- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bradley Beal’s expansive offseason to-do list includes eating better. He wants to work on his ball-handling and various other aspects of his game. Beal is debating whether to lift more or less, change his workout routine or not. He’s so tired of being injured, Beal even joked about practicing coming back to earth.

“Gotta learn how to land, too, in the offseason,” Beal said.

Beal fell after being bumped on a drive to the basket on March 5. The thud of a landing sprained his pelvis. The ache lasted until the close of Washington’s discombobulated season.

Entering his fourth offseason in the NBA, Beal has three major parts of his basketball life to manage. First, he again will search for a way to make his lower right leg cooperate for an entire season. He’s yet to figure out how, dealing with the beginning of or a full stress fracture each year he’s been a pro. Second, he’ll work on improving his game. Third, is his looming contract situation. Beal is a restricted free agent for the first time in his career.

Unlocking the injury mystery after a career low in games played remains troublesome for Beal. He believes the Wizards have figured out how to manage his minutes in order to obstruct the stress reaction. Beal knows it is coming when he feels a significant cramp on the outside of his calf. If it sticks, he knows he has a problem. This year, the start of what could be a stress reaction was a large reason why Beal played only 55 games, one fewer than his rookie season and the least among Wizards regulars who did not have offseason surgery.

“It’s crazy,” Beal said. “I’m very unique. Nobody else has this injury except for me, so it’s kind of hard to reach out or research anybody else who has it and what they’ve done for it. So, it’s kind of like a guinea pig, so to speak, and I’m just testing out things to see if they work or not.

“But I trust the doctors. We’ve been on a good program every summer. I haven’t had any pain or injuries during the summer so I think as far as that, it’s kind of a 50-50 thing, but when the season winds around, it’s something I need to adjust to. … Really think about what can help prevent me from that ever occurring again.”

The Wizards’ brass feels the organization has an understanding of how to manage Beal, though it’s yet to show that in a tangible way, considering Beal has been stopped by the injury every season. Team president and general manager Ernie Grunfeld said “it’s a trial-and-error kind of thing,” then claimed that Beal “played 35, 40 games in a row at the end of the season with that situation.” That’s not accurate. Beal’s longest streak of games played in the 2015-16 season was 19.

“We know what kind of loads that he carries and what the optimum minutes for him are over a long period of time,” Grunfeld said. “It took a little while for our staff to get all those things in order, but I think we have a pretty nice handle on that right now.”

Washington’s belief in Grunfeld’s public statements is crucial. The Wizards will be able to offer Beal more years and more money than any other suitor. They will have the option to match any contract Beal is offered elsewhere. The two sides had a for-show dance before the start of last season and did not reach a contract. Beal surmised he could make more later; the Wizards knew their cap space would benefit if he declined their offer.

Now, the prevailing thinking is that Beal, who turns 23 years old in June, will be offered a maximum deal by another team, if not the Wizards. That leaves the Wizards with a massive decision: Even with hunks of salary cap room, do they want to send blocks of cash and commitment to a player who is injured annually? Grunfeld said he wants Beal back in Washington. Beal said he would he prefer to be back. Because of age, results when healthy, and the Wizards’ financial flexibility, Beal’s return seems likely.

“I want to be here; I don’t know,” Beal said when asked if he would look at other teams before signing in Washington. “I don’t even know what I’m getting into right now. It’s like choosing colleges again, but I’m happy where I am. Hopefully, we can agree with each other this summer and we can get it done, but if not, it’s a business at the end of the day.”

Beal was able to accomplish one thing last season. He changed how often he shot long two-pointers, something he was not good at despite the romantic mechanics of his jump shot. The percentage of his shots from 16 feet out to the 3-point line dropped from 27.7 percent to 17.9 percent. His main offensive change was how often he went into the lane. Beal shot more at the rim and in the paint than in years past. In particular, his in-between shooting — shots in the lane but not all the way at the rim — increased in frequency and success, though his ball-handling could use a boost.

Assuming the Wizards sign Beal to a contract that should average around $20 million annually, he may be the greatest influence on their next few seasons. He would become their top-paid player on the current roster by a wide margin. The physical limitations that have made him average 62 games played in his first four seasons will cause fingers to be crossed. Blips of stardom will make them hopeful. Instead of learning how to land, Washington and Beal would prefer he simply stays upright.

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