Boston Celtics fans can be forgiven if they start daydreaming about Bradley Beal in green with every image of him, fresh off his latest 40-point barrage, offering a thousand-yard stare from the Washington Wizards' bench.
The #FreeBradleyBeal hashtag trends frequently and we’re all guilty of racing to the Trade Machine each time he expresses his obvious frustrations with the Wizards’ cellar-dwelling status (even if he is also quick to pledge his refreshing allegiance to a stuck-in-the-mud franchise).
But before you beg Danny Ainge to go all in and secure Jayson Tatum’s childhood buddy and give the Celtics an even more imposing Big Three, a few things to remember:
THE HAYWARD TPE IS NO HELP
The Celtics generated a $28.5 million traded player exception after delivering Gordon Hayward to the Hornets in November. Beal, however, makes $28.8 million this season and is roughly $150,000 too expensive to fit into the exception, which means the Celtics have to match salaries in any deal.
That’s a bit of a moot point because the Wizards are not moving Beal without some sort of glitzy young talent coming back in return. Any conversation about Beal would likely start with the Celtics including Jaylen Brown as part of the return package and we’re not sure that ultimately helps the Celtics given Brown’s ascension to one of the elite two-way players in the league.
The more glaring issue is …
THE CELTICS DON’T HAVE STRONG DRAFT ASSETS
Boston’s once overflowing treasure trove of future Nets, Grizzlies, and Kings picks is now barren. Beyond the team's own picks, the Celtics currently have only an underwhelming hodgepodge of other team’s future second-rounders, two of which are top-55 protected and are likely to simply vaporize the next two years.
Boston can’t even sell teams on the idea of mortgaging their long-term draft board because they’re set up with Tatum and Brown for a half-decade run as a title contender, meaning their own first-round picks are likely to slot in the 25-30 range for the foreseeable future.
Any pursuit of elite-level talent would likely require Boston to first restock its draft treasure chest and there’s virtually no option that makes that a reality anytime soon.
THE CELTICS DON’T HAVE DESIRABLE YOUNG TALENT BEYOND THEIR CORE
Even if you’re among the most bullish on the futures of recent first-rounders like Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, and Payton Pritchard, it’s unlikely that anyone in that group is enough to muscle your way into the conversation for an All-NBA talent.
The Celtics were once able to inject themselves into any trade chatter when they might have been more open-minded to the idea of moving Tatum or Brown. Now, as the centerpieces of this team, it’s harder to shape deals.
Boston is more likely looking for pieces that can accentuate their Brown-Tatum-Kemba Walker-Marcus Smart core than necessarily seeking another top-level star.
THE TIMELINE JUST DOESN’T MATCH RIGHT NOW WITH BEAL
With Walker on the books for big money for at least this season and next, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Celtics can afford to add Beal. That shouldn’t preclude Ainge from examining ways to potentially add Beal further down the road.
We’re on record as noting that any and all decisions that the Celtics make should be through the lens of what will make Tatum and Brown happiest, and it’s undeniable that pairing Tatum with his St. Louis pal would excite him.
But the team is simply not positioned at this time to make that quest -- at least not without first getting their ducks in a row.
IS BEAL THE PIECE THAT TRULY ELEVATES BOSTON?
One final thing to ponder: Why have the Wizards struggled so mightily despite Beal’s brilliance? Despite their COVID woes, it’s not like the Wizards’ roster is completely deprived of talent.
Still, Washington has lost an NBA record 10 straight games in which Beal has scored 40 points or more, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He’s averaging a league-leading 35.4 points per game this season and the Wizards have a negative net rating (minus-1.6) in his 467 minutes of court time (though, to be fair, that plummets to a ghastly minus-10.5 in his 205 minutes on the bench).
The guess here is that, with elite talent around him, Beal would certainly aid winning. And Anthony Davis faced similar questions about New Orleans’ struggles before winning a championship in LA. But in that instance he fit perfectly alongside LeBron James.
With Beal, there’d be a bit of redundancy with Brown as scoring wings and Boston’s current issues are more on the defensive end than offensive potential.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s fun to daydream but any pursuit of Beal would likely be a future endeavor. If he reaches a breaking point in Washington this year and a team is able to pry him away from the Wizards, it might further dash any dreams of pairing him with Tatum anytime soon.