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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

OPINION:

Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard told reporters last week that he feels pretty good about the prospects of their star guard, Bradley Beal, staying here.

“He’s (Beal) really excited about the opportunity here in D.C. to get better and what we’ve done,” Sheppard said. “The future is there. It’s his decision in July, but I felt comfortable this is the place for him.”


Sheppard should feel comfortable — very comfortable. After all, the deal for Bradley Beal to continue his career with this franchise was done when Beal had surgery in early February to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist, according to sources.

That operation would not have happened then — ending Beal’s 2022 season — without a handshake deal in place (assuming a right-handed handshake) to sign him to the max contract he can earn here. That would add up to a five-year, $246 million deal that, by NBA rules, can’t be signed until July 1.

Otherwise, Beal would have likely continued his season on some level, nursing the injury, so he could enter the free-agent market, where the most he could make is $179 million over four years.

Beal himself has pretty much made it clear that he wants to stay in Washington. In March, he said it is “fair” to say he is leaning toward re-signing with Washington, and later that month he told Draymond Green on the Warriors star’s podcast that he wanted to build a championship-level team in Washington.

“I think people don’t understand that I want to do that here,” Beal said, “And my mindset is like, OK, why can’t I do it here? There’s a lot of other teams that are out here doing it.”

Why can’t I do it here? That’s a question that has been likely been asked by a cemetery filled with the reputations of NBA executives and players who have come and gone in Washington for more than 40 years now.

Why hasn’t Beal done it here yet?

He’s 29, but he has been a Wizard for 10 years. Over that time, Beal has played on teams that have a record of 378-422. He has played on just four winning seasons — the John Wall glory years for this franchise. And like every player who began with this team since 1980, he has never been on a 50-win team.

Over that time, Beal has made $146 million. Add on the five-year $246 million deal coming his way from Washington, this franchise will wind up paying Bradley Beal $392 million by the time he turns 34. Now, if it doesn’t work out, perhaps Sheppard could work the magic he used to find suckers to take Wall’s and Russell Westbrook’s contract. But otherwise, no matter how many sore wrists or hamstrings or bad knees Beal may endure over that time, he will be owed that money.

That would add up to the most total money paid to a player in Washington sports history.

As it stands now, Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg will wind up earning $355 million when his current contract expires in 2026 at the age of 37. Alex Ovechkin has made $140 million since coming to the Capitals in 2005. He would, if he plays for the remainder of his contract until age 40, earn a total of $183 million.

Of course, speculation is that 23-year-old superstar Juan Soto will make nearly $500 million when he becomes a free agent in 2025. But there is significant doubt that a Washington team will be signing that check. Heck, we don’t even know who will own the Nationals next year.

No, the player with the biggest bank account in Washington sports history will likely be Bradley Beal.

Who will be in charge of that investment for the immediate future? Wes Unseld Jr., who finished his first season as head coach of the Wizards

There was little in this first year of a four-year deal to show that the franchise will get its money’s worth out of its investment.

There were clearly issues with this team after their early success that Unseld was unable to resolve, which is sort of the job. 

Washington wound up trading point guard Spencer Dinwiddie because he clashed in the locker room. After the team began to collapse following their 10-3 start, Dinwiddie told NBC Sports Washington, “I spoke up a little bit early on [this season]. It wasn’t necessarily welcomed. And so, like I said, I try to do whatever’s asked of me. At the end of the day, everybody has a role to play. It’s about being accountable in your role and doing that to the best of your ability. That’s really all I’ve got.”

In Dallas, where he played well, Dinwiddie was asked by reporters why he seems to fit so much better there than in Washington: “I just think our commitment to the collective and to winning games is all that matters.”

Ouch.

Unseld responded by telling reporters, “I’m not going to get into the accuracy of that statement. It’s one of those things where, organizationally, it worked and he was aggressive early. We won a lot of games.

“Bottom line, we had to make a change [at the trade deadline] and to get something we had to give up something,” Unseld said. “He’s a really talented guy, he’s playing well and he’s healthy. We look forward to seeing the benefit of that trade. It is what it is. I think it’s one of those things where we just have to move on and get past it.”

Get past it? What does that even mean?

Following a 95-80 February loss to the Denver Nuggets at Capital One Arena — their seventh loss in eight games — Montrezl Harrell put his team on blast. 

“I don’t think we were ready to play when the ball was thrown up,” he said. “They jumped on us for an early lead and they really didn’t look back from there. At the end of the day, we can’t just keep cruising into games.”

Five days later, Harrell, one of their most productive and popular players with an expiring contract who came to Washington in the offseason as part of the Westbrook trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, was gone, traded to the Charlotte Hornets.

None of this adds up to feeling particularly good about the Wizards and their soon-to-be historic $392 million investment.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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