The Washington Wizards offered Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million maximum extension on the first day they were eligible to do so in late July, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.
However, Beal has yet to sign said extension, and there’s no indication that he plans on doing so before the Oct. 21 deadline.
Although there are financial reasons for him to wait—for one, he could become eligible for a supermax next summer by getting named to an All-NBA team this season—that isn’t his lone holdup, according to Aldridge.
“While grateful for the gesture, and while not wanting to abandon the team as it approaches a likely rough season, obvious questions remain about the team’s short- and long-term plans during the prime of his career,” Aldridge tweeted.
Beal averaged a career-high 25.6 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game last year en route to his second straight All-Star berth. He’s in the mix for the second-best 2-guard in the league behind James Harden, which is why the Wizards have “no intention” of trading him any time soon, according to Jeff Goodman of Stadium.
Beal has two years and $55.8 million remaining on his current contract, so the Wizards will still have time to win him over if he bypasses the extension this go-round. However, it isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario in which he eventually resigns himself to leaving, forcing the Wizards to trade him before they lose him for nothing as a free agent in 2021.
With John Wall’s four-year, $171.1 million supermax contract clogging up the Wizards’ long-term cap sheet, general manager Tommy Sheppard knows he’s facing an uphill battle in convincing Beal to stay in Washington.
“We need to show him that we are about building this the right way, that we aren’t going to have character-deficient guys around him,” Sheppard told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski in July. “We are going to surround him with guys he wants to play with. He saw that right away in free agency with us bringing back Thomas Bryant.”
A culture reset would be a good first step after tensions boiled over in Washington this past season.
In mid-November, several Wizards players “engaged in heated verbal altercations with each other throughout a practice … and hurled pointed, and sometimes profane, comments at head coach Scott Brooks and team president Ernie Grunfeld,” Candace Buckner of the Washington Post reported at the time. In particular, Beal “yelled something to the effect of ‘I’m sick of this s–t,'” per Buckner, and also said, “It starts at the top.”
Shams Charania of The Athletic provided even more detail about the explosive practice:
Sources on @TheAthleticNBA @WatchStadium: The Washington Wizards had a volatile practice within recent days, with verbal altercations among players and an exasperated Bradley Beal saying toward team officials: "I've been dealing with this for seven years."
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 19, 2018
Many of the players involved in those confrontations are no longer on the Wizards.
Austin Rivers, who bickered with Beal about not getting foul calls during said practice, is now a member of the Houston Rockets. Jeff Green, who “challenged Wall” during the same practice, is on the Utah Jazz. Kelly Oubre Jr., who “cursed out Brooks” during an early-season game last year, is with the Phoenix Suns.
Flushing out that locker room dysfunction was imperative, but that alone won’t convince Beal to stay in Washington beyond the 2020-21 season.
Instead, the Wizards need to prove they have the supporting cast to maximize the remainder of Beal’s prime.
After effectively salary-dumping Oubre and Otto Porter Jr. (Chicago Bulls) this past season and getting no long-term assets in return for two of their most recent first-round picks, the Wizards’ depth chart looks relatively barren at the moment. They took a no-risk flier on Isaiah Thomas, who could resuscitate his career in Wall’s rehabbing absence this season, but the 30-year-old would price himself out of Washington’s long-term plans if he does so.
Bryant showed flashes of genuine upside in his sophomore season, which helped him land a three-year, $25 million contract this summer. But with Wall sidelined, there’s a genuine argument that he’s the Wizards’ second-best player, which hardly suggests they’ll be able to cobble together a playoff-caliber team anytime soon.
Beyond Bryant, the Wizards are counting on 2018 No. 15 overall pick Troy Brown Jr. and this year’s No. 9 overall selection Rui Hachimura to outplay their respective draft slots. Perhaps one of Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga or Jemerrio Jones—all of whom were acquired in a salary dump from the Los Angeles Lakers—could pop as well.
If not, the Wizards could be drawing dead in their effort to retain Beal.
They already have $96.1 million in guaranteed salary on their books for 2020-21—Wall and Beal make up $70 million of that alone—which leaves at most around $20 million in salary-cap space based on the projected cap of $117 million. Their 2020 first-round pick will likely gobble up an additional $5 million or more, which will restrict their ability to add significant free-agent help next summer.
The 2020 free-agent class is looking increasingly sparse, too, now that Draymond Green and Caris LeVert are off the market after signing extensions. Thus, the Wizards will largely be forced to sift through past-their-prime veterans in search of one final payday or role players, neither of whom are likely to move the needle on convincing Beal to stay.
In other words: If Beal doesn’t sign an extension by the Oct. 21 deadline, his trade clock will begin ticking. Loudly.
With the 2020 free-agent class looking increasingly underwhelming, Beal could be at the center of a feeding frenzy at the trade deadline. A wide-open championship race might convince multiple title hopefuls to go all-in and cough up a king’s ransom for him, one which the Wizards would be hard-pressed to turn down.
The Denver Nuggets in particular stand out as a potential landing spot for Beal, as they have the right mix of young, high-upside players (Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris, Malik Beasley) and salary filler (Harris, Will Barton, Mason Plumlee) to swing a deal. However, Sheppard told Wojnarowski that even if Beal does pass on the extension, the Wizards have “no plans to engage in trade talks.”
Meanwhile, Wall thinks his own experience over the past few years may convince his teammate to sign the extension this summer.
“At the end of the day, you never know. You can sign an extension like I signed an extension and then an injury can happen or something years later,” Wall told reporters in early August. “I talk about it every day, man. Sometimes you can bank on yourself, but sometimes it’s not good to bank on yourself.”
Both Thomas and Wall’s former Kentucky teammate, DeMarcus Cousins—who were star teammates on the Sacramento Kings half a decade ago—are living proof of how one injury can derail a star player’s earning potential.
After finishing fifth in the 2016-17 MVP race, Thomas was eyeing a max contract and said the Boston Celtics needed to “bring the Brinks truck out.”
Instead, a lingering hip issue wrecked his 2017-18 campaign, and he’s had to sign veteran-minimum deals while clinging to a roster spot for each of the past two summers.
Cousins was likewise in line for a nine-figure payday before he tore his Achilles in January 2018. He managed a one-year, $5.3 million deal with the Golden State Warriors six months later and inked a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer.
But his entire NBA future is now in doubt after he recently tore his ACL during a workout.
If Beal isn’t deterred by what happened to Thomas or Cousins, he will likely turn down the extension for now to see if he qualifies for a supermax next summer. In the meantime, the Wizards will have a full season to convince him that they’re back on the right track after falling to 32-50 and missing the playoffs this past year.
How successful they are in doing so may determine whether Beal spends the remainder of his prime in Washington or elsewhere.