In back to back years, the Wizards have locked up young players to max deals which were considered questionable by some around the league. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter have both faced their share of scrutiny when it comes to their health and their ceiling as players in the NBA. However, the Wizards seem to have taken different approaches to them for the expectations that come with being a max player.
When Beal signed his deal last summer, there was a lot of talk about how Beal needed to raise his game to match his price tag. Here’s what Ted Leonsis said at the time:
"It's a great day for the organization, for Bradley and his family. As we've mentioned, to those who much is given, much is expected. Bradley has such maturity and handles pressure with such grace that we know he'll be able to take this and have it motivate him. ...We have big aspirations."
At the same press conference, Ernie Grunfeld said he felt Bradley Beal would be an “All-Star down the road.” Scott Brooks followed up at the start of the season by challenging Beal to shoot more threes. And of course, who can forget John Wall’s famous advice?
"Now that you have your money you got to go out there and improve your game. I want you to be an All-Star just as much as I’m an All-Star.”
Interestingly, with Porter the management of expectations seems a lot different, as Candace Buckner noted in her piece for the Washington Post:
Almost a year ago, Leonsis had set very different expectations on his other max-contract player. Last July, when Beal discussed his five-year, $128 million deal during a news conference, Leonsis referenced a variation of a bible verse: “to much is given, much is expected.” However on Wednesday, as Leonsis responded to a question posed to Porter on his thoughts of what a max-contract player should be, he tried to shield Porter from future criticism.
There’s one basketball and there’s a pecking order and John has the ball, and Bradley can make his own shot, and why we think this works is Otto fits. [Porter] doesn’t need the ball and we like his game the way it is. “The organization knows Otto and we know he’s at his best and most contributing to the team when he’s himself, right? When you get pressure on yourself to earn the max contract — no, you’ve already earned it! You earned the max deal by being yourself. You don’t have to be anything different. You just have to keep working to take that next step.
Otto’s going to be a great player for us, a great role player for a lot of teams. There’s a difference between a role player and a superstar. It’s a big difference. There’s a lot teams that will make a lot of trades for a superstar,” Wall said. “Look at Kevin Love getting traded for Andrew Wiggins, you never know who that player going to turn out to be.
It’s what people are going to say about it. I love Otto as a teammate, but at the end of the day if you can make your team better, you can always do that. If people take it the wrong way, then so be it.
Clearly, there’s dichotomy here in how the Wizards are handling the development of Beal and Porter, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. There isn’t a good one size fits all approach to development. Certain motivational tactics work better on some players than others, especially depending on the role they’re being asked to play on the team. Given what we know about Beal and Porter, and their successes last season, it seems like they’re taking the right approach with both players.
Still, when it comes to Porter, it’s still going to be a hard to reconcile billing Porter as a max player but putting him in a spot that screams role player. Fair or not, there’s going to be criticism, and the Wizards can’t shield Porter from all of it. Even though there’s a strong, analytical case for why Porter is worth the max doing just what he’s doing, it’s understandable why some are going to want him to play like a more traditional max player next season.
Otto will be best served by taking the best parts of the Wizards’ approach with him and with Beal and implementing them into his game next season. He will play at his best when he’s playing within himself, but that shouldn’t excuse him from adding more to his game, because there will be plenty of people expecting it now that he’s the team’s highest-paid player.