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Why John Wall & Bradley Beal’s tension might be a big deal, and why it might not be

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot to unpack in J. Michael’s report about the state of John Wall and Bradley Beal’s relationship. If you haven’t read his report, you should do that. It’s excellent work.

Now that you’ve read through his report, you may have some thoughts on what this means for the Wizards’ short and long-term future. First, let’s talk about some things we should be able to agree on:

  • Wall and Beal’s on court chemistry issues shouldn’t come as a big surprise. The numbers bore that out last season. Beal was one of only two Wizards who shot worst when he was on the floor with Wall than when he was off the floor. Furthermore, Wall posted better Net Ratings with guys like Garrett Temple and Kelly Oubre than he did with Beal. You can argue just how much that means in the grand scheme of things, but the reporting, eye test, and the numbers all seem to agree they didn’t maximize each other’s talent last year.
  • Wall and Beal don’t hate each other. There’s a big difference between disagreeing with someone about how they should play together and flat out hating someone. This isn’t Kobe vs. Shaq. This isn’t even Kyrie vs. Dion. They’re just two talented, but stubborn, young players who haven’t quite figured out how to play with each other.
  • Injuries have certainly played a role in Wall and Beal’s awkward dynamic. Other than the 2013-14 season, when they played 73 games together, there’s been at least 20 games per season where Wall and Beal have not played together. What makes things even more complicated is that they’ve had successful moments without each other. The game where John Wall scored a career-high 47 points? Bradley Beal was injured. Bradley Beal’s 34 point, 7 assist, 6 rebound game against the Hawks in the 2015 playoffs came when John Wall was nursing his hand injury. That can make things tricky.
  • Things like this make Wall and Beal’s repeated claims that they’re the best backcourt in the NBA continue to look silly. Guys, let’s get you both on the same page, into an All-Star Game, and to a Conference Finals before we start saying we’re better than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, okay?

Now that we’re through that part of things, let’s dig into whether or not this is a big deal. To be honest, I’m a little conflicted myself, so I’m going to try to present both sides:

Why it might not be a big deal Why it might be a very big deal
Good teams have drama all the time. The Cavs spent the entire regular season bickering before they put it together in the playoffs. Draymond Green had a heated argument with teammates during halftime of a game they later won on the road against the Warriors. Teams don't always have to be singing Kumbaya to be successful together. Great teams can survive drama when they have great talent. When your talent isn't quite on that level, it's easier to resort to bickering than working together to get past an issue. Based on the Wizards' performance last season and their inability to land another star this summer, they might not have enough talent to overcome more tension this season.
A little tension isn't a bad thing. Heck, the Golden Gate Bridge wouldn't work without tension. Yeah, but tension can also be destructive. If you put one rubber band around a watermelon, it won't do anything. But if you put enough rubber bands on it, eventually it will explode. It's science, look it up.
Wall and Beal are getting a fresh start this season with a new coach. Scott Brooks figured out how to get Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to coexist, surely he can do the same with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Yeah, but he didn't have four years of tension to untangle. He also didn't have to deal with the awkwardness of one player making significantly more than the other. That might be an issue.
The fact that they're willing to talk about it openly is a sign things are moving in the right direction. Open communication is key to any successful relationship. Now that things are out in the open, they can be more honest and accountable with each other. Sometimes being open and honest is the key to realizing you just don't like each other, and poorly phrased statements probably won't help with things. Wall called Beal a "sidekick" which might be accurate, but probably could have been phrased better. And Beal said Wall "wouldn't be in the situation he's in without him" which uhh...definitely could have been phrased better.

Ultimately, we won’t know if this is an issue until we see how they play together this season. But if nothing else, we all know what the biggest storyline will be going into next season.