- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stacked in $100 bills, $128 million weighs around 1.4 tons, which is the kind of heft Bradley Beal will now try to keep off his shoulders and in his pockets.

He pursued this haul from when he was younger and scored 52 points in a game just to have his mother, Besta, tell him it should have been 72. The endeavor continued last fall when he declined a lower but still substantial contract offer from the Washington Wizards before the season began. Despite three years filled with injuries, Beal felt assured the lucrative endgame would still be within his reach because he believed in his ability and the Wizards‘ desire to retain it.

The shooting guard signed his five-year, approximately $128 million contract with the Wizards on Tuesday then discussed it heavily Wednesday. His family watched from the front rows of a press conference. His father, Bobby, and mother often nodded along as Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and general manager Ernie Grunfeld explained the grace of Beal’s character and jump shot, a combination which led them to making him the highest-paid player in the history of the organization and the peripherals the come with it.

“We didn’t think twice about this,” Leonsis said. “We think it was exactly the right thing to do for the community and the fan base.”

Five numbers follow Beal as he enters his fifth NBA season: 56, 73, 63, 55 and 23. The latter is his age, something always brought up whenever a discussion of Beal’s value percolates. The other four are the number of games he has played, respectively, in each 82-game season. They are the alarm bells behind all the glitter.

Most of the unplayed games during those seasons were because of injury, or the threat of injury, to his lower right leg. Beal has worked through multiple stress fractures in the leg since entering the league. Last season, what the team labeled as the beginning of a stress reaction pulled Beal from the floor. He played a career-low 55 games overall and referred to himself as a “guinea pig” in April when talking about the search for solutions.

This summer, he began working with a new physical therapist in addition to his behemoth brother, Brandon, who is his strength and conditioning coach.

“I started all over,” Bradley said.

Functional movement has been a focus. Beal, who has averaged 16 points per game, has spent time relearning which muscle should respond during the first part of a movement. Plus, how to walk, run, squat and land properly. He’s trying to revamp the mechanics of his body along with improving its strength. Leonsis even suggested Beal grew an inch during the summer.

“I think we got it figured out,” Beal said of the leg problems. “I think we have a great plan in place. We’ve done the research. Like Ernie said, we have evidence and research we didn’t have a couple of years ago in terms of this injury and how to deal with it. It’s definitely behind us and I’m looking forward to this season and moving past it.”

Suddenly, Beal and John Wall are two of the old heads in the locker room. Their high-end contracts, age and being referred to over and over by Wizards executives as “pillars” of the team make them the leaders. Each realizes this. Their culpability is just amplified now that Beal cashed in during the NBA’s most lucrative offseason and the reconstruction of the Wizards‘ roster shuffled the duo to the front with no veteran voice beside them.

Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, felt Beal possessed the ability to turn down the first contract offer from the Wizards last year and not be distracted during the season by what might happen after its conclusion. Now, the challenge is for Beal to handle a level of responsibility never put on him prior in his young life. The Wizards believe in Beal’s character — coach Scott Brooks called him an “old soul” — as much as his scoring ability. Beal knows a maximum contract is draped in expectations.

“It means that I have a huge responsibility in terms of being a leader, in terms of being one of the best players on the team,” Beal said. “It’s required of me to be able to have a great game almost every night. It requires me to play 80-plus games throughout the year. I have to be able to withstand all those responsibilities because they made a commitment to me. They believe I can help lead this franchise to where we’re trying to get to.”

Brooks said he has learned how to control player workloads. Beal’s injury history coupled with Wall’s two offseason knee surgeries make it paramount that claim is true. The new coach said he will be using “bioanalytics” to help determine when each player, not just his young stars, needs rest. The players will be tracked in practice, at shootaround and during games.

Grunfeld has also repeatedly said the organization has an improved understanding of what could cause Beal’s right leg to become irritated then injured. For a team that finished three games out of the final playoff spot and seven games out of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference last season, every second Beal is on the floor improves their chance to avoid the draft lottery and instead roll the dice in the playoffs, an elusive destination for much of the franchise’s history.

The Wizards will be anchored by Beal and Wall for the next three seasons during their attempts to enter the playoffs. Washington made sure of that when it decided to provide Beal such grand levels of cash and stature. He no longer needs to worry about chasing his first big deal. He just has to come through after it.

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