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Even with a second half surge, the Wizards should trade Bradley Beal

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The Wizards recent signs of life should not cloud the team’s long term projection if they continue down the path with Beal as the franchise cornerstone.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards embark on the second half of the season after showing signs of life with eight wins in their last 11 games before the All-Star break. This stretch brought new hope that the team turned the corner and will play up to the expectations many had coming into the season. Unfortunately, the run masks a difficult situation that needs to be addressed — the future of Bradley Beal in Washington.

A year ago, I was a staunch supporter of Beal staying with the franchise. He encompasses everything you would want in the face of your franchise. He’s an excellent player, who continues to improve every year. He is also smart, well-spoken, a great community contributor, a family man and a role model for many in the city, region and beyond. He’s been open about remaining loyal to the franchise and staying with the team through the years of losing. To me, his character has given the franchise just as much value as his play.

That said, as the season kicked off and the Wizards started slow, my thoughts of a future with Beal took a serious turn. There are a number of factors — even with a possible second-half surge — that make him staying with the Wizards an untenable endeavor.

Beal’s salary

According to Spotrac.com, Beal’s two-year extension begins in the 2021-22 season, with Beal making $34.5 million. With just eight players under contract, the Wizards’ salary is expected to total $119 million. That’s before adding draft picks or free agents.

The final year of his extension, which has a player option, Beal will make $37.2 million. For 2022-23, the Wizards are already committed to $111 million in salary to just five players.

In other words, there’s little flexibility to build a winning team around Beal. And it could get worse. Given his trajectory as a player, the smart business move would be for him to opt out of the final year of his extension and become a free agent in 2022. That would raise the price tag even more if the Wizards want to keep him beyond next season.

After the 2021-22 season, Beal will have reached his 10th year of service, which means he can be paid the greater of 35 percent of the salary cap or 105 percent of his previous season’s salary. He’d receive up to an 8 percent increase each subsequent season, which could be part of a five-year extension.

Such a contract would lead to Beal making close to $50 million in the final year, which would come when he’s 34 years old. This financial commitment, while also paying the last two years of Russell Westbrook’s contract, and the last four years of Davis Bertans’, would severely limit the team’s flexibility going forward.

Here’s the important question: With Beal’s potential cap requirements going forward, can the team contend with Beal, Westbrook and Bertans consuming more than 70% of the cap for the next two years? If that’s not feasible, what can they do to gain cap flexibility to build a winning roster? Look at the team realistically, and it’s clear: Beal is the team’s easiest big money chip to move, and trading him would gain the team enough financial relief to begin constructing a competitive team.

Development of Younger Players

This season, Beal is tied with the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic in usage (34.9 percent). Last season, he finished sixth. These usage jumps coincided with his massive increase in points per game and his league-leading scoring. There is no doubt that Beal has turned into one of the league’s most prolific scoring threats, capable of doing damage as a three-level scorer. That said, this style is similar to how many guards have played in Scott Brooks’ isolation-heavy offenses.

As a result, other players are left without the same opportunities to score and to develop. It’s possible this is a product of coaching and that replacing Brooks could shift possessions to players like Rui Hachimura or Deni Avdija.

But that’s an unknown and a gamble. What if this is who Beal is as a player, regardless of coach? Are the Wizards willing to box their young developing talents into off-the-ball contributors, when perhaps they have the potential of more? This is the unfortunate downside of a ball dominant player like Beal.

This raises another issue: Is Brooks receiving a contract extension? We had a two-part roundtable on that earlier this week.

Bringing him back would almost surely create a situation similar to what’s been on display this season with players like Hachimura, Avdija and Troy Brown Jr. struggling to find consistent roles because of a system that isn’t designed to accentuate their skill sets.

Either of these scenarios, which would limit the development of the Wizards’ young players, could keep the Wizards from developing contributors around Beal and limit the potential of what the team could accomplish.

Beal’s value is greater as a trade asset than as the Wizards’ franchise player

Yes, you have heard the rumors. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Lakers, the Heat, the Nuggets, the Clippers or just about any team in the league. There’s been a rumored trade between that team and the Wizards that involves Beal. This makes sense because just as many of us recognize Beal’s value, other teams and their fanbases recognize it as well. With his profile raised as an All-Star starter, these rumors will persist.

There is real appeal for a player like Beal. As much as we’re concerned about his usage the past couple seasons, he has shown the ability to play effectively off the ball. He is one of the few elite scorers who has shown the ability to produce in different roles.

Contending teams may see this as an asset because it’s an opportunity to acquire a player, who is good enough to go for 30-plus on a given night, but also capable of deferring when needed. This could allow him to fit with other stars without ruining chemistry.

The numerous reports of trade proposals indicate that teams are lining up to acquire Beal’s services. His value and reputation could drive a bidding war. With all of these factors in mind, his value as an asset may never be higher.

The Wizards faced this situation recently when the option to trade Otto Porter and his cap crippling extension from 2017 ultimately limited the team’s potential for success. They waited too long and ended up giving him away for Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis and a 2023 second round pick in 2019. Since Parker and Portis aren’t on the Wizards anymore, they traded Porter for almost nothing. Does it make sense to waste yet another opportunity to sell high and reap the benefits of perhaps the best trade asset the team has ever had?

Conclusion

Signing Beal to a long-term extension would be a good omen and a feel-good opportunity for the franchise. But if the team has aspirations to better than a run-of-the-mill lower-tier playoff team, it’s time to make the difficult decision and trade Beal. As sad as it may be,Beal is Washington’s most tradeable asset, he will yield the biggest return, and a deal will give this team the best chance to reboot as a viable contender in the future.