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His own future uncertain, Butler sees bright one for Wizards

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His own future uncertain, Butler sees bright one for Wizards

Rasual Butler needed a new work home last offseason. Having faced the Wizards during the 2014 NBA playoffs, the veteran swingman with a gritty game and professional demeanor felt Washington made for a good fit. Nobody could have imagined how good.

The Wizards raced out to a 22-8 record through Dec. 29. John Wall's playmaking prowess and the team's interior muscle with Nene and Marcin Gortat led the way, as expected. Butler turning into a 3-point shooting monster and crunch-time option after making the roster during the training camp, nobody projected such a scenario.

Whether Butler will be part of the roster next season is among the questions the organization and player will contemplate over the next few months.

"This is a promising team. If John was healthy, I'm sure we would be still playing," Butler said during his time with the media on Monday's breakdown day. "This is a great group of guys, a great coaching staff, a great organization. I absolutely would love to return."

Butler, who turns 36 Saturday, entered training camp without guarantees or a roster spot. Making the 15-man roster seemed daunting. Finding playing time seemed improbable. Yet Butler sensed his offensive potential if given a chance.

"Playing against them the season before when I was with the Pacers, you could see just how tough this team was," Butler said of the Wizards. "They had a really young core ...That was intriguing, playing with someone like John Wall, Bradley Beal. Those guys would get so much attention. Even Nene and Gortat, bigs who can really pass the ball. I thought like I would be a really good fit here.

"I think for the better half of the beginning of the season, that was the case."

The initial training camp depth chart showed Paul Pierce and Otto Porter ahead of Butler at small forward, Beal, Glen Rice Jr. and Garrett Temple in front of him at wing guard. Martell Webster's offseason back surgery led the team to consider adding more perimeter depth. Then Beal suffered a wrist injury during the preseason, leading to more starting work for Temple. Then Rice fell out of favor with the coaching staff before his eventual release. Porter didn't produce consistently. 

Butler filled the void. He shot an absurd 55.2 percent (16 of 29) on 3-pointers during 10 games in November. His minutes picked up in December while his production remained robust. Butler averaged 11.6 points and 26 minutes while sinking 47 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. 

As the season progressed, Butler's numbers regressed toward the mean. He shot 28.4 percent from deep after the All-Star break. His minutes dipped accordingly, though Butler remained in the rotation throughout the regular season. He ended up playing averaging 7.7 points in 75 games, his best numbers since the 2009-10 season.

"I've been blessed. I'm extremely excited about my journey, having the opportunity to be part of the Wizards organization, being part of the success this year. Really being able to contribute," he said.

Even though Washington's season ended in the exact same spot - losing in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals -, the general sense is that indeed this team advanced from the previous season. 

There is no guarantee Butler will be around for the next step. He is among the team's four free agents. At his age, it's unlikely the Wizards make retaining him a main priority as they ponder big picture moves with a conference and NBA title in mind. If Pierce returns and with Beal and Porter around, most of the wing minutes will be gobbled up by that trio.

Then again, who would have imagined Butler's impact on the 2014-15 season.

"A lot of things change over free agency, "Butler said. "Not really sure the direction the team is going to go in. Only thing I can control is how I prepare myself to be ready."

MORE WIZARDS: NBA Draft: Spotty recent history with 19th pick

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

“How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?”

That brain-busting question from a current NBA general manager came before the February 7 trade deadline when rumors involving Wizards guard Bradley Beal swirled.

Another migraine-inducing conundrum is forthcoming whether Beal receives All-NBA honors or not.

Should the league’s upcoming announcement of its first, second and third team include the two-time All-Star, the Wizards may have no choice but to break up the backcourt pairing with John Wall that fueled the franchise’s most sustained success since winning the 1978 title.

This honor comes with a financial reward-- if extended to Beal by the Wizards --  in the form of a supermax contract worth approximately $193 million over four years that would begin in 2021-22. He still has two years and $56 million remaining on the valued five-year, $127 million deal he signed in 2016.

The issue is less about Beal’s hefty chunk of the Wizards’ salary cap, but combining it with Wall’s four-year, $170 million supermax deal that begins next season. Offer Beal the supermax and, should he accept, approximately 71 percent of the team’s future salary cap beginning in the 2021-22 season would be chewed up by two players.

Beal and Wall, when healthy, are All-Stars. They’re not Jordan and Pippen.

NBC Sports Washington spoke with over a dozen league sources in recent weeks including three current or former general managers, other executives, NBA coaches, and scouts, about Beal’s contract situation and the Wizards’ overall equation coming off a 32-50 campaign.

Some dutifully tried putting themselves in the mindset of Washington’s next front office leader knowing Beal’s contract status and other limiting or uncertain factors.

The executives shared opinions on whether to boldly hold or sell high on the Wizards’ best player. Regardless of their stance, their initial instinct almost unanimously landed in the same place as this current lead executive: “I have no idea what you would do.”

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There’s an incredibly strong argument for doing nothing. How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?

Several NBA sources largely acknowledge the choice almost gets removed from the Wizards front office should Beal receive the All-NBA nod. Even if Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson or Ben Simmons trump Beal in the voting, events from early February may effectively force the Wizards’ hand.

Washington faced its second consecutive luxury tax payment, diminishing playoff hopes and the knowledge that Wall would miss the rest of the season with a heel injury.

Despite those negatives and salary cap concerns with only five players catapulting the team over next season’s salary cap, big picture hope existed. The headliners -- Wall, Beal and Otto Porter -- previously put the Wizards in a playoff contender mode. “We're not trading any of those players,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said at the time.

There’s a good reason to believe Leonsis meant what he said. Then life intervened and forced change.

Wall’s left Achilles ruptured during the first week of February. The recovery time means an entire calendar year and perhaps the full 2019-20 season. Those negatives, especially with the salary cap, were now amplified.

Washington dealt with that financial scenario two days after the Wall status update by trading Porter and Markieff Morris to slide under the luxury tax.

Another life event requiring a financial decision could happen this week.

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There’s no debating whether Beal is worthy of the All-NBA accