Gilbert Arenas once took a sh*t in his teammate’s shoe.
That sort of stinky culture takes years to improve – a decade of lottery picks, countless losses, coaching changes, a complete uniform overhaul, multiple playoff appearances, and even the long-overdue front office facelift.
And after all of that, the Wizards – now led by Tommy Sheppard, supported by a diverse team of innovative minds – are finally changing the culture.
That’s why Bradley Beal’s comments after a loss to Chicago caught some off guard.
Beal, still trying to find his rhythm after being sidelined for multiple games with injury, was visibly frustrated after the loss – saying that “winning” was a missing component to the team’s changing culture.
And Beal’s not wrong – but he’s also not entirely right.
It’s been about a week since Beal made those comments — a week to breathe, relax, and avoid jumping to irrational conclusions. The comments triggered some Wizards fans, and rightfully so.
Washington had just won games against the contending Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat – all without Beal in the lineup. The team is competing – fighting, scoring at an excellent level, and running a coherent offense for the first time in years – with or without Beal, despite the 14-29 record. And on Wednesday, the Wizards were a possession away from beating the Heat, again, away from home, but lost another nail-biter in overtime.
There’s a lot to that, given how Washington was projected to finish last in the league – or, even worse, with a roster full of unrecognizable players, the Wizards were expected to be unwatchable. They’ve been anything but unwatchable.
The young players – namely, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Moe Wagner, and Thomas Bryant – have shown considerable progress halfway through the season, even with injuries getting in the way. Washington embraced the “next man up” mentality, allowing Davis Bertans to get increased minutes and break out as one of the league’s premier 3-point marksmen.
And when the “next man up” has went down, as it’s been common for the Wizards this season, the next “next man up” has been a pleasant surprise, with Gary Payton II, Garrison Mathews, and Anzejs Pasecniks showing flashes of being regular contributors.
All of the aforementioned players were chosen with an idea in mind – high character, strong work ethic, and a potential to elevate the team in the standings in the not-too-distance future. So far, the team has done exactly that – perhaps even sooner than expected.
Beal knew what he was signing up for when he signed a contract extension with the Wizards. Sheppard was starting with a clean slate. He chose not to re-sign anyone from the past regime – he traded Tomas Satoransky and let Trevor Ariza, Bobby Portis, and Jabari Parker walk in free agency.
This was a fresh start – a chance to let go of the old culture and start a new one. The moves made – the roster that was built – were indicative of a general manager wanting to lay the foundation for an eventual contender, and not merely aiming for mediocrity, as the team has done for years.
Losing, unfortunately, will be a part of it – and it’s something Beal has dealt with since 2012, when he joined the team. It’s upsetting, particularly because he’s never quite competed for a championship. It’s probably even more taxing because he’s watched his peers team up with other stars and compete for championship. But Beal’s team is back at square one – rebuilding through the draft, looking for hidden gems in the G-League, and changing the culture by revamping the way the entire front office operates.
And once again, Beal – as the leader of the team, and the face of the franchise – has to show patience.
Changing a culture is no easy feat – and losing is a necessary cost. But the losing Washington has done this season isn’t the same as the losing they did, say, back in 2010, when John Wall was looking for a change in culture with the likes of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
The losing this season has been done with purpose – it’s been done to foster the development of players who could one day become catalysts to winning. With each heartbreaking loss, the Wizards’ young players gain perspective — the importance of the finer details, playing hard for the full 48 minutes, and, generally, development through actual time on the court.
There are plenty of teams with “bad” cultures in the league and they’re not hard to find. With all the changes the team has underwent, it’s safe to say the Wizards are no longer in that group.
Winning will be a part of the team’s culture, too, as it’s been for every successful franchise in the league. To get there, it will require patience – and unavoidable growing pains in the form of some tough losses.
And for the fans — understand that there’s some “good” to be found in your frustration at Beal for making those comments. Think to the last time you could argue that Washington’s culture was, indeed, changing for the better. Think to the last time you were defensive of the team’s front office.
The Wizards have given the fanbase something to be defensive about — a reason to believe that the culture is actually changing. And on top of that, the star player cares about winning.
Patience will be the key ingredient for both — patience with Beal, understanding where his disappointment is coming from, and patience from Beal, knowing that this rebuilding process is required to build a winner.