2013 NBA Summer League – Martell Webster is in the House and Happy to be Returning to DC
LAS VEGAS — Martell Webster doesn’t really need to be at summer league. Bradley Beal and John Wall are here because they are the faces of the franchise and they want to be helping Otto Porter adjust to the pressures of the NBA. Webster, after signing his newly-minted $22 million contract, could be resting his heels on the West Coast with his family and preparing
for his own looming competition with “big brother” Trevor Ariza and the newly-acquired Porter. Instead, Webster popped up at Summer League on Day 2 to cheer on Porter and the other Wiz Kids, and to work out with Wall and Beal.
Webster doesn’t have to be here in Vegas, but understands that when he signed his contract (maligned by some), it came with the responsibility of not only being an ambassador for the Wizards, but also working with the Wiz Kids to accelerate their development in what he and Wall hope will be a successful push to the playoffs.
The question that remained after Webster re-signed, which was never adequately answered, was why Webster was so eager to return to D.C. (not considered the most attractive of free agent destinations) after a career-year, rejoining a team whose recent track record has been less than successful. One could speculate that the Wizards had to resign Webster, if only to placate the duo of Beal and Wall. At the NBA Draft Lottery, when I had the chance to interview Beal (and prior to the Wizards winning the No. 3 pick), Beal was emphatic that the return of Webster was necessary to the success of the team, citing Webster’s on-court production and the leadership that he provided in the locker room.
On Sunday, Webster revealed that a large part of his decision was due to the lobbying of Wall and Beal, along with the fact that the Wizards made the extra effort to make him feel wanted.
“I’m very excited and ecstatic to be back with the organization at this point,” Webster said. “The fact that I’m wanted, that means a lot to me. The fact that Bradley and John said that I had to come back, that means so much, and that’s probably the reason I came back. Just to know that you have some value on the team makes the decision a lot easier.
“The organization is amazing. I just feel like we had a little bit of a setback last year because we were injured. We were constantly playing through injury. Other than that, there were 21 games where we were 100 percent healthy, and we were a dangerous team. We feel definitely that if we start training camp that way, it’s going to roll over to the regular season.”
Of course there is the contract. Webster became a cult hero for Wizards fans last year because he basically emerged from mini-camp to not only become one of the most productive Wizards in Randy Wittman’s rotation, but also because had the same virtues that created cult heroes out of James Singleton and Othyus Jeffers. Webster worked hard, earned his role in the starting rotation, and was a breath of fresh air for Wizards fans accustomed to the on-again, off-again shenanigans of Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee.
Of course, when Webster became a free agent this summer, many assumed that the Wizards would not pursue him, because that was simply not what they had done in the past. The franchise would let high-character, high-motor guys walk. The fact that contract negotiations concluded so quickly were a demonstration of mutual respect between the two parties. The Wizards were paying Webster for his career-year and banking on him being the bridge until Otto Porter was ready for the big time, and Webster in return was willing to conclude contract negotiations quickly, allowing the Wizards to have an idea of what their rotation would be going forward.
However, it wouldn’t be a Washington Wizards contract signing without some cringing at Webster eating up the entirety of their mid-level exception (MLE) and wondering whether the Wizards were overpaying for essentially a career-year from a player with a history of injuries. Overnight, Webster went from cult hero to overpaid, and there were now “expectations” tied to his performance. Instead of properly valuing a known quantity, doubters pointed to the Wizards overpaying someone out of a desperation that no one else would want to come to D.C. (Such moves in the past had led to the crippling re-signing of Etan Thomas and the marginally less brutal resigning of DeShawn Stevenson.)
When asked about his transformation from lovable underdog to overpaid role player, Webster was frank in how he was going to treat the situation going forward:
“Well, the fans are amazing. As far as the media goes, whether its good news or negative, I don’t pay much attention to it. I don’t really read that stuff anyway. I know that for me, the way that I play the game, I try to go out and earn it every single year. It’s a guaranteed three years, I know I’m going to get the money, but my incentive is to earn it every year. So you don’t have to worry about me bringing it every single night. I know that I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I play this game for my teammates. Nothing that has to do with any selfishness, there are some personal goals in there, but they have to mesh with the overall goals of the team. Whatever anyone’s opinion is, they can keep to themselves. Their opinion is not my business anyway. I know how I’m going to play.”
Strong words from the man who is going to be a vital cog in the Wizards’ plans going forward. But the advantage that Webster has, unlike other Wizards cult heroes of the past, is the unwavering support of the team’s stars. That and the fact that this season is a make-or-break year for Randy Wittman, combined with Ernie Grunfeld putting a lot of pressure on the young man born in Edmonds, Washington. Webster, however, appears more than capable of handling the heightened expectations for second season with