Stars under contract find ways to change teams all the time, and Bradley Beal is going to be the next one.
Teams aren't just selling themselves to players on the open market during NBA free agency. They're also selling themselves to the guys on their own rosters, proving themselves through smart transactions and well-considered plans.
By that measure, the Washington Wizards are rotten salesmen. You could forgive Beal for not buying, even if he's operated diplomatically so far.
He praised the Wizards brass for assuring him he's someone they want to keep around, telling Ben Golliver of the Washington Post: "They've been very transparent, and that's been great. They're not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. … It's great having that peace of mind."
Paired with an open-minded approach to an extension offer—which hasn't come yet, Beal noted to Golliver—it would seem the Wizards and their best player share a willingness to make this thing work.
Counterpoint: This is exactly how both sides should act if the goal is trading Beal to a preferred destination for maximum value. That's a cynic's take, but it's not unreasonable. In fact, assess the situation from both sides, and the logic of a Beal trade is overwhelming.
Do It, Wizards!
Beal is too good to let the Wizards to bottom out, which may be a necessary step in refreshing the franchise. Last year, playing with a group that posted the fourth-worst defensive rating in the league, Beal was still potent enough on offense to get the Wizards to 32 wins. The New Orleans Pelicans jumped into the top draft slot with 33 wins, and the flattening of lottery odds makes abject tanking less rewarding than it used to be, but the math still favors lower win totals if you're hoping for a good spot in the draft.
Put the idea of deliberate losing (and how much harder it is with Beal around) aside, and there are still plenty of reasons for Washington to make Beal the next star traded.
He's the Wizards' only high-end asset, maybe even valuable enough to get a team like, say, the Miami Heat to think about also taking on John Wall's onerous contract. He's certainly the Wizards asset most likely to generate a positive return in a deal.
That's really the crux of this: Washington has to get something before its only choice is to accept nothing.
The Anthony Davis fiasco isn't a perfect parallel, but look at what the Pelicans got for their dissatisfied star. Landing Zion Williamson with the top pick in the draft mattered more than anything else the Pels acquired, but they remade the rest of their roster overnight by adding virtually all of the Los Angeles Lakers' young talent and future picks.
Contrast that with what just happened to the Charlotte Hornets, who watched Kemba Walker join the Boston Celtics in free agency. Had Charlotte proactively moved Walker during any of the past two seasons, maybe it wouldn't be in one of the most hopeless long-term positions in the league.
It shouldn't take recent examples to persuade Washington that getting something is better than getting nothing. It's a pretty basic idea.
Do It, Brad!
Of course, "getting nothing" only comes into play if Beal makes clear he intends to leave in 2021 free agency. He hasn't done that yet, and maybe he'll never overtly broadcast his intention to test the market. But he should, if only to alert the Wizards to something they ought to already know: The clock's ticking.
Why, though? Why must it come to Beal asking out?
For starters, Wall's contract is the crippler of all cripplers. He'll make $38.2 million while probably not playing at all next season and then an average of about $44 million each of the three years after that. Wall's deal will force Washington to rebuild with one hand tied behind its back.
Beal should want no part of that.
What might the Wizards construct anyway? Their recent missteps, perhaps exacerbated by the lack of a full-time general manager during a pivotal stretch that included the draft and free agency, do not inspire confidence.
They didn't trade Trevor Ariza or Jeff Green during the 2018-19 season, instead opting to reach for a playoff spot that was always beyond their grasp. Those two left in free agency, yielding nothing of value. The trade of Otto Porter Jr. to the Chicago Bulls for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker was designed to create flexibility and give the two incoming forwards a shot to prove their worth.
Portis is a New York Knick now, and there doesn't seem to be a market for Parker after Washington declined its $20 million team option for the 2014 No. 2 overall pick. And instead of using the savings generated by the Porter deal to keep restricted free agent Tomas Satoransky, the Wizards determined Chicago's three-year, $30 million offer sheet was too pricey.
Sure, the Wizards got some middling second-round considerations in what became a sign-and-trade, but simply keeping a quality point guard at a reasonable price would have been preferable. They then went out and signed Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas, two inferior options at the same position whose defensive deficiencies and lack of size might make life even more difficult for Beal.
This seems like a good place to mention that Beal led the league in minutes last year and, in fact, has played more minutes than any player in the NBA over the last three seasons combined.
How much more strain can he bear before breaking down? If he's not marching into the front office demanding a trade, if only in the interest of self-preservation, shouldn't Beal at least be forming an exit strategy?
Actually, it seems like he is.
He told Golliver:
"I'd be naive to say I wouldn't be [interested in extension talks]. Washington is where I've been the last seven years, going on eight. It would be great to play in one place forever. But at the same time, you want to win and make sure you're in a position to do so. I'm definitely going to evaluate who we hire as the GM and who we pick up on the team. All that plays a factor."
You don't have to read between the lines of Beal's comments to see he's putting Washington on notice. As a precursor to a public or private trade request, that's a smart move. It primes fans for his potential exit and puts the onus on Washington to shape up—if it wants to keep him.
No Point in Waiting
Even if the Wizards refashioned themselves into something more appealing (a low bar, to be sure), Beal should remain skeptical.
Washington isn't in one of those inevitable valleys that come after the peaks of great success. This isn't a Golden State Warriors situation—where a dominant team eventually gets too expensive or unwieldy and has to be broken apart.
The Wizards have never won 50 games or escaped the second round of the playoffs with Beal on the roster. He's seen Washington try its best, and it's hard to imagine he's been impressed. Those modest heights are unreachable now, and there's no young talent in the pipeline to suggest another climb will start anytime soon. Whoever eventually guides Washington back to relevance almost certainly isn't on the roster right now.
Most likely, that player is about to start his sophomore year of high school, ticketed for the 2023 draft after Wall's contract finally expires.
Maybe it's not groundbreaking to say Beal should be the next star traded since he was briefly rumored to be a player of interest for the Heat just a few days ago. But so far, the Wizards have held firm, which is the wrong (and therefore predictable) decision from a franchise that has made more than its share of mistakes lately.
It'll be up to Beal to ask out, hopefully in a way that's less messy and more quickly resolved than the Davis situation this past year. Washington and Beal could keep wasting seasons together if they want. A breakup isn't the only way forward.
But it's the best way—probably for the franchise and definitely for Beal himself.