrower to its foundation over the summer — making the franchise-altering decision to trade DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. And Saturday night, with Leonard staying at home on the second night of a back-to-back, the Raptors improved to 3-0 while the Wizards fell to 0-2.
After the loss, Wall immediately approached a referee and concluded a night of protests on behalf of his teammates. He couldn’t get the officials to lay off his coach, who was ejected in the tense moments of the fourth quarter.
Wall then turned his attention to postgame handshakes with the Raptors who, for so many years, were built on similar principles of continuity that the Wizards have adopted.
In D.C., the Wizards have given Wall, Beal and Porter hefty salaries to back up the organization’s trust in the trio. Across the border, the Raptors had given chance after chance to the all-star backcourt of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
But after six years, a stretch that included four division titles and an Eastern Conference finals appearance, the Raptors opted for a divorce. Firing Dwane Casey, who won coach of the year honors last season, and shipping DeRozan to San Antonio for Leonard.
When the moves happened, Wall shrugged. He wasn’t surprised.
“I think those guys kind of knew it was coming,” Wall said. “They just thought they would get one more year at it after LeBron left the East.
“You kind of can read it. It’s just a type of feel you get,” Wall said about sensing when a major organizational shift will happen. “You can get the vibe when something ain’t going right and when it’s almost time for a change and when they’re going to make a change.”
Austin Rivers knows how it feels. He played four years with the Los Angeles Clippers during the height of the “Lob City” era. But the core consisting of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan never advanced past the second round. Before the start of the 2017-18 season, Rivers sensed a split coming.
“Once Chris left, I think we all figured it’s only a matter of time,” Rivers said. “Sure enough, within a year, everybody was out. Chris, JJ [Redick], Jamal [Crawford] were all gone.
“It just happens like that,” Rivers said.
Rivers wound up traded to the Wizards over the summer. Now, he’s trying to supplement a core, not supplant it.
Though Rivers sees similarities between his former team and his new team, he warns against the dangers of breaking up a good thing.
“They’re going through the same [stuff]. That’s why this year is important. . . . You just have to show growth. You show growth and they’ll stick with you,” Rivers said. “Conference finals, that’s growth. Or something that’s better than last year, then I think they’ll be like, instead of breaking it up let’s add a piece or two.”
The Wizards still have six months to meet expectations for the 2018-19 season. However, a time will come when Washington, like any franchise chasing a goal with a longtime core, must ask an uncomfortable question.
“My opinion, I would hope not,” Wall said, when asked about breaking up the core. “It’s a business, so you never know when that time will come or what will happen. Hopefully we can get to the point when we win one or get to the finals multiple times before they even think about or decide that. But I mean, it is a business.
“I’m going into year 10 after this and Brad is going into year 8 after this. So, I mean, it’s more and more years you’re adding,” Wall added. “The front office will make that decision when they feel like it’s best.”