Who knows what the Wizards will do in hopes of improving their roster this offseason. But there are plenty of things the returning core can do -- the primary voices in the locker room -- that goes far beyond shooting percentages, analytics and Xs and Os under new coach Scott Brooks.
Given that Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre are young, they’re not included. This is for the vets. The lion’s share of the responsibility for the success or failure of the Wizards is theirs:
John Wall: The main thing holding him back from being a top three point guard and keeps him behind the likes of Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving is three-point shooting. But perhaps Wall being overly concerned about his rankings and how much credit others are getting nationally have gotten in the way of what got him here. He changed agents midseason in large part because Wall didn’t feel he was getting the recognition, the superstar treatment and by extension bigger deals off the court. After three All-Star appearances, he’s putting a lot more attention on branding. Now that he’s out of the playoffs and coming off surgeries to both knees, no one is talking about him. Basketball is what got him here. Wall has always felt like an underdog. No matter how big he gets, he has to hold on to that but it’s a fine line. Lillard didn’t get his respect as coaches foolishly left him off the All-Star team and look how he responded in leading Portland to a fantastic season. For Wall, it starts with returning to the Wizards in shape, which will be more difficult because of his health. He wasn’t in optimum condition to begin 2015-16 and it showed. Wall also has to protect his body better in season. He’s entering his seventh year and if he’s not careful the wear and tear will sneak up on him in no time and when his contract expires in 2019 it might be his last major one. It’s time to look at the long game, be smarter, more efficient and more assertive. And while he insists he was a good leader, even he'd admit he wasn’t good enough in this area. Playing through bumps and bruises isn't enough. From his conditioning to his temperament, he's the tone-setter.
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Bradley Beal: Sure, being healthy, a better ball-handler and creator off the dribble are needed but he’s about to become the highest-paid player on the team. What will come with that is added leadership responsibility and the expectation that Beal is going to be the voice that Trevor Ariza and Jared Dudley have been the last two seasons. Those were role players who called players-only meetings to clear the air. It shouldn’t come to that if the best players in the locker room are up to the task. Beal can’t wait until the train goes completely off the track, like what happened late in the season on a West coast trip, to call out whoever needs it to get the job done. When he was challenged by Marcin Gortat on social media for speaking up, Beal didn’t flinch or roll back on his comments when asked again. That was a good sign. But he can’t be passive aggressive. If it requires confronting teammates, even the likes of Wall, he’s got to do it and hash it out in a constructive fashion. It's not about who has the bigger salary or letting that somehow factor into "Who's team is this?" That is a nonsensical debate that we'll drum up in the media because it's good chatter but as Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway figured out -- I was at The Orlando Sentinel and the editor for the Magic when that all went up in smoke -- it's a sure way to ruin a good thing. That's about ego. One can play the good cop like Derek Fisher did with the L.A. Lakers during their championship runs to Kobe Bryant’s bad cop.
Marcin Gortat: When things go wrong, the center can’t be the first to leave the locker room to avoid questions. Gortat is an emotional guy and has gotten himself in hot water with the previous coaching staff for his honesty. But as a veteran especially, he shouldn’t leave the younger guys like Wall and Beal to face the music and explain a loss while he skates free. It’s not fair to them and it’s part of his job requirement that pays him $60 million. Unfortunately for him, this feeds into the perception that Gortat lacks composure when the kitchen gets hot and looks for the nearest exit. If he doesn’t want to answer the question, just say “No comment.” But stay there. Take a page out of the book of Paul Pierce. He took exactly four questions, win or lose or whether he scored 20 points or two points. He'd answer them directly and by anticipating potential followups he'd continue to basically answer the equivalent 12 questions in those few responses. When he was done he'd walk off. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it was awesome. Gortat's teammates notice that he’s the first to exit. So does the media horde that shapes the perception of him and it’s not a good look. It’s about being level-headed, not too high or too low. Gortat is a good guy, but he has to maintain that demeanor even when things don't go his way.
Markieff Morris: The power forward hasn't been here long enough but he's been in the NBA for a while. He's quiet but it’s easy to tell he has an edge to him that this locker room desperately needs. Morris doesn’t have to say a lot and is a perfect complement considering the makeup of the roster. He doesn’t need to change a thing. Plus, he’s on a bargain contract at $7.4 million for next season. The added responsibility isn't his, but if a teammate needs to be convinced to fall in line and Morris is standing over the shoulder to back up Wall or Beal, they should feel good about that.
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