- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2015

Each Washington Wizards player who went through the car-wash environment of Monday’s “Media Day” at Verizon Center was asked, in some manner, about Paul Pierce. Last year, they were all asked about Pierce because he had arrived in Washington. This season, they were asked because he departed and signed with his hometown Los Angeles Clippers. Pierce is just an oft-asked-about specter now.

His departure puts the team more than ever at the fingertips of John Wall and Bradley Beal. They are the young “old” men on the team, with each new year putting additional weight on their capable backs.

Wall just turned 25 years old. He’s entering his sixth NBA season, free of the organizational tumult that greeted him when he arrived in 2010 as the No. 1 overall pick. Beal is 22 years old, for the first time not the youngest player on the roster, and entering his fourth NBA season. They don’t have the gray hairs that are invading Nene’s chin and Jared Dudley’s head, but their combined time in Washington makes them one of the league’s stable core duos, a pair of near-veterans, depending on one’s definition.

“It starts with us two,” Beal said. “We have to be leaders of this team now. We have to be vocal and lead by example. For me, I feel old.”

The Wizards, Beal and Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, are discussing his contractual future with the team. Beal can become a free agent next summer when his rookie contract expires. Both Beal and the Wizards would be well-served by Beal signing a new deal after next season. It would allow Beal to receive the maximum payment, and allow the Wizards maximize cap space as they pursue expected free agents such as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.

A recent report said the Wizards offered Beal a contract extension this summer. Asked Monday if the team offered him a contract extension, Beal took a pause before answering, “Um, no, they didn’t.”

The league negotiation period for a contract extension ends on Halloween, the day of the Wizards‘ home opener against the New York Knicks. Beal said he is fine playing out the season whether an extension is reached by that point or not.

“My agent is dealing with it, and I’m not worried about it,” Beal said. “It is what it is at the end of the day. It’s not going to change my mentality. It’s not going to make me angry towards any party or anything like that. I’m still a Wizard at the end of the day. I still have this jersey on. I’m going to play my heart out each and every night. The contract, that’s for [Wizards general manager] Ernie [Grunfeld] and my agent to deal with.”

One thing he would like to change is the amount of long two-point shots he takes. Throughout the league, a “long two” has the allure of a tire blowout. Beal, despite his eloquent shot release, is not good at shooting long twos, yet he does so often. Last season, he shot 33.1 percent between the area 16 feet from the basket to the 3-point line. From 10 to 16 feet, he shot 39.5 percent. Those numbers are not outliers during his three years in the league. Beal is shooting 36.2 percent for his career from 16 feet back to the 3-point line.

“The biggest thing is [coach Randy Wittman],” Beal said. “Because Witt likes those shots. Witt likes every shot that I shoot. I’m going to have to listen to him and have a conversation with him about it.

“It’s just a matter of being comfortable and still taking the shots the defense gives me. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to shoot any long twos. I’m not going to sit here and say that, but, at the same time, I’m going to eliminate as many as I can and get my percentage better.”

Wall said he made 1,000 3-pointers on a daily basis during summer workouts. He thought he took 3-pointers at inopportune times last season, which contributed to him shooting just 30 percent from behind the 3-point line for the year. He also continues to work on a post game, something he deployed more often last season than in years past, and floaters.

Without Pierce, Wall expects to step even more to the fore.

“I know I’m the leader of these guys, so I came in with a different mindset,” Wall said.

Together, Beal and Wall aren’t the just future of the franchise. They’re the now of a Wizards team that has lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals in consecutive seasons. Training camp starts on Tuesday.

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