Washington displays dysfunction early
Wizards start meltdown early, as players engage in maladaptive agendas
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It only took five games. Just five games into the 2018-19 season, and the Washington Wizards have already pulled the figurative fire alarm inside the locker room.
It happened following the Wizards’ 116-112 loss to the Sacramento Kings, an organization with a long history of being the league’s dumpster fire but now appearing like a portrait of functionality compared to Washington.
First, Bradley Beal peppered his postgame comments with coded language about a “comfort zone” before settling on strong and colorful language. Then, John Wall joined the fray from his stall and threw verbal haymakers at the team’s overall defensive effort.
Public accounts of disunity have plagued the Wizards in previous seasons, but this year the drama came early. After only the fifth game of the young season.
“We got to get out of our comfort zone, that’s all it is,” Beal said, standing at the middle of a media scrum.
After Beal finished, Wall called over reporters. He was shirtless, still getting dressed, and could not have heard Beal’s comments to reporters. But he repeated the same message as if the pair had already shared their thoughts to one another.
When asked for his opinion on Beal’s remarks on “agendas,” Wall sounded off.
“That’s the proof in the pudding. Everybody on their own agenda,” Wall said. “We showed glimpses when we do stuff as a team. We show how good we can be and then we go back to trying to do it individually, and that’s mostly on the defensive end. Not helping each other out, not team rebounding, and that’s what’s killing us.”
Wall wasn’t done.
“It’s just communication. Just putting effort. We got guys who’s worried about who’s getting shots, where the ball is going on the offensive end. We should never worry about that,” Wall said. “No matter if we’re missing or making shots, we got to be able to compete on the other end and if you can’t do it on both ends of the floor, you don’t need to be playing.”
At this rate, the Wizards have the potential to set an NBA record for the earliest players-only meeting ever held in a season. All five of their games have provided talking points.
In the season opener against the Miami Heat, the Wizards couldn’t close out defensive possessions and ultimately were done in by a Kelly Olynynk offensive rebound and putback before the buzzer. Against the Toronto Raptors, another late offensive rebound led to the differencemaking bucket by Fred VanFleet.
Though the start of the current road trip produced an overtime win in Portland, the Wizards still allowed 124 points.
Then, on Wednesday, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry turned Washington’s defense into his personal playground for 51 points and 11 made 3-pointers.
By Friday night, the Wizards allowed Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica to try his best Curry impression by draining 6 of 10 threes.
“The big fella was wide open on too many of them,” coach Scott Brooks observed.
“It’s the simple things we talk about all the time,” Wall said. “We know some guys are going to score. That’s the NBA. Guys are talented, but you have to have some type of pride.”
Now, the guessing game begins as to which Wizards player or players Beal and Wall are referring to. As a backcourt duo, they played the majority of the minutes and combined to attempt 39 of the team’s 86 shots. Markieff Morris logged a hefty 36:42, while center Ian Mahinmi, a defensiveminded player who views his offense as secondary, appeared on the court for under 19 minutes. Starting small forward Otto Porter Jr. played just 21 minutes and attempted six shots.
In the second unit, Brooks trimmed the rotation so that a starter remained on the floor throughout the game. Fourth-year player Kelly Oubre Jr. led the group and performed as the overall best shooter of the night with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting for five threes, including a halfcourt launch to beat the buzzer in the third quarter. Oubre received 28 minutes of action.
When asked to explain why he went with Oubre, as opposed to Porter, for so long, Brooks offered a strong hint about the subject of Wall’s and Beal’s criticisms.
“Kelly is having his best three-game stretch in three years since I’ve been with him,” he said.
The Oubre silver lining aside, the Wizards are reeling. And it only took five games.
Sacramento forward Willie Cauley-Stein dunks against the Wizards on Friday in Sacramento, Calif.