Ben Mehic and Osman Baig has an informal discussion on Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards All-Star’s future in the nation’s capital. Here it is.
Ben: So, for whatever reason, (perhaps I’ve become too caught up in the constant pessimism surrounding the team), you and I don’t seem to agree about an awful lot when it comes to the Washington Wizards.
We recently had a back-and-forth on Bradley Beal — specifically about his comments at media day. “It’ll be a year of patience and a year of learning and a year of growing, but, you know, to each his own,” Beal said. “I’m not worried about other people’s opinion.”
Beal has been in the trade rumor mill — and it’ll probably remain that way until he signs an extension with the team (which I don’t think he will do). However, I can see how someone would become hopeful after reading those comments.
How did you take this -- as Beal kind of being content with his place on the roster and the makeup of the team?
Oz: Over the summer, as teams made pitches for Beal and were reportedly rebuffed, the cynical take on the Wizards refusal to entertain offers for Beal was “well, wait until he’s losing by 30 every night on a 20-win team.”
We never actually heard Beal say or concede that this is in essence a rebuild year and I think his quote from media day finally acknowledges that. Sure, he’d like to make the playoffs but “a year of patience” doesn’t entail that the playoffs are his ultimate goal and considering how this season may go, it’s a positive that he recognizes that going in. If wins and losses were going to be the barometer of his willingness to stay, wouldn’t he request a trade now given he is acknowledging and accepting where the team is in their reconstruction?
Ben: Beal is the ultimate competitor. It’s why he’s an all-NBA level player. He’ll never concede that the Wizards are, in essence, tanking this season. I can’t get into Beal’s mind, but I imagine that he’s had the thought of, “if Isaiah Thomas can come into form, Thomas Bryant keeps playing the way he did last year, and Rui Hachimura contributes immediately,” maybe we won’t be so bad after all. I’ll admit -- I’ve had the same thought. But a reality check is going to come -- and it will happen soon. While other all-NBA level players are competing for championships, there’s a good shot Beal, in his prime, will be on a 30-win Wizards team. I think you’re discrediting the reality of losing a bit. Patience is temporary, no? What do the Wizards have in place to convince him to stick around long-term?
Oz: Beal calling it a year of patience doesn’t mean he expects it to be a 20-win team that is constantly being run out of the gym. The Cleveland Cavaliers last year won 19 games; their leading scorer was Jordan Clarkson at 16.8 ppg and they had a -9.6 differential, worst in the NBA. I’m sorry, but barring an injury to Beal, I don’t see how a team featuring him sniffs that level of futility. There’s a difference between that type of bad season and an Atlanta Hawks type of one. The Hawks won 27 games, five less than Wizards did last season but if you asked most people, the Hawks had a successful season and the Wizards were a bitter disappointment.
Beal is finally in position to be the leader of the organization, a role which he seems to be embracing. By accounts, he was heavily involved in the recruitment of Thomas Bryant, a player who entering his second season in Washington is integral to the team’s upside and probably Beal’s future here.
It’s also important to note that Beal won’t have control over where he’s traded. I’m sure the Wizards will try to do right by Beal, but they also would have to take the best possible return to position themselves for future success? What if that means Beal goes to the Knicks or another non-contender or Miami?
Ben: And I think that’s the question Beal is asking himself — “do I want to be in this situation?” He recently spoke to The Athletic’s Fred Katz and said, “what’s the direction the team’s going in? Are we gonna win? Is this what we want?”
I don’t want us over-analyzing his quotes, but it’s clear that Beal will have to weigh two things: 1) being “the man” on a bad team with some promise, 2) contributing to a winning team while playing a co-star role.
