One of the biggest questions heading into this 2019-20 NBA season is whether Bradley Beal will be traded. Recently promoted Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has insisted the answer to that question is no, and that Washington's full focus is on building for the future around Beal, who is under contract until the summer of 2021.
"We've never considered anything other than a situation where Brad is with us and leading us forward," Sheppard told CBS Sports this summer. "We made that clear to him on the first day we could offer him an extension, and we'll continue to make that clear."
Indeed, the Wizards did offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension earlier this summer. And Beal turned it down. Washington is committed to saying all the right things when this question of Beal's status inevitably arises throughout this season, but Beal, who will eventually have the final say in all this, has made it clear the only thing that matters is what the Wizards are doing.
"I had a max contract already, so it's not like I need the money," Beal recently told Fred Katz of The Athletic. "I can really retire today and be OK. ... So, I want everybody to understand, it's not the money. It's not the money factor here. It's me. It's, 'OK, what's the direction the team's going in? Are we gonna win? Is this what we want?' "
Beal technically has until October 21 to sign the $111 million extension with Washington, which remains on the table. But in talking to people around the league, the overwhelming feeling is that Beal will leave that offer sitting right were it is and keep his options open.
So now the Wizards have to prove it to Beal on the court, and in the front office, because the extra money they can offer him doesn't appear to hold much sway. On the court, the Wizards probably aren't going to win a lot of games this year. Now, Beal has said he is focused on proving the doubters wrong and believes the Wizards can surprise some people, but he also said this to Katz:
"We know that this is probably gonna be a development year. It's gonna be one of those types of years. So, 'does Bradley Beal wanna be a part of that ultimately?' And that's something I have to ask myself and something I'm probably still not done asking myself. So, I'm gonna use all my time until I can."
Beal can say he's asking himself these questions, but we can pretty safely assume he, and everyone else, already knows the answer. Beal doesn't want to play for a rebuilding team. And why should he? He's a 26-year-old budding All-NBA player, and if money isn't a factor, why on earth would he want to spend the prime of his career battling for lottery position?
So this becomes very simple: The Wizards either prove they can put a legitimately competitive team on the floor, or they resign to life without Beal and trade him before they forfeit whatever leverage they might have and ultimately lose him for nothing in 2021.
This is where John Wall factors into play. Wall, as we know, is likely to miss this entire upcoming season as he rehabs a torn Achilles tendon, but the Wizards are effectively clinging to the hope that Wall can, and will, return at full strength in 2020. That's basically the Wizards' biggest, and perhaps only, selling point to Beal. Wall's return, in effect, will be like the Wizards adding an All-Star free agent to play alongside Beal, because they don't have the money to do it for real.
"The cap situation can get dicey in the NBA, and injuries hurt," Sheppard told CBS Sports. "Injuries to John Wall have changed the direction of our franchise, quite honestly. Three years ago we were in Game 7 of the conference semifinals, then John wasn't able to play full seasons the last two years. That took a toll. We did have to end up hitting reset. A lot of players that were here previously are no longer here. So we have to reestablish the core. Reestablish continuity. But we still go back to: We have a franchise player in Brad Beal, knowing John will come back one day. That's kind of a nice card up our sleeve, and in the meantime, it's all about developing our youth."
Sheppard went on to praise the development of Thomas Bryant, whom the Wizards signed to a three-year, $25 million contract this summer. He spent part of the offseason in Tokyo at the FIBA World Cup "developing that relationship" with Rui Hachimura, whom the Wizards drafted with the No. 9 selection this past June. Sheppard says the Wizards have "huge expectations" for 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown, and former All-NBA guard Isaiah Thomas is "excited for the opportunity."
But let's be honest: None of those players are likely luring Beal back to Washington, which, again, can only create about $15 million in cap space next summer even if they renounce every free agent on their roster -- and even that number will drop with a likely lottery pick added to their ledger. In the summer of 2021, Washington could have a little over $13 million in cap space when accounting for Beal's $37.5M cap hold, per Cleaning the Glass.
That's a fancy-number way of saying the Wizards don't have the money to add anything terribly significant next to Beal and Wall, and besides that, the Wizards are not an organization at the moment that would seemingly attract top-flight free agents anyway. Beal could, theoretically, be that lure for others. But Wall's contract, which guarantees him $171 million over the next four seasons if he picks up his player option in 2022, makes adding a premier free agent a virtual impossibility with Beal on board as well.
Any way you slice it, this comes back to Beal and Wall being the superstar core of the Wizards. And the problem is, Beal has seen that movie. Even when Wall was at the height of his powers, the Wizards never got past the second round. Perhaps you could argue Beal has become a much better player and Wall, maybe, might come back a more conducive player to getting the most out of other guys. Maybe Hachimura becomes a rising star. Some scouts think he was way over-drafted. Others believe he's a sleeper.
So here the Wizards sit, with not a whole lot on which they can sell Beal outside of what they've had all along -- a pairing with Wall. And the clock is ticking. Two scouts who spoke with CBS Sports believe the Wizards will eventually trade Beal because they won't have an option once it becomes clear he isn't staying, and to them, that already is clear.
"I can't see any scenario where Beal doesn't leave," a Western Conference scout said.
So now it becomes about comp packages, and the haul the Thunder just got from the Clippers for Paul George could cloud the Wizards' judgment as a sort of blue-sky package that likely isn't realistic. The Pelicans flirted with waiting too long to trade Anthony Davis, but they had that luxury as Davis was in a different tier than Beal in terms of his market value. Beal is great, but Davis is seen as franchise-changing at the highest level. The Pelicans likely could've waited until the eleventh hour and still got a very good deal for Davis.
The Wizards probably can't do that with Beal. They can wait until he officially says he's not coming back like the Pelicans did with Davis, but the smart money, no matter what they say publicly, is Washington trying to stay ahead of this. It's not to say they're desperate to deal Beal. As Sheppard told CBS Sports: "Every team would love to have [Beal], and we do."
But for how long?