Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The Washington Wizards and Bradley Beal, continue to drive down the same road, hoping that something different happens, but nothing has changed. Since John Wall hurt his Achilles and Tommy Sheppard took over as general manager, the same question has hung over the franchise: when will they trade Beal.
Beal is the NBA’s leading scorer, currently averaging 34.9 points per game, and he improves every year. He’s exactly the sort of player a team would want as a cornerstone — he plays at a consistently high level and he’s a role model for younger teammates.
So why are the pundits surprised when Sheppard refuses to entertain offers for him? Answer: the organization is stuck. Beal signed an extension with the Wizards that gives him the option to become a free agent in the summer of 2022. He hasn’t shied away from explaining why:
“I signed my deal and structured it to where I had some flexibility because, at the end of the day, I still want to win. And the organization has to show me that we want to win,“ Beal said. “I want to see what John [Wall] is like as well. So there’s always going to be hope in that direction. But you still want to be able to protect yourself and kind of be selfish in that regard. How can I create some type of flexibility for myself if we aren’t winning? If I do choose to get out?”
After the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, Beal said this:
“My biggest thing is win now, you know? I wanna win. I’m here under contract for this year, next year and a player option, too. So, it’s just a matter of, we gotta win. And the organization knows that. It’s up to me, too, so I can’t just sit here and…look at (general manager Tommy Sheppard) like he’s crazy. I have to go out and lead the team, put in the work and get better every day and bring the results.”
He’s arguably done everything he can control to help the team win, but the Wizards sit at 3-8. Westbrook is injured and has underperformed. Thomas Bryant is out for the season with a torn knee ligament, and the team can’t defend.
At what point do Beal and the organization get honest with each other? They tried. Beal signed an extension and gave Sheppard the opportunity to build a team around him. It just hasn’t worked.
Honesty is needed because this team doesn’t have the ceiling or financial flexibility to give Beal a winning roster. Continuing down this path will keep the Wizards mired in mediocrity — not good enough to contend and not bad enough to truly rebuild.
The best argument to keep Beal is there’s no guaranty a rebuild will result in anything better than what they are now. Teams all over the league want a guy like Beal, and if the Wizards trade him, they’ll be looking too.
The problem is that Beal wants to win and he’s given himself the flexibility to choose his next team. The Wizards need a path to contention before he can opt out. If there isn’t a realistic path to winning, what do they gain by waiting?
I made the argument last year that patience was advisable and the Wizards had no need to rush a Beal trade. In fact, they didn’t have to and his value has probably increased since then, but there’s a point at which the Wizards need to act and that point is coming at the team as fast as a John Wall fast break. If the Wizards don’t want to repeat mistakes of the past, they need to be proactive and break their reactive pattern.
Trading Beal allows the team to start over and reset the salary cap bind they’re in. It would also load them with assets to accelerate a rebuild. Precedent has been set, trade packages for marquee players like Paul George, Anthony Davis, and James Harden have netted the trading team draft picks, pick swaps, and young players under contract.
What if the Wizards could add a couple players on rookie contracts like Tyler Herro or Precious Achiuwa? What if Sheppard calls his old friend Tim Connelly and constructs a trade package centered around Michael Porter Jr. and picks? While doing so the Wizards can pivot to the future and get Deni Avdija,, Rui Hachimura, and whomever they acquire on-court experience while they position themselves to add their next building block in the talent-filled 2021 draft?
While some question whether a rebuild is doable with Westbrook’s contract on the books, moving Beal positions the Wizards to construct a winner. Washington can transform from a team that year over year operates just below the luxury tax to a team that can build around rookie contracts that aren’t up for renewal until the Westbrook deal expires.
If Beal is a man of his word, it’s a matter of when, not if he requests a trade. So why wait until he asks out and the team is forced to move? It’s time for him, and it’s time for the Wizards.
Beal deserves the playoff stage, and the organization needs to realize that after driving down the same road as long as they have, reaching their desired destination means changing directions.