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The State of the John Wall–Bradley Beal Union

Rumblings out of D.C. suggest it’s not great

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Getty Images

John Wall recently said he and Bradley Beal “have a tendency to dislike each other,” which is a strange thing to publicly admit. The Wizards’ chemistry issues are apparent, and it’s not like Wall said they actually hate each other, but an inclination to get agitated is not out of his character. Wall is known to keep a close eye on what other players are making, and the paper tossed around this summer has reportedly irked him. One league source familiar with Wall’s state of mind simply put it this way: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.” A lot of players will make more money than Wall this year. He signed a five-year, $84.8 million deal in 2013, which looks like chump change now.

Wall has previously expressed displeasure over the fact that Reggie Jackson received a similar deal. Then, last August, James Harden signed an incentive-laden 13-year, $200 million shoe deal with Adidas, while the company offered Wall a deal worth only $7.5 million annually. According to The Vertical, Wall declined the offer because he wanted “Harden money.” A few months later, Wall fired his agent, Dan Fegan, and hired Rich Paul. Maybe Adidas is second-guessing their decision after seeing Harden’s shoe design, but in any case, that’s not the only time Wall has been irked by The Beard. A front-office executive tells The Ringer that Wall was “rankled” after Harden signed a four-year, $118 million extension with the Rockets.

If Harden’s contract was irritating, just imagine how Wall felt when Beal signed for a five-year max contract worth $127.2 million, tied for the fourth-most-valuable contract in the NBA. An agent described it to me like this: “Whatever is public, multiply it by five and that’s how they really feel about each other. It’s probably a total disaster.”

Wall and Beal have never clicked for the same reason the jocks and the geeks don’t sit at the same lunch table in high school. They’re fundamentally different, I’m told. Wall likes to party, but Beal doesn’t get out much. Beal spends tons of hours in the gym, but Wall doesn’t, and is still a significantly better player, a three-time All-Star. Beal is a complementary player, a zero-time All-Star, and will be getting paid $17.1 million more over the next three seasons.

“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,” Wall told CSN Mid-Atlantic, referring to Beal. “If we were playing well as a tandem like the other two superstars that play together as a backcourt, play as a tandem, one night it’s going to be his night, one night it’s going to be mine, some nights it might be both of us. Those are nights it’s going to be tough to beat us.”

Wall’s idea to put aside their differences sounds great, because they should be a perfect fit together on the offensive end. But Wall also said of Beal: “He’s my sidekick. I’m A. He’s A-1.” Comments like that don’t help, even if it’s true that Wall is better than Beal. They should be a perfect fit on offense. Wall has the burst and athleticism to score against a set defense. Beal can shoot the lights out and score off secondary actions. Beal says they can’t “lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”

They might not actually need each other though. Beal’s efficiency numbers since 2013 are virtually identical when Wall is on the floor (49.1 effective field goal percentage) as they are when he’s not (49.6 eFG%). And the Wizards performed about the same last season with a backcourt pairing of Wall-Beal (plus-2.7 net rating), as they did with Wall and Garrett Temple (plus-2.3) or Ramon Sessions (plus-2.4), per NBA Wowy. Their stagnant possessions and detached body language suggest they might not want each other, for that matter. Wall sometimes had his hands on his knees while Beal was hoisting up careless midrange jumpers last season.

The Wizards will try like hell to make it work. The duo led the Wizards to two consecutive conference semifinals, and if it weren’t for Wall’s broken wrist in 2015, they might’ve advanced to the East finals. They were that close to getting pummeled by the Cavaliers. Wall and Beal have experienced success before, and that’s why they’re both reaching across the aisle to try and make this work.

But if Wizards head coach Scott Brooks can’t calibrate the pair’s settings, then breaking it up could be for the best. Wall’s cheap deal keeps him awake at night. That same undermarket deal could also make him an attractive trade target to other teams. Beal could draw interest, too, though teams are divided on just how valuable he is, considering his injury history and limited skill set.

Putting aside the return, dealing Wall might make more sense anyway, if it comes to that. Wall seems like a flight risk once he hits free agency. He told The Vertical, “I ain’t got no billboards in D.C.,” and that he wants to “leave a legacy and you can’t leave a legacy hiding behind the doors.” Wall is the face of the Wizards franchise, but he’s wearing a cloak of invisibility. His sneaker sales “underperformed,” and he can’t even get on a damn billboard. If that didn’t happen after two successful playoff runs, it’s unlikely to happen now, when their top summer addition was Ian Mahinmi (who, for what it’s worth, will make only one mil less than Wall this season).

In 2013, Nene said of his Wizards teammates, “Our young guys must take their heads out their butts and play the right way, because I’m getting tired of this.”

Three years have passed, and their heads are still stuck. If John Wall and Bradley Beal don’t start making changes, the front office will have to.