Wizards have ‘huge sense of urgency,’ but plan to run core back

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Tommy Sheppard, as he typically does, cracked a little joke during the opening remarks of his season-ending media availability. The Wizards general manager credited Vegas oddsmakers for nailing the team’s preseason win total. The over-under line was set at 35½ — and sure enough, Washington finished exactly with 35 wins.

But the executive wasn’t laughing.

“That’s disgusting to me,” Sheppard said. “What we had the potential to do, internally, we had much higher goals.” 

Over the course of Sheppard’s press conference Monday, the number “35” was referenced frequently. Thirty-five wasn’t just the number of Wizards’ wins over a 35-47 season, it was also the number of games that stars Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis played together this past season. 

As Washington heads into a pivotal offseason, Sheppard said 35 games isn’t enough to accurately judge the trio’s potential, even if Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma went just 16-19 when all three were healthy. The executive said he believes their ceiling is much higher, which is why the team will try to re-sign Kuzma and Porzingis this summer when the two likely decline their upcoming player options.

Sheppard, who concluded his fourth full season at the helm, said there’s a “huge sense of urgency” to turn around the franchise after missing the playoffs for a second straight year. Just chasing the play-in tournament and the eighth seed isn’t good enough, he said.

Still, Washington’s fanbase is frustrated with the team’s lack of progress and many seem to believe that locking in a core of Beal, Kuzma and Porzingis moves Washington no closer to escaping the league’s dreaded no man’s land. Beal, after all, already is on a $251 million contract and new deals for Porzingis and Kuzma would tie up Washington’s books for the next few years.

Sheppard understood the argument, but disagrees.

“I’d just like to see that group to make that decision,” Sheppard said. “Obviously, the financial stuff gives people the perception that you’re going to be locked in on that roster forever. But time and time again, if I’d have listened to everybody, right, we’d never have been able to trade some of the contracts that I was told, ‘you’ll never be able to trade this contract.’ … I appreciate the free advice, but it is free.”

Sheppard appeared to be referencing his trades of John Wall, Russell Westbrook and Davis Bertans — players who were seen with unfavorable contracts that the executive was still ultimately able to move. Sheppard traded Wall for Westbrook in December 2020 and then seven months later, spun Westbrook off to the Lakers for a package of players in a complex five-team trade. 

Beyond improving the roster, Sheppard said he would like to see the Wizards get “mentally tougher” next season. He said tough losses too often lingered. He cited eight losses in which the Wizards had held leads of at least 15 pooints. He also said that the team’s inability to stay healthy is a “concern.” 

If there is an untapped upside to the core three, it won’t materialize until Washington can get more out of Beal. The 29-year-old finished with the most efficient year of his career — he shot 51% — but he played in the second-fewest number of games of his career with 50. 

Beal fought through a variety of ailments, but told reporters that he’s looking forward to an offseason in which he can focus on his normal workout routine. He said last year’s wrist surgery and his hamstring injury from 2021 prevented him from properly preparing for the season, which in turn led to injuries. 

Beal, meanwhile, said he was “definitely frustrated” with the Wizards’ lack of progress — the team also finished 35-47 last year — but wants to remain with the franchise. “If I wanted to leave, you guys would hear and know that Beal wants to leave,” he said. 

Beal said he wouldn’t use the threat of revoking his no-trade clause as leverage to try and force Washington’s management to make deals. 

“I have a low patience level,” Beal said. “It’s not like I’m not angry. I’m definitely disappointed, but I’m not going to sit up here and show that I’m frustrated. I’m angry, but I express that to the necessary voices and people who need to hear it.” 

Kuzma and Porzingis each expressed interest in staying with the Wizards this summer. Porzingis said he had yet to decide whether to decline his $36 million player option, though his camp and the Wizards have reportedly held discussions already about a new contract. 

“The sense of urgency is huge,” Sheppard said. “We can’t wait any longer. It’s time. We’ve got to keep pushing all the different areas we can and look at every opportunity to get better.” 

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