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The Wizards should reconsider whether Bradley Beal is a long-term fit in light of their recent slump

The Wizards have lost 12 out of the last 17 games and Beal has declined, at least statistically. Can Washington really afford to lock Beal into a huge max contract?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are in the midst of the Washington Wizards’ apparent collapse back to mediocrity right before our very eyes. And with that slump, Bradley Beal’s contract situation is once again a big storyline given their recent slump.

During a recent interview on the Posted Up Podcast with NBA reporter Chris Haynes, Beal expressed his thoughts on his future with the team:

“I got time, so I kinda hold the cards right now. And one, I’ve never been in this position. I’m kinda embracing that, being able to kinda dictate how I want my future to be and where I want it to be,” Beal said on “Posted Up.” “And at the same time, I’m not gonna make that grand commitment and it doesn’t work. Ultimately, you have to be selfish at some point and for probably the first time in my career, Year 10, I am. And so I’m kinda taking advantage of it in a way.

“Obviously, my full commitment is to the team. I want it to work. I’ve contributed to being here. I’ve committed to being here twice. Now, I want to see that commitment to me, as well, that we can create a winning team here, a winning environment here. And granted, I’m a part of that, so I gotta make sure that I’m stepping up and doing my thing, too, just as well.”

Nothing wrong with what he is saying here, but it sounds pretty clear. Beal’s going to do what is best for him and his career and I think the team should start thinking about what is best for itself. Part of that means not committing to signing Beal to a veteran max contract, which could mean letting Beal go for nothing in the off-season or trading him before the trade deadline. Either way, committing to the type of contract should be considered untenable.

Let’s consider just the sum of money that Beal would be eligible to make with this contract. The current extension that has been offered in October for Beal was for 4 years, at $181 million, Beal would rank sixth in average annual value (AAV) for his contract at $45.2 million with that contract.

This puts him slightly behind Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Here’s the thing though. Many of us know, he’s not signing that contract. It doesn’t make financial sense to do so. He would be getting that contract at 30 percent of the team’s salary cap.

By not accepting this contract and opting out of the final deal of his current contract for next season, he can actually get a 5-year, $235 million contract extension instead, which would put his AAV just above Giannis Antetokounmpo from the list above and give him about 35 percent of the team’s salary cap. Do we really think Beal is the type of difference-maker that should be in the class of names on that list? I think most would say no.

Unfortunately, these veteran max contracts are tricky because so many teams have boxed themselves into these max deals and the results have been mixed bags. Players like Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and James Harden have all been traded while being in the middle of a veteran max contract.

These are all amazing players but it also shows how difficult these contracts make for building contenders. Unless you have an amazing and inexpensive roster around those type of players or you have a top-tier superstar player on that deal, the team is limited in what it can do going forward.

With a player like Beal, you have to consider if you are getting the value of that contract in his play. His play thus far this year would say absolutely not.

This year alone Beal is shooting a career-low in three-point percentage (26.8 percent), and tied for 2nd lowest in his career for Effective Shooting Percentage (47.2 percent). This year has been an opportunity for him to justify his stellar play last season and to validate his All-NBA selection, but instead, it has brought forth more questions.

So can you afford to give a player that kind of money, if he may not even be good enough to even be in the All-NBA conversation this year? All-NBA is typically awarded to a player who could arguably be considered in the top 15-20 in the league. So are you willing to make this same player, who based on his play thus far, wouldn’t make that list, to be the fifth highest-paid player in the league? Even at Beal’s best, it’s very difficult to justify this contract for him and to justify a contract that in my opinion should be allocated for the top 5-10 players in the league.

Being a General Manager and a front office executive is perhaps one of the most difficult jobs in sports. The best front offices know how to balance humanity with a sense of heartlessness that is necessary to trade or let go of beloved players. I don’t know if we truly know where Tommy Sheppard falls on that spectrum because although he has had the unwavering public support of keeping Beal, he is also still the man that traded away fan-favorite John Wall (albeit it was likely influenced by ownership as well).

This is not about the person that Brad is, this is not about the family that he is from, this is not about the leader that he is or the humanitarian that he has been in the D.C. community. This is about basketball performance and the economics behind it. History does not show success for these types of deals yielding championship aspirations, which is what we have been told is this team’s goal.

With that said, I have to ask the front office some honest questions. You just spent the past two years ridding yourself of two massive contracts (Wall and Westbrook), why would you continue down this path of adding another one with very little evidence that Beal can lead this team as a No. 1 option?

You have committed to Wes Unseld Jr. as your coach for now and in the future, you have built a team that is still young, yet has a ton of flexibility with restructuring. With the team slumping, losing 12 of its last 17 games, now is the time to really examine if this is the path you want to go down? This is not a small sample size, this, if anything, could be what this team will be for years to come.

At what point do you reverse course and re-consider? If Beal is willing to concede money (which I highly doubt), then there is no problem with keeping him as long as it is a reasonable contract for his value, but if the end of this road leads to the team being boxed into Beal for another five years of $45+ million per year for Beal, I believe it would be a big mistake.

It’s time for this team to go beyond the status quo. You spent this time restructuring this franchise from the ground up, at what point is enough, enough? Will the Wizards finally draw the line with Beal even if that means losing him?