Less than one week before the start of the 2019-20 NBA season and with leverage to spare, Bradley Beal chose to double down on one of the NBA's worst situations by agreeing to a two-year extension with the Washington Wizards on Thursday.
As ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported, the two-year, $72 million pact effectively gives him four guaranteed seasons with the Wizards at almost $130 million. The extension pushes the life of his deal through the 2022-23 season with a player option in that final year.
But things look bleak for this 2019-20 squad one season after it won just 32 games in the anemic Eastern Conference.
Vegas gave this team 28.5 wins. John Wall could miss the season while rehabbing his torn left Achilles and has a potential four years and $171 million remaining on the league's most immovable contract. Beal's decision to tie another chunk of his prime to Wall's raises the question: Why would he commit to what promises to be a bottom-five team in the NBA?
Maybe financial stability is of great importance to Beal. Locking in $32.5 million per season is no small feat, and his 15 percent trade kicker in the tacked-on years would extend his max earning power. But if so, wouldn't he have been better off waiting until the summer of 2020 when he would have been super-max eligible?
Maybe Beal likes Washington. The team hasn't been entirely inept during his tenure, coming within a game of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals. The Wizards have landed in the playoffs in four out of his seven seasons. With yet another lottery pick in 2020 plus Wall's reappearance, Washington could return to relevance sooner than many predict.
So, in an age when superstars leapfrog from squad to squad with little to no care for front offices or fanbases, Beal will stick it out with the team that drafted him. While the sun may not come out tomorrow for the franchise, playing the waiting game could prove beneficial in time.
"Brad has always made it clear to me, that in a perfect world, he would never leave Washington," agent Mark Bartelstein told Wojnarowski. "He has felt an obligation to be the focal point in turning the Wizards into an elite team."
What Could Have Been?
One can't help but wonder what would have happened had Beal chosen a new destination in the player empowerment era. We've already seen contenders in Los Angeles and Miami express interest in the two-time All-Star. He could have upset the league's balance.
Imagine the scoring explosion Denver Nuggets fans would've seen in a lineup that featured Beal alongside Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Or what could have been with Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson in the New Orleans Pelicans' high-flying offense. His joining Jimmy Butler in Miami would immediately vault the Heat into the Eastern Conference-title conversation. Believe it or not, Boston still carries Memphis' 2020 first-rounder (Nos. 1-6 protected, unprotected in 2021), which, packaged with Jaylen Brown, could have been enticing for Washington.
Or why not let Beal take full ownership of the offense in Orlando with one of the NBA's best defenses?
It's not too late.
In many ways, Beal protected himself with guaranteed money and a trade bonus that could make him even richer. In addition, he protected the franchise by ensuring it won't lose its best asset for nothing. The deal also guarantees at least one additional year for any interested party who might upend their future to obtain him—much in the way the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers did this summer for Paul George and Anthony Davis.
For now, Beal will return to D.C. and continue to pad his box scores with empty calories as the Wizards limp their way back into the lottery. His 2018-19 stat line of 25.6 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game were the best numbers of his career and nearly landed him on an All-NBA team.
He'll have the green light once again and could surpass those career-high 19.6 shots per game and put together another career year.
How Will This Affect His Legacy?
Signing a two-year extension at the tender age of 26 hardly damns one's on-court future. But when marrying that to his contract's previous two years and Wall's unyielding pact, the best seasons of Beal's career may be in jeopardy.
The three guaranteed years will take him past his 29th birthday—and to his 30th should the entire contract be fulfilled. At that point, the Wizards will have the ability to move away from or re-sign Wall to a much more team-friendly deal.
True, franchise governor Ted Leonsis did take measures to improve the franchise by removing longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld and promoting Tommy Sheppard to general manager. And true, the Wizards have what could become a bedrock of promising talent in Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and future All-Star Isaac Bonga.
But how could these wasted seasons affect Beal's legacy?
According to Basketball Reference, his Hall of Fame probability sits at just .006 percent seven years into his career (38th among active players). Playing in Washington will help pad his statistics. If we go by his averages over the last three seasons and multiply them across the next four, Beal could finish his contract with 17,330 points, 3,274 assists and 3,279 rebounds.
This would put him well on his way to breaking the 20K-point, 5K-assist and 5K-rebound barrier. Those numbers would probably add to his tally of All-Star appearances as well.
But the Wizards will not compete for a Larry O'Brien Trophy during the life of this contract. They may not even win a playoff series. The team has $70 million dedicated to Wall and Beal in 2020-21, $78.8 million in 2021-22 and an eye-gauging $93.7 million in 2022-23.
Should the Wizards properly develop Bryant and Hachimura in addition to the promising talent coming in the 2020 draft, they still wouldn't have the available capital to carve out a contending team.
Beal may have other opportunities following the life of this contract to help form or join superteams in the free agency of 2022, but will it be too late? Injuries and age could slow his productivity. Projecting his last three seasons and multiplying them over his next four would bring him to 25,143 minutes played, which would make him 30th among active players.
Why take the risk? Why not force a trade in the midst of his prime and try to win a championship? No one would've blamed him with a fellow superstar sidelined for the entirety of the season.
"This was probably going to be the most important decision that Brad was going to make in his career," Bartelstein told Wojnarowski.
Beal chose not to upset the NBA's balance. That decision may prove a misuse of one of the game's most explosive talents during his prime.