We’re back for the latest installment of Broom & Rubinstein converse — a running series of written conversations between Bullets Forever writers Kevin Broom and Yanir Rubinstein. If you like nerds discussing hoops — this one’s for you.
KEVIN BROOM: The Wizards
got around to trading their previously designated “franchise cornerstone.” The move was three to four years too late and netted them a return much smaller than a player of Bradley Beal’s abilities would warrant because of the egregious own-goal no-trade clause blunder.
YANIR RUBINSTEIN: Beal was the de facto GM, and his trade is the actual beginning of the Dawkins-Winger era. Leonsis should take the blame for the bad contract, but Winger clearly sold somewhat lower than market value. I mean, I thought that a NTC allows you to choose your destination, but not who comes the other way! But Beal reportedly vetoed an Ayton trade??
KB: A few thoughts. Don’t let Sheppard off the hook.
YR: Just let him off the books...
KB: He was responsible for negotiating the contract, and his approach was quite literally to offer Beal every permutation of a maximum salary contract. Beal did what was logical: he accepted provisions like the NTC and the trade kicker. Leonsis, for some reason, approved the deal.
YR: Hold it... Sheppard didn’t just develop this approach in vacuum! Leonsis was setting the agenda, year-in and year-out. The corporate moto was Contending for the Play-In. Do you have any doubt that Leonsis made keeping Beal in D.C. a sine qua non?
KB: I actually do have some doubt about that, but it’s kinda irrelevant. Sheppard was in charge of the negotiation, and he did not actually negotiate. He acted like Beal would be doing them a favor by accepting $251 million. Plus, part of Sheppard’s role — part of any top executive’s role — is to advise the owner on strategy. Just following orders has never been a useful way of leading an organization or an effective defense.
Maybe the experience of working with Sheppard and Grunfeld helped Winger ultimately persuaded Leonsis the team was on the wrong course. Or maybe Leonsis would have listened to a reasoned argument about the need to do something different.
YR: Look, Leonsis was clearly involved in shipping John Wall. We also know how highly Leonsis (and Sheppard) valued “character” and “loyalty” and Beal clearly fit that ticket as the “franchise player” once they decided the John Wall era was over. I think Sheppard getting the job was a further nod to the working assumption that everything should be built around Beal.
So, yes, Sheppard could have negotiated to have NNTC (=no NTC), but he was basically hired and extended by Leonsis to build around Beal.
KB: I agree, but...well...there’s no evidence suggesting Sheppard was anything but all-in on that strategy. A possible reason for Leonsis’ apparent belief that building around Beal was feasible, and that making the playoffs was a worthwhile goal, was that executives like Grunfeld and Sheppard kept telling him it was a good plan. If they thought differently, they should have said so.
YR: I disagree. Leonsis set the tone of “never ever tanking” and “contending for the Play Ins”, and Sheppard knew all too well what happened to Grunfeld a few days after the Wizards were not able to secure the 8th seed in 2019. Leonsis was very comfortable with Beal here and the pretty sure prospect of making the Play Ins year in and year out. That did not quite work out this year due to injuries and what not.
In theory, you could argue that it was possible to trade Beal and contend for the Play-In, but is there any doubt in your mind, based on all Leonsis has said in past year that he would be for a Beal trade? He was so risk-averse that, ironically, even though the best path to contend for the Play-In was to trade Beal earlier, he preferred the easy path of just keeping Beal and not taking any risk.
I’ll say more than that. I attended the season exit interviews in person. Sheppard was asked by Neil Dalal whether he has discussed his future with Leonsis. Sheppard was, frankly, visibly shocked at the question:
I asked Tommy Sheppard last Monday if he had confirmed with Ted Leonsis he would be returning next season— Neil Dalal (@NeilDalal96) April 19, 2023
“Myself? That’s not even been part of a conversation.”
Sheppard now relieved with time still left on his contract after getting promoted in 2021 pic.twitter.com/KsbKGOUGht
By the way, Wizards PR nicely cut out that question from the official video.
I believe Sheppard and Leonsis were truly on the same page, and there was no intention to let Sheppard go, especially given the fact that he clearly had at least 1-2 years remaining on his contract and we know how thrifty Leonsis is about these things (e.g., letting Scotty Brooks coach a lame-duck year just to save several million).
So, finally, getting very belatedly to my point: I do believe, especially from the body language (and the actual language) of Beal, who stepped on that podium a couple minutes after Tommy, that Beal decided it was time for him to move on from the Wizards. That’s why I said earlier that Beal (or really Bartelstein) was the de facto GM.
Call it a wild theory, but is it possible that Beal notified management that he wants out of D.C. which finally forced Leonsis to pull the plug on Sheppard, realizing that Sheppard could no longer deliver as he so fiercely built his whole strategic plan around having Beal around?
KB: It’s possible, but that’s not my understanding of the timeline.
Either way, the no-trade clause gave Beal enormous power. He could refuse to waive the NTC unless the players remaining at his chosen destination were to his liking. And that’s exactly what he did. The Wizards maybe could have just spiked the deal and held onto him, but then the offseason (and maybe the season) turns into a hostage negotiation drama. Better to just move on.
