With the 2021 NBA draft fast approaching, word has reached front offices around the league that Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal is considering requesting a trade prior to Thursday night's event.
"He knows he has to make a decision before the draft," one source with direct knowledge of Beal's thinking told Bleacher Report. For the past year, people familiar with Beal's dedicated relationship to the Wizards have consistently rebuffed the notion he had interest in playing elsewhere. Yet a second source close to Beal, when contacted by B/R, confirmed the situation is now fluid.
Beal has long maintained to confidants his desire to stay in Washington, so long as he believed the Wizards were positioned to advance deep into the postseason. And if Beal were to seek a new team, he would do so only to land in an established winning environment, sources said.
Beal does not have a proverbial list of preferred destinations, but it was mentioned by multiple sources that he would welcome joining teams such as Boston, Golden State, Miami or Philadelphia—although Beal requesting a trade would all but guarantee an expansive bidding war across the league. The number of potential destinations and interested suitors could span a significant portion of the NBA.
"Beal's the guy right now," one assistant general manager said. "The one guy that could be available, that could help you win the whole thing."
Coming to a decision before the draft allows Beal and Washington the most flexibility in securing a trade that benefits both player and team. "It's just so much easier to make a deal when you know what the draft picks are, as opposed to future picks," another high-ranking team official said.
Toronto, for example, could offer a package centered on the No. 4 selection and Pascal Siakam, who's considered available for trade by sources around the league. The Raptors have been categorized as one of the most active teams in predraft trade chatter, exploring all avenues from swapping their pick in a deal for an All-Star such as Beal or Damian Lillard to trading back and recouping more draft capital to embrace a post-Kyle Lowry rebuild.
Golden State's best offer for Beal would include the Nos. 7 and 14 picks in this draft. New Orleans, owning the 10th selection, has long been linked as an interested Beal suitor as well.
That's not to limit the field of potential destinations to teams selecting in the lottery. The Hawks, with a trove of young, talented wings, could compile an attractive offer of players such as Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish, plus the 20th pick and future draft capital. That would still leave a strong foundation of Trae Young, Clint Capela, John Collins (if he can finalize an extension) and De'Andre Hunter, whom many league personnel considered to be Atlanta's second-best player this season prior to injury.
Boston's path to securing Beal would appear far more costly, as the Celtics' offer almost certainly has to include Jaylen Brown and all of their future draft picks they are able to part with. That move, however, would pair Beal with his close friend and fellow St. Louis native Jayson Tatum, and Brown may be the most valued young player the Wizards could net in any return—Ben Simmons included.
While speculation swirled around the NBA on Friday, it's believed that Beal's position has also been impacted by that of Russell Westbrook in a dynamic that may closely mirror Westbrook's departure from Houston a year ago. When the 2017 MVP got wind of James Harden's dissatisfaction with the Rockets, Westbrook preempted his co-star and requested a trade first, sources said.
And it appears both Westbrook and Beal are factoring the uncertainty of each other's long-term Wizards status when determining their own. Both All-Stars can become free agents next summer by declining player options for the 2022-23 season as well.
After Philadelphia eliminated Washington from the playoffs, Beal told reporters it was too soon to discuss his future with the franchise.
"Ultimately, I'm in control," Beal said. "I think that's my biggest thing. People are going to report whatever they want, but I know where my mind is, and I know if it's not coming from the horse's mouth, then it's going to be rumors. I expect them. S--t, they're starting now.
"So it doesn't change anything. I guess it's going to increase a lot more this year with me going into the last year of my deal, but for me, I'm just relaxing, resting my body, and we'll evaluate all that when summer comes."
Beal has still not finalized any decision, but the summer has indeed arrived. There are plenty of personnel around the league who view Beal's recent developments as just another momentary flirtation with a new chapter in his career and that he'll remain in Washington. Yet there's now a palpable expectation Beal may finally pull the trigger and inform Wizards brass of his desire to join a new team, before the Pistons come on the clock at No. 1.
Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.