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Washington’s real transition of power rests with the Wizards

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Yes, there will be a new President of the United States. But the direction of the Washington Wizards can change the balance of power in the NBA over the next several years.

NBA: Bradley Beal dunks as James Harden watches
NBA: Bradley Beal dunks as James Harden watches.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As a collective, Americans represent what the world wants to be: cool, leaders, funny, cultured, dominant, creative, innovative. But sectarian labels — Democrat, Republican, Socialist, Vegan, Pronouns, to name a few — are chipping away at the togetherness, however feeble, that Americans once shared. Need proof of frayed seams? Look to the group of Americans that stormed the People’s House, ruining America’s name as they ransacked her Capitol.

With the world watching, the onus is on us to seek to understand before upbraiding, to be considerate when critical, and to know that there’s more in common than what separates. If not for human decency, please do it for sports. Understanding others is the only way to return awesome trash talk back to the game.

Attention is on Washington D.C. with a focus on a potentially imminent transition of power. With James Harden traded to the Brooklyn Nets, fans have begun the Bradley Beal trade watch. Teams want to add the Wizards superstar in the hope that Beal transforms a good team into a powerful one built to compete into June.

The reasons are clear enough: The Wizards are bringing up the rear of its division, dealing with an insane coronavirus pandemic, and hampered by injuries to two of the starting five. The cold facts do nothing to muzzle the out-of-tune carolers chanting to trade Beal and rebuild.

“In the NBA, picks, especially high picks, are the best currency,” Houston’s GM Rafael Stone recently said. “Everybody likes them. Everybody values them.”

I get it — compiling assets is a tempting shortcut. But until the teams that have done it this way — 76ers, Celtics, Thunder, Pelicans, and now the Rockets — get over the hump, I can’t view the stack-picks-to-snag-talent strategy as a reliable strategy for contending.

Most of the proponents of trading Beal reference Harden. But, the Beard is in his 30s and thus in win-absolutely-freaking-now mode. Beal is younger, less mercurial, and is just beginning to scratch the surface of his powers. As one media member put it, “[t]here’s an argument to be made that Beal has more appeal . . . than Harden does.”

So, isn’t a trade a bit premature?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Washington Wizards
Beal watch has begun
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Beal is more analogous to Harden when he went to Houston in 2012 and his GM, Daryl Morey, went to work constructing a roster to maximize Harden’s talent. Even if you think Harden is better than Beal or that Beal is the proverbial No. 2 star instead of the leading light, you can agree that the Wizards should likewise construct a roster built to maximize the talents of its prolific scoring guard.

There are some “should?” questions: Should the team move Beal to point guard? Should it fix its leaky defense by pumping in 3-and-D wings to save Beal’s energy for offense? We don’t know the answers.

What we know is that the team must attract talent. And there are some positives that suggest that the team can. But what makes us think other stars will want to come to Washington to form a powerful team?

First, Beal hasn’t reached his peak. Last season, he was the league’s second-leading scorer. For an encore, he’s currently first, pouring in 34.9 points a night. The dynamic baller has even reached the rare air where it’s surprising when he misses a shot. Shooting a hair length away from 50 percent tends to do that.

And he hasn’t done it in a selfish manner. Complementing the gaudy scoring numbers, Beal has developed into a respectable playmaker, averaging five helpers a night. Lethal scorer, decent passer — as Dragon Ball Z’s Frieza tells it, “this isn’t even [Beal’s] final form.” These years (call it his pre-peak) suggest that Beal may continue to get better. Or maybe not. But if the pre-peak performances are scintillating, the next 3-5 years, with Beal at the height of his powers, should likewise be sensational.

So far, the Wizards possess a superstar talent, star talent (Russell Westbrook is hurt. Let’s judge him when healthy), and decent role players. As NBA contemporaries continue to be amazed by his prowess for scoring the Spalding, the brightness of Beal’s star status may light the way for another great player to join him here in D.C.

Granted, some major stars avoided the city recently. But with today’s transition of power, one can reasonably suspect athletes’ self-imposed avoidance of the city to end. And as more athletes leverage talent(s) to create a brand, media markets matter more than ever. To attract an additional star, Tommy Sheppard can sell the fact that Washington is home to the seventh largest sports market in the United States, as well as the opportunity for unlimited Eastern Motors endorsements.

But before we get too whimsical, the brass must first ask Beal what it is he needs and wants. Put differently, build around him. If the Wizards brass holds that conversation, get Beal that help, then when Brooklyn’s reign ends — let’s face it: no one’s beating Brooklyn in the East — the transition of power will run through Washington, and D.C.’s basketball team will be next to rise above all else in the East.