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Rumor: Wizards want to be next Thunder rather than next Suns

Bradley Beal and Chris Paul in Suns-Wizards

Jan 11, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) shoots the ball over Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) in the first quarter at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards’ record this season (34-38) is better than the Suns’ record last season (34-39).

Phoenix traded for Chris Paul and is now up 2-1 in the NBA Finals, giving hope to every mediocre team trying to convince itself it’s only one piece away.

But maybe Washington won’t fall into that trap.

Tom Haberstroh on “Standig Room Only

Reading the tea leaves and from what I gather talking to other executives, I think the Washington Wizards, instead of saying, “We could be the next Phoenix Suns,” I think they’re looking at this and saying, “We can be the next Oklahoma City Thunder and try to rebuild and rebuild from scratch.”

The Thunder traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook for major assets, jumpstarting what looks like a fruitful rebuild.

The Wizards have a highly coveted player in Bradley Beal. Though he has repeatedly gone out of his way to state his loyalty to Washington, it’s not up to him. The Wizards can trade him whenever they want and would fetch a significant return.

But the Wizards can’t be the Suns or Thunder.

Players as good as Chris Paul rarely come available for such a low cost. Phoenix got Paul so cheaply only because he’s so old and expensive. That was a worthwhile risk at the time, and it has worked out beautifully. But Washington almost certainly won’t have the same opportunity, let alone the same outcome.

The Suns also had a better roster of incumbent rising young players – Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges. As good as Beal is, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija aren’t close to making that leap. Russell Westbrook (32) has been trending the wrong direction for years, and Davis Bertans really disappointed this season.

As far as the Thunder, they got more for Paul George than the Wizards would for Beal. Oklahoma City just caught the perfect storm of the Clippers desperately trying to impress Kawhi Leonard (which worked). Plus, the Thunder got plenty for Westbrook… and Jerami Grant… and eventually Steven Adams… and eventually Chris Paul. The Thunder had a way better roster to teardown. Hence, they have a much bigger head start on rebuilding than Washington would.

The Wizards sinking into a rebuild would also be a stark change of course.

Maybe they’ll pivot. Beal is eligible for a large contract extension later this offseason. If he doesn’t sign it, that could push Washington to trade him rather than allow him to unrestricted free agency in 2021. After all his loyalty talk, Beal not signing the extension would serve as a strong signal to the Wizards.

But sometimes it seems there’s wishful thinking/projection happening when the Wizards get discussed outside Washington. Many teams want to poach Beal. A lot of people view the NBA through a championship-or-bust prism, which would push the Wizards to rebuild. But Beal has expressed atypical loyalty to Washington. The Wizards might be content keeping him and remaining in the postseason conversation rather than accepting a lower floor in pursuit of a higher ceiling.

So, I’m not totally convinced Washington will try (and fail) to be Oklahoma City rather than try (and fail) to be Phoenix.