Bradley Beal is not available for trade.
That was the case before the Washington Wizards' remarkable win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night, and it continues to be the story surrounding their franchise. All parties, from the top decision-makers in the Wizards front office to members of Beal's representation, insist this marriage between superstar and organization is alive and well.
"It doesn't seem like it's a bluff to drive up the price," says one longtime executive. "They don't want to trade him."
Beal has forever been loyal to the lone team of his nine-year NBA career. The Wizards have likewise remained nothing but committed to building a playoff-caliber roster around the league's leading scorer. It's why they traded beloved point guard John Wall and their 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick for Russell Westbrook in early December.
The finally-near-full-strength Wizards just proved they can beat Eastern Conference front-runners like the Nets. And while they sit just 4-12, only three games now separate them from the 9-11 Cleveland Cavaliers, who currently have the seventh-best record in the conference.
The Wizards, though, are still far short of a true championship contender. And in an NBA that feels more and more like an arms race rather than an on-court competition, rivals are circling this situation closely. For each rousing Wizards win, there will be more losses and more screenshots of a frustrated Beal hanging his head on the bench rippling across the internet.
With the 27-year-old Beal able to test free agency after the 2021-22 season, opposing front offices are anticipating some inevitable inflection point, when either the game's best shooting guard and/or his incumbent franchise ultimately agree it's best for a change. If James Harden's trade request was just the most recent spin of the league's superstar carousel, Beal is the game-changing talent many expect to next turn front and center.
"There's not a realistic possibility of [them] being a good team under his contract," says the longtime decision maker.
That pivotal moment isn't likely to occur before the end of the 2020-21 campaign. There is a sentiment around the league that no matter their record, the Wizards ownership group would not approve any transaction that would send Beal away from Washington until this offseason at the earliest.
"Teams say it all the time, but you feel like it's real," says one assistant general manager.
Could that change? Multiple Wizards personnel and one league source with knowledge of Beal's thinking told B/R a single off beat can alter the entire rhythm of a franchise. Washington has played only 16 games in this expected 72-game season. Plenty of room still separates the first of February from the March 25 trade deadline.
"I think a lot of it comes down to who will budge first: Brad or ownership," says one Eastern Conference scout.
If Beal ever has a change of heart and tells Wizards management that he'd wish to play elsewhere, there's already a somewhat established market for what would assuredly net Washington a lucrative return.
The New Orleans Pelicans' interest in Beal remains one of the biggest open secrets around the league, and it seems their massive haul for Jrue Holiday would be the Wizards' required starting point in any negotiations. With a trove of future draft capital, veteran contracts and five recent first-round picks under the age of 25 (not counting Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram), New Orleans has the flexibility to offer Washington a package that rivals what Brooklyn paid to acquire Harden, and still surround Beal with a winning combination around him.
The Nuggets have been as linked to Beal as the Pelicans, and they could offer Washington the only blockbuster trade ingredient it appears New Orleans cannot: a bonafide blue-chip prospect in Michael Porter Jr. Yet that is where any semblance of certainty stops in this hypothetical.
Brooklyn is no longer a viable candidate for Beal after splurging to obtain Harden. The Philadelphia 76ers could return to the table with Ben Simmons, as they ultimately did in their Harden discussions, yet many around the league believe Washington would require an additional bounty of draft capital that Philadelphia appeared unwilling to include in its Harden overtures.
"The number of teams that could potentially get [Washington's] interest here would be small," says one capologist.
The teams that typically go big-game hunting (Miami, Toronto, Dallas) don't appear to have enough flexibility to provide Washington with ample compensation. But there are some wild-card suitors to keep an eye on.
If Beal were to become available this season, Atlanta could be a surprising landing spot. The 10-9 Hawks, currently sixth in the East, are as playoff-focused as the Wizards. And before Atlanta scooped Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 6 pick in the draft, Washington had hoped the USC big man would still be available at its own pick at No. 9, according to league sources.
The Hawks also widely signaled that 2018 first-round pick Kevin Huerter was available via trade prior to draft night. Atlanta would need to include Tony Snell and one other smaller contract to match Beal's salary. Adding John Collins would make the money work, and if the Wizards are willing to sign him to the max-level contract sources say he desires in his upcoming restricted free agency, Atlanta holds all of its first-rounders plus the Oklahoma City Thunder's lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick.
The New York Knicks have $17 million in cap room, a number of expiring contracts, several recent first-round selections on their roster and a cupboard full of future draft picks at their disposal. The Knicks never had much interest in Westbrook this offseason, league sources say. But adding Beal may be worth the risk. The Knicks would finally have an unquestioned All-NBA talent on their roster, still several years shy of turning 30, with a clean cap sheet of their own to add another co-star.
The Knicks could offer Washington a degree of salary relief that would have to be intriguing to Wizards brass. No matter what post-Beal future would come in D.C., Washington will likely be hamstrung over the remaining two years and $80-plus million on Westbrook's deal.
For now, all of that still remains theoretical. We repeat: Bradley Beal is not available via trade. He will continue to hang 30 on opponents left and right, even if he doesn't register a field-goal attempt until the second quarter like he did against Brooklyn. Maybe the Wizards can pile a few more inspiring wins like that thriller against the Nets.
"It wasn't something I needed to see, per se, but I feel like our effort and the way we played was great," Beal told reporters postgame. "It wasn't just one guy who won us the game or two guys. It was a collective effort from everybody."
Just like the communal effort currently keeping the All-Star in Washington.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article used insufficient sourcing to say the Wizards plan to pursue Raptors executive Masai Ujiri. A portion of the article has now been removed, and the headline was adjusted in light of this change.