We’re on to our next Bullets Forever 3-Point Play! We’ve danced around it, but after the embarrassing loss to the Clippers, the noise around Bradley Beal and his commitment to the Washington Wizards has picked up. Per David Aldridge and Joshua Robbins of The Athletic;
Multiple league sources have indicated Beal remains conflicted. His desire to stay for his entire career with the franchise that took him third overall in 2012 remains genuine. But Beal also remains uncertain about whether the Wizards can surround him with difference-making talent that will make them a regular playoff contender.
We are in the middle of year three in Ted, Tommy, and Brad’s plan to retool around Beal. Two seasons ago they were the 9th seed going into the Bubble, last season they were the 8th seed, and this season they are currently the 11th seed, out of the play-in if the season were to end today.
We wanted to ask out contributors the following questions, 1) Should they continue trying to build around Brad, 2) Can they build a good team around Brad and, 3) If you want to trade Beal, how would you even go about it?. This is the topic that will define the next five or more years of the organization so we wanted to touch every angle of the topic!
Lyndie Wood: Can they build a *better* team around Brad? A respectable middle of the East team in no danger of missing the playoffs? Of course they can, though it will take some patience and luck. The Wizards have a roster full of role players who deserve a place in the NBA, but talent at the top alongside Brad is lacking.
The problem is, it’s not clear that the right trade is there right now for consolidating some of that depth for. I know many are high on Jerami Grant - a player I like a lot - but I think the Wizards should look for more of a play-maker. (Yes, Grant gives a defensive boost, but I think more play-making will have a bigger impact).
Still, I don’t know that Wizards fans want a team that aspires to the 4th or 5th seed. Can they build a great team around Beal? Probably not. That isn’t to say that Beal can’t be a max player on a great team, but he needs to be paired with other great players and it’s hard to see how that happens here without extraordinary luck. The Wizards have not historically been a free top agent destination and I don’t think that’s likely to change in the next year, nor are there likely trades to bring in that level of talent. I do think a Beal-Ben Simmons pairing would be a fascinating experiment that I’d like to see, if Morey relents a bit on his asking price for Simmons. But it’s a high-risk move.
But to Zoom out a bit: This team is in an *ideal* position to blow it up. Beal has obvious appeal to any second-tier contender. But the entire roster is full of useful players who should be tradable for picks and prospects. That seems like a terrible opportunity to waste for a team currently just trying to make the play-in.
Yanir Rubinstein: I doubt I have any great insights or revelations here beyond what the discerning fan already knows, the Wizards are self-declared perennial “playoffs contenders”, oops, I mean “play-In contenders”. With Brad willing to tag along they’ll achieve that lofty goal and maybe some change. The only way he will agree to languish in D.C. mediocrity for the rest of his prime is if the Wizards pay him the super-max, which is about 16.6% more than any other team can or will pay him. That’s a lot of money to say no to. So there you have scenario 1 — the most likely one.
Scenario 2 is Beal asks out to try to pursue a title as the 2nd or 3rd best player on a deep team with a bonafide super-star. Perhaps this is done via a sign-and-trade.
When you ask - what should the Wizards do - the problem is with the “should”. Should as a revenue stream in a portfolio that includes various teams across several sports as well as an entertainment giant, not to speak of part ownership of media? Let’s not forget that Monumental is MSE - with the E standing for entertainment. This is show biz!
Marcus Atkinson: I have been saying for about a year and half now, Brad has to go. I understand that this is a business and you have to make money, but check this out: the Wizards with Bradley Beal as their center piece, they are 29th in the league in attendance. Teams like the Pacers, Kings, Rockets and Magic fill up a higher percentage of their arenas than the Wizards.
Show somebody who doesn’t watch basketball in this region a picture of Beal, and how many will be able to identify him? What does a casual fan know him for? Having an anti-vax rant before the season? Anything else?? That might have been the most notable non-basketball thing he has done in his whole career (even though we know there is a lot more to him than that), so what is the appeal to a casual fan to watch him? And I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, but he isn’t the box office draw that people make him out to be, it’s just a group of people who root for this team that tell you this, but the numbers say otherwise.
I think we have seen where this train is going. You may peak as a mid-tier team that makes some noise here and there, but you don’t have room to improve and you are probably going to miss out on top end talent in the draft because you will likely keep drafting outside of the lottery, because you’re not going to be one of the worst teams either.
The reality is, unless there is some disgruntled superstar or a soon to be free agent, it’s hard to see a scenario this season that makes sense to add a player around Beal. I think what they can do is perhaps consolidate some of their redundant pieces to hopefully get a better quality player with the idea of possibly packaging that player in the future. That’s probably the most realistic path to at least build a good team around Beal. It would take a few years but even then there is a lot that has to go right.
If I were to trade Beal, I would want to get some draft capital and some young players. I know some people are saying, if he gets traded it’s probably someone with a late 1st round pick (aka a contender). That’s fine because then you can possibly package picks and move up or use those picks along with some other players (Deni, Rui, etc.) and acquire another player. I think the point is it’s better to have flexibility than to commit to a player that is going to be overpaid and locks you into the roster the under-performing core you have now.
Teams like Charlotte let go of Kemba Walker, and Jazz let go of Gordon Hayward, ultimately they made great moves thereafter and ended up in a better position. The problem is this fan base is so jaded they are afraid if we let him go that we won’t find a player comparable. That’s why you have a front office, let them do their job and find those players, but holding on to a player out of fear is nonsensical especially when it doesn’t put you closer to your goals.
Yanir Rubinstein: Marcus, great points. I wouldn’t read too much into the raw attendance percentage numbers, especially in a pandemic season with different cities having different rules regarding capacity. In the raw “total” numbers for home-game attendance the Wizards are 19th and they were also 19th back in 2018/19. Sure, they don’t quite fill the arena - they were 24th that season in attendance percentage which is still low - but it was over 86% which isn’t bad at all.
Note two things: 1) the low attendance numbers, while low, are pretty good from a revenue point of view and 2) the numbers can also be explained by D.C. not being a basketball city, or other factors. I think the front-office realizes that if they trade Beal and tank the attendance will be even worse for several years. Hence, their business model with Beal gives a better bottom line in the year-end report.
I disagree about Beal having negligible NIL. Last year pumped up his NIL quite a bit as he was chasing Curry for the scoring title and basketball fans all around the world now know who Beal is. Sure, he’s no A-Lister, but hey, when has D.C. last attracted anybody of that caliber? Beal is a star that is about right for this market.
We’ll have Part 2 of this round-table tomorrow but in the meantime, what do you think? Are the Wizards driving down a road to nowhere? If they are, is there time to change directions?