Not only did the Washington Wizards give Bradley Beal a 5-year, $251 million contract, they decided to bid against themselves and sweeten the pot. They also included a no-trade clause, a 15 percent trade kicker, and a player option in his final season.
As I explained in this week’s Bleav in Wizards podcast and will attempt to do here to some degree, this is some next-level self-sabotage. They should have been negotiating from somewhat of a position of strength because only they could give Beal the full amount of money he wanted. Worst-case scenario, they could have arranged a sign-and-trade for him and netted at least minimal assets. Actually, the real worst-case scenario would have been to let him walk for nothing and just move on with the open cap space.
Instead, they gave away the farm for seemingly no reason. If Beal decides he wants to leave after this season, their hands are now completely tied. Yes, they probably would have made a good-faith effort to trade him to a favorable destination anyway but now they have no choice but to do that, which significantly weakens their future negotiating position.
It’s brilliant for Beal because he could force a trade and now his new team is giving up lesser assets to acquire him, thus keeping the team around him stronger. It was nonsensical for the Wizards’ front office to do this. Their job is to make the team as strong as possible, not placate Beal at all costs. To be clear, I don't blame Beal for accepting it or his agent for asking for it, that's what they should do. I blame the Wizards for going along with it.
By not trading Beal over the last several seasons, I felt very strongly they had to give him this max deal because it gave them their best chance at recouping maximum value from him when he inevitably decides he wants to take the money and run. However, even a Wizards doomsday prepper like myself didn’t see this coming. There’s no rational justification I can think of for them to include these stipulations in his contract other than total panic and desperation.
All I can think of is that Beal and his agent played chicken by threatening to leave all that extra money on the table to go elsewhere. Presumably, Ted Leonsis and/or Tommy Sheppard panicked and were worried about the optics of letting a marquee free agent leave for nothing. But this line of thinking highlights exactly how tone-deaf they are because this outcome will be received far less favorably by fans and national media than just letting him leave would have been.
For the first time in a while, I truly do not know where the Wizards go from here. If Beal stays, he continues to hold all the leverage and they’ll make marginal win-now moves under the guise of appeasing Beal’s “desire to win.” Or they’ll trade him for absolute table scraps, probably taking back bad salaries in the process because no trade partner is incentivized to offer them much of positive value. Yes, Beal can waive the no-trade clause and trade kicker but he’s only going to do so to a team he’s already tampered with and told he wants to come.
Whether the Wizards are still “attempting to compete” with Beal as the focal point (if that’s what you can call what they’ve been doing the last few seasons) or they sell him off for spare parts that don’t help expedite a rebuild, they’ve totally mortgaged the future by agreeing to these contract stipulations with him.
Ultimately, I hold Leonsis responsible for any and all missteps by the organization. However, as a vocal Tommy Sheppard apologist, I'm extremely disappointed in him. His involvement in the John Wall and Russell Westbrook trades gave me enough hope they he would forgo any sentimentality with a player in favor of improving the team.
On an older episode of Bleav in Wizards, Larry Hughes and Gilbert Arenas talked about their respective contract negotiations with Ernie Grunfeld. I can't fully dissociate Grunfeld from his protégé and I think there are some relevant parallels to how the Beal situation is being handled.
Grunfeld low-balled Hughes to the point that Hughes walked away from negotiations, even though previous owner Abe Pollin wanted the deal to get done (to the point where he actually cried when it didn't happen). Grunfeld started with such a low salary offer he never allowed himself to overpay, even though the owner was willing to do that.
Arenas similarly indicated that Grunfeld wasn't keen on offering him exactly what he wanted but ultimately Pollin stepped in and overruled him. Much like with the Randy Foye and Mike Miller trade, Grunfeld capitulated to his owner even though he didn't think the move made sense for the organization in the long run.
I had high hopes that Sheppard would either have enough autonomy to avoid bad contracts like this one altogether or enough professional pride to not want his name attached to such an obviously counterproductive deal. This reeks of another example of owner interference and front office capitulation.
Leonsis can flex on Twitter about locking in his franchise player. One who didn't flash gang signs like Wall or spurn him by asking for a trade like Westbrook. For Leonsis, the value of owning an NBA franchise will continue to increase and locking in Beal assures just enough winning and revenue that he won't lose anything in the short term while his long-term investment continues to mature. The only people this move hurts are fans who actually have some desire to see the team eventually build a competitive roster.