YR: Does the whole saga show Beal’s loyalty was BS, and that he didn’t care what DC got in return? I mean you have to compare a bit, say, the way Kevin Durant left the Goldent State Warriors with class (so they netted D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade, even though he could have just walked).
KB: Yup. If he’d been interested in helping the Wizards on his way out, he could have designated 2-3 destinations where he’d be willing to go and let the front offices haggle over compensation. In choosing his destination and teammates, he made sure to leave Washington with as little as possible.
YR: Choosing who comes back in the trade is abusive. Was this an inside job of the Bartelstein family?
KB: Perhaps. That could have played a role in Beal choosing Phoenix rather than Miami or Milwaukee...
YR: Could have? I didn’t realize you were also a diplomat, in addition to being the best Wizards analyst of the Grunfeld/Sheppard era...
You have simultaneously Bartelstein, Sr. (Beal’s agent) talking to the Wizards, and Bartelstein, Jr. (the Suns CEO) talking to the Wizards, and they don’t talk to each other? I mean is there any other way to describe it other than an “inside job” of the Bartelstein family?
KB: I’m sure they talked. I just don’t think it ultimately made much difference. The overriding factor was that preposterous no-trade clause. It enabled Beal to dictate all the terms. From the Wizards perspective, this is the new management paying the cost of the previous regime’s fecklessness and ineptitude.
YR: It stinks. Anyway, it’s Phoenix’s problem now. They were (and are) desperate to complete some trades before the new CBA rules kick in on July 1. For instance, the rule that salaries in a trade can differ by 25% will, in about a week, be reduced to just 10%. At which point moving Ayton and Chris Paul would be immeasurably more complicated.
And that gets me to my next point, which is: knowing how desperate the Suns are to get these moves done before July 1, how on Earth do you as a Wizards GM, sell so low? You know Beal wants to go to Phoenix, his agent and his son want him in Phoenix, and you still sell so low? Just wait closer to the end of the month at least and see if you can squeeze anything more out of the Phoenix FO, or am I just going out (as usual) on a ridiculous limb?
KB: I think this just loops back to what I said previously. The no-trade clause gave Beal enormous power. If the Wizards held back, he could have ultimately held the team hostage. Just pay the toll and move on.
YR: Oh, I heard Jordan Goodwin is going packing with Beal... is that also Beal vetoing the trade if his buddy Jordan ain’t heading to Phoenix?
KB: Hard to say without knowing what went on in the negotiation. My guess is Winger and company didn’t view Goodwin as being a significant part of the team next season or in the future. It should be a good opportunity for Goodwin, who ought to have an opportunity to be a significant part of Phoenix’s rotation.
Changing subjects: the Wizards made another move, trading Kristaps Porzingis in a three-team deal that nets them Tyus Jones from the Memphis Grizzlies, Danilo Gallinari from the Boston Celtics and the 35th overall pick in the draft.
YR: This is fresh news for me. Here’s my first, very raw, take that is likely to be premature (given further moves that might follow, and — of course — tonight’s Draft).
In a #SoWizards way, this three-team trade in which Washington perhaps brings the best player in the trade is more about the other two teams... My understanding is that the trade occurred in the 11th hour, after an earlier Clippers/Celtics/Wizards deal fell through and KP had to decide by midnight whether to opt-in to his player option. I don’t think it’s a great trade for any of the teams involved, actually.
But somehow the Celtics walk away with arguably the best player and two FRPs, one of which is quite interesting (Golden State’s top four protected in 2024). On the other hand, given Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension, it is baffling that Memphis ships out his most reliable back-up in Tyus Jones. Sure they got Marcus Smart, but the latter feels more like a replacement for Dillon Brooks, whom they basically fired.
The Wizards might be able to get a late FRP or several seconds for Tyus Jones even in February, given his reasonable $14 million expiring salary, and his consistent performance as a back-up and starter. Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala come along for the ride and don’t move the needle.
Finally, KP helped the Wizards a bit (more than Beal did!). He could have opted out and probably would have gotten a long-term contract from some team, but at this point in his career is probably happy to finally play for a contender. And, there are also the complications of the new CBA, so maybe by opting-in-and-trading the Celtics have his rights and can extend him before July 1? I have no idea.
Your first take?
KB: I think it’s a signal that the Wizards aren’t done trading. They have four veteran PGs — Chris Paul, Monte Morris, Tyus Jones, Delon Wright — who all have value to good teams that want to win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all four start the season someplace other than Washington.
At age 28, Porzingis isn’t on the Wizards timeline. Boston may want to extend him, though I suspect they’ll want him to take a pay cut given how much they’re going to be paying Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Porzingis could also want to hit free agency next summer after a year of showing he can contribute to a winning team — something he really hasn’t done so far in his career.
This is shaping into a busy offseason for the Wizards as Winger et al. reshape the roster and position the team to win in the future.