Bradley Beal is the face of the Washington Wizards franchise. Their financial commitment to him and his commitment to stay in the District solidified that this past summer. With that said, his importance on his new contract is greater than ever if this team wants to move past the benchmarks they’ve set since this retool around Beal began. Now, coming his worst season in the NBA since his rookie contract. Is there reason for concern? We ask our debaters in Part 2 of our debate on Beal’s place in the NBA hierarchy!
Moderator: Since Part 1 ended in agreement between the debaters let me play devil’s advocate. Beal’s recent larger body of work would indicate last year is possibly an outlier. If he can get back to the form that made him all-NBA, can this team elevate out of the play-in or will that require another player becoming the “alpha”? As mentioned in Part 1, Yanir pro-Beal stance flipped mid-debate so Renzo is picking up the slack and presenting that side of the debate.
Yanir: For anybody that has been reading Kevin Broom’s body of work here in BulletsForever, the answer is unfortunately a painfully loud NO to your first question. History shows us, the best version of Beal is a very good shooter next to an elite point-guard. As the alpha with heavy usage Beal can log over 30 points a night but those numbers come rather inefficiently.
The team construction is problematic and not putting Beal in any sort of way of form in position to succeed at the level that is expected from him or that his own statements project.
Kevin Broom argues that Beal would be perfect as the 2nd, or even better as 3rd, best player on a team. I agree. Moreover, and while this may be off topic, the Wizards should have traded Beal when his value and contract where attractive, i.e., two years ago, or even a year ago. To give an idea of where Beal’s value is right now, I’ll share something from discussions I’ve had with league sources.
From what I’m hearing, If Beal were included in a hypothetical trade with the Lakers, the Wizards would have to take back Russell Westbrook and his terrible (but expiring) contract and then get just ONE of the Lakers coveted future picks (maybe some second rounders could be thrown in). Beal’s value has plummeted that much. And, IF the Wizards want to get any sort of valuable players back in a trade for Beal they might actually have to throw in some picks since Beal is owed so much money and has that ridiculous no-trade clause.
Renzo: It feels odd contradicting myself, but isn’t that an essential part of Wizards fandom? It’s a constant state of trying to convince yourself everything’s fine despite the on-court product setting your eyes on fire at times. But I digress.
To your point Yanir, I’d argue that with Bradley Beal the expectations have to be realistic. Knocking him because he can’t be a true alpha is somewhat unfair. There are seven or eight guys in the NBA who can put their team on their backs to win a playoff series. Brad, bless his soul, doesn’t figure to be one of those guys. We know that at this point.
But we’ve seen players who are more or less at the same talent-level as Beal spearhead postseason runs in the recent past. Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, and Damian Lillard come to mind. The difference there is that they’ve had much, much better supporting casts than Brad has ever had since making the leap as an All-Star player.
Here’s who the Wiz have had as their second and third best players since Beal’s age-25 season:
- 2018-19: John Wall for 32 games, Jeff Green (?)
- 2019-20: Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans
- 2020-21: Russell Westbrook, Rui Hachimura
- 2021-22: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kristaps Porzingis represents not only a much better on-court match for Beal, but also has a ceiling as a game-changing two-way talent that Brad has simply never played with since coming into his own as a star.
Not only does he have KP, but he still has two of the guys who once flanked him as number two in Kuzma and Hachimura. Washington now also owns the deepest supporting cast it has had in a while, filled with veterans who are actually playoff-ready.
I’m not saying that Beal wouldn’t be better off as a number two, or even three like you mentioned, but the players who don’t fall under that category, we can count on our fingers.
If the question is about this team potentially elevating beyond play-in status, Bradley Beal with a deep roster he’s never had before could conceivably threaten the top six. This is the first real shot he’s actually getting.
Beal won’t play like the fourth-best player in the NBA like his top-four salary indicates. But if he turns in an All-NBA season like he did in the past and a healthy Porzingis regains his star form during a contract year, this team could outplay preseason expectations.
Moderator: Yanir, you said in your answer that “Beal would be perfect as the 2nd, or even better as 3rd, best player on a team. I agree.” So why not make that the plan? Why not find a way to unlock the pick owed to now New York from the John Wall deal and use multiples first round picks/swaps to get a star next to Beal? Would that be a flawed plan if Beal returns to form and has four years left on his contract?
Yanir: The best way to unlock that pick is to tank this year. The pick is lottery protected this year. And we’re talking about a draft that has Victor Wembanyama. Oh, and if you don’t get the #1 pick you can come away with Scoot Henderson! I can’t believe this team isn’t prioritizing Wemby and the possibility of adding a French Wizards Twitter account.
But seriously, I mean who are the Wizards kidding?
They say we don’t want to trade Beal and he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. Right? Is that not the exact same thing that everyone dictated after the John Wall super-max extension? People can go at Ernie all day and all decade, but the fact of the matter is that he put together the most competitive team in Wizards recent memory. And, once the “never-to-traded-will-retire-in-DC” John Wall had to be traded it was possible to do that and even get something in return.
With Beal I just feel like the Wizards made a fundamental, gigantic mistake that very probably means they will not contend for a championship in the next 5 years. His contract just crippled his organization for the foreseeable future.
So to answer your question: If the Wizards do tank this year and end up with a top two pick, they will be adding a rookie with the potential to become better than Beal say within 2 years (if all goes well). That means that they can possibly contend for something in the 2025-26 season ASSUMING their other moves are perfect. If they don’t end up with either of the top two picks but still land a reasonably high one then yes they can bundle up whatever draft capital they have in the future and mortgage it to get second-tier star, maybe something like Mitchell or Gobert or Dejounte. Will that be enough to contend already in 2023-24? I have serious doubts.
Renzo: We’re at the point where any discussion around Bradley Beal nowadays devolves into how they should have traded him and how it’s a monumental blunder that they decided to keep him. I fall victim to this as well.
But at the end of the day, he’s here and playing next season. The team is clearly not going to tank - at least intentionally - so it’s a moot point. If we’re halfway decent next season then there’s little chance we’re getting Scoot or Wemby and if we’re bad then we’ll probably bottom out, sit Beal, and throw our hat in the lottery ring.
That’s not the topic at hand, though. The focus instead should be about how they should build around Beal cause it’s crystal clear that’s what we’re trying to do.
To answer Osman’s question on trading multiple picks to acquire a star, even in a pro-Beal stance the answer should be a qualified no. The risk factor is just too immense for a team with way too many question marks on it right now to gamble on another All-Star.
If we’re bad next season there’s a very real possibility that Beal could bolt with his bag in hand and we’ll be left vulnerable for years to come.
What the Wizards must do is wait and see what they have in the coming year. There’s a reality, albeit an improbable one, wherein Beal plays like a borderline top 10 player and Porzingis flirts with All-Star status once again. If that best-case scenario shakes out, then the Wizards could potentially pounce on whoever star is disgruntled at the deadline or in the offseason.
Barring that, they should be taking calculated risks on trades like they did with Kristaps. For all the deserved criticism Tommy Sheppard gets, his low-risk, medium-reward gamble on KP is arguably the biggest X-factor that raises our ceiling next season.
Before any of us can give a proper verdict on what the right way to operate around Beal is, he and the team first have to show us what we’re working with.
From there, we have to either be all in or pull the plug completely. There can be no middle ground.