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Tommy Sheppard continues his “character reboot” of the Wizards with the John Wall for Russell Westbrook trade

Washington’s General Manager has taken the boldest step in remaking the team since taking charge last year.

2019 NBA All-Star Game Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Just before Thanksgiving, I explained why I thought that Washington Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard should hit Enter on the W-4-W trade: John Wall straight up for Russell Westbrook.

Now that this trade happened yesterday, I would like to officially congratulate Sheppard for the boldest move he has done so far in his tenure and one of the boldest moves in franchise history.

Sure, Sheppard eventually had to throw in a sweetener: a protected first-rounder at least three years out. I'll take that.

As Beal allegedly said back in 2019 ``It starts at the top”. Whatever he meant exactly we will probably never know, but we do know that Sheppard has put his money where his mouth was: the Wizards are now about character.

Sheppard’s blueprint for the Wizards is about character

At this point I think we can safely say Sheppard can be distinguished from his predecessor Ernie Grunfeld in an important way: He wants to create an organization that is about character.

Let’s review Sheppard’s moves over the last year.

His very first move in 2019 was to publicly toss Devon Robinson after his nightclub incident. It’s rare to see a team do that under nearly any circumstance.

His next important decision was to try to keep Tomas Satoransky. Although that ultimately didn't work at, sources tell me Sheppard did work hard in that direction. And, when Sato expressed his will to sign with the Bulls, Tommy facilitated that instead of matching the offer (Sato was a restricted free agent) and was awarded with a second-round pick in the process.

Next came the 2019 draft. The Wizards drafted perhaps the highest character lottery picks both in 2019 and 2020. Almost everyone knows that Rui Hachimura would have dropped below the ninth pick easily if it were just for his basketball skills. Many mocks had him closer to 20. But Hachimura was what the doctor prescribed for the Wizards and Sheppard knew that as well as anybody. So he snatched him at number nine.

Deni Avdija is perhaps the highest character player to enter the NBA this year. I’m biased as I interviewed him and followed his development closely, but I suspect many scouts would agree with me.

In Avdija’s case, his skills also justify him being a top 5 pick this year and one could argue that the Wizards simply lucked out here with him. remaining available at No. 9. But Sheppard still deserves credit for making the right call.

Let us not forget also Sheppard’s coup in re-signing Bradley Beal to a two-year extension. Few believed he could sell Beal (and his super-agent Mark Bartelstein) on any sort of bright future with the Wizards. Many, including myself, believed Beal was too valuable as a trade asset to give up trade offers of approximately three first-rounders and a package of young players. But Sheppard stuck with his path and re-signed (albeit to a short extension) one of the highest character players in the league who is also a wonderful basketball player by all standards.

The Wall for Westbrook trade is Sheppard’s biggest move so far

Yet all of Sheppard’s moves are dwarfed the W4W trade yesterday.

Wall was never of the mold of player that Tommy cherished: talented but disciplined. Wall entered the league as an off-the-charts talent megastar. But the franchise coddled him and made adjustments for him throughout the years.

Some of these adjustments or coddlings were detailed by John Heiser in our recent roundtable. And that’s where his character as a team player may have fallen short.

Here’s an excerpt of what Heiser said:

I’m racking my brain trying to figure out how the Wizards could have been more loyal to John Wall for the last decade. Every time the collective bargaining agreement allowed it, they paid him the most they could possibly pay him. The NBA had to come up with a bigger term than Maximum to label the extension he agreed to, THE SUPER MAX.

When John wanted veteran help, first round picks were sent out in exchange for Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, and a Bojan Bogdanovic playoff rental.

On the floor, John played favorites, seemingly froze out some guys at times, because he could. Off the floor, John threw some teammates under the bus. Talked about needing a third star even after they matched Otto Porter’s max offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets.

And yes, the gang sign video didn’t help either.

Brooks got the best out of Wall in the 2016-17 season but injuries and discipline (especially on defense) were a problem with Wall in the following two seasons. And Brooks is not a more stern coach like Erik Spoelstra or Gregg Popovich are.

I get it. A lot of us are upset about the Wall trade. And I’m sad to see his time come to an end as well. But the W4W trade has clear upsides:

  • Brooks gets to reunite with Westbrook and possibly revive his coaching career. In fact, this trade could save his job if Washington makes a postseason run. Brooks is on the last year of his current contract.
  • Beal gets the reins to the team and a talented sidekick that comes into Washington understanding he is a sidekick as well.
  • Tommy Sheppard shows that he truly has the keys to the franchise by delivering on his promise for a “character reboot.”

It will be interesting to see how all the players on this team fare as we head into a new period of the Washington Wizards franchise.