- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Bradley Beal turned 29 on Tuesday. The Washington Wizards are prepared to gift him $250 million to celebrate.

According to multiple reports, the Wizards and Beal are expected to reach an agreement on a five-year, $250.9 million contract when NBA free agency begins Thursday. 

Beal set the stage for the long-term extension by declining on Wednesday the one-year, $36.4 million player option he had with the team. The new bigger deal has both sides optimistic about the future of the franchise.

The Wizards keep their best player after several years of rivals actively trying to lure the three-time All-Star away. And Beal lands the largest payday of his career and gets to stay with the franchise that drafted him 10 years ago. 

Both sides have signaled all along they’ve wanted this deal to happen. 

Whether it should is an entirely different question. 

Starting over is a daunting task for any NBA team. It’s certainly understandable why the Wizards want to retain Beal, a good player who blossomed into a star the last few years, rather than letting him walk for nothing or picking up so-so pieces in a sign-and-trade that would likely lead to another lengthy rebuild. 

But this is a franchise that knows better than most how massive contracts can hamper a team.

Over the years the Wizards have routinely committed big money to their best players only to see deal after deal backfire horribly. 

John Wall’s four-year, $170 million looked like a disaster before the extension even kicked in because of injuries to the point guard. Gilbert Arenas’ seven-year, $122 million deal was arguably even worse. Juwan Howard became the first NBA player to sign a $100 million contract, and that didn’t work out for the Wizards either. 

Those deals weren’t just bad because of the lack of production: The contracts hamstrung the Wizards’ management from making clear upgrades to the rest of the roster. To get out of Wall’s deal, for instance, the Wizards had to commit to another unpalatable contract by taking in Russell Westbrook. Then, to shed Westbrook’s deal, Washington traded the former MVP for a series of role players who ultimately added little to the team’s push to get back to the playoffs. 

Those trades were seen as savvy at the time, but did little to raise the Wizards’ overall ceiling. And that, perhaps most importantly, is the biggest argument against paying Beal: Is he actually the type of player who can lead a team to contention? 

Look at the other players who average more than $45 million annually on multi-year deals. Golden State’s Stephen Curry — the league’s highest-paid player with an average salary of $53.8 million per year — just led the Warriors to another championship. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid ($48.9 million) is an MVP candidate. Miami’s Jimmy Butler ($48.8) had the Heat in the conference finals. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant ($48.5 million) and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo ($45.6 million) are also champions and have won MVPs. 

Beal? The Wizards have had losing seasons in the three-plus seasons since Beal became the No. 1 option. Washington’s high so far in that span is a first-round exit to the Philadelphia 76ers as an eighth seed. During that 2020-21 season, Beal just missed out on the league’s scoring title by averaging 31.3 points per game. 

The Wizards admittedly haven’t had great supporting casts for Beal. But Washington this past season had perhaps their most talented roster since Beal’s emergence and the 29-year-old’s scoring average dropped to 23.2 points per game. 

A season-ending wrist injury and other ailments limited him to only 40 games.

“I just look at the player, and I know that’s somebody you can build your franchise around,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said last week. “I know he’s going to have a tremendous season coming up.”

From Beal’s perspective, the guard’s loyalty shouldn’t be criticized. In an era when stars regularly bolt for other teams, Beal is one of the few homegrown stars that have bucked that trend.

Of course, the Wizards can offer him $66 million more than any other team. If Beal were to change his mind and leave, the maximum he could sign is a contract worth four years, $184 million. That’s quite the difference. And the deal is even slightly larger than expected as the NBA’s salary cap for next season is now projected to come in higher than previously predicted.

But for now, the Wizards still have major work to do even once they re-sign Beal. They need veteran help in spots, and their young players like Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and rookie Johnny Davis need to take a step forward.

Of course, if this doesn’t work out, Beal can always look to demand a trade in a year or two. That’s a tactic that’s been used by other marquee players such as Carmelo Anthony and Ben Simmons. The understanding, it seems, is to get paid first and then sort out the rest later.

The Wizards seem more than willing to take that risk.

“If I feel like I can win in D.C., that’s what I’m gonna do,” Beal told Bleacher Report earlier this summer. “I want people to respect that.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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