At 26-years-old, Beal is in his prime. He knows how this thing works. John Wall was sold the same dream -- “stick with it, it’s going to happen.” It never did. Now Wall is in his 10th year, and the Wizards are rebuilding again. I’m obviously not an NBA player, but I imagine it’s easier to play with, say, Jimmy Butler and the veterans in Miami than it would be the raw young players in Washington. Another thing that I wanted to point out -- players don’t necessarily assess their situations like we do. Sure — the Hawks have promise, but they also didn’t have a single accomplished vet (except for Vince Carter) on the roster. If you put any all-NBA level player on that team, he probably would be in the trade rumors, too. Those types of players usually don’t “stick it out” on rebuilding teams because their careers are finite.
Oz: That however goes back to my initial point.
“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?”
Beal knows what he’s getting into this year and still has not formerly rejected the extension offer or requested a trade per Katz. So it comes down to how much progress is made and if he sees light at the end of the tunnel.
I don’t think this is similar to the Wall situation because the model Ernie Grunfeld chased in building around Wall/Beal was surround them with complimentary parts until they can trade for a 3rd star (which they never could do). In following that model, Grunfeld mortgaged picks and future financial flexibility and as we know it didn’t work.
We don’t know what Bryant’s ceiling is, we don’t know what Rui’s is. We knew what Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris’ were. This team can make progress and show the right trajectory throughout the season and still be in position to land a Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton, LaMelo Ball, or Anthony Edwards. Is that enough to sell Beal? I don’t think anyone, including Beal himself knows but if the Wizards can develop three to four legit young players around Beal this season and add a potential star next summer in the draft, that’s a better plan then they ever had to take the 2014-2018 Wall/Beal teams to the next level.
Ben: I think we agree on this more than I originally thought. Maybe I’m just a tad more skeptical on the Wizards’ ability to sell Beal on this team.
As much as I love the likes of Bryant, Brown and Hachimura, I’m just not sure their ceilings are high enough to convince a star in his prime to stay on a losing team. Anthony Davis was guaranteed an opportunity to play with Jrue Holiday (an all-star) and Zion Williamson (the most talked-about prospect since LeBron James, arguably), and he ultimately decided to move on to a more competitive team. Davis, like Beal, is 26. The situations are kind of similar. The front office changed in New Orleans too -- David Griffin has proved to be a really solid general manager -- yet he still wanted out. Tommy Sheppard and Co. have given the fanbase much to get excited about -- his approach to building a team is obviously different than Grunfeld’s. But, given how this team is structured, it’s hard to see how Sheppard will make the Wizards competitive within the next two-three years.
So to wrap up my side of things, I’d just say this: I hope Beal sticks around because he’s proven to be a legitimate star, a top-15 player when he really gets it going. But even if he decides that it’s time to move on, I won’t blame him -- and I’ll celebrate his time in Washington. He’s a pro -- he works harder than anyone on the roster, and he wants to win. I hope he’s able to accomplish that in D.C., but I’ll root for him wherever he ends up.
Oz: We do agree that Beal can certainly want out at some point, I just think he’ll be mindful of more than wins and losses 30 or 40 games into what is a rebuilding season, before sacrificing control over where he’ll play through this contract and perhaps punting on a supermax contract. It behooves all parties to see what Bryant, Rui, and Brown can do before making a decision on the future. I may be higher on Bryant and Rui’s ceiling then you are which leads me to believe he may commit.
Ultimately this is a year of patience but they didn’t gut the team. They got rid of players who were providing diminishing returns at bloated salaries (mostly) and brought in a lot of players who haven’t earned that second NBA contract and have a lot to play for. Many of the players on this team don’t have the luxury of sulking if they want to be a part of the future here or even have a future in the NBA. A rebuild doesn’t have to take as long as the process did, and if a few of the young players pan out, it won’t.
I get how people can view this as drinking the Kool-Aid but the way it should work is that a few guys will hit, and others won’t. It would take extreme bad luck for everyone to face plant. The few guys who hit will be playing alongside an all-NBA caliber player entering his prime. We knew the 2014-2018 Wizards had a ceiling. This iteration is behind that iteration right now but until we see how good Beal can be in a lead role and how good the young players (and next year’s pick can be), there’s just a lot we don’t know - and Beal doesn’t know. Everyone should take a step back and let it play out for a little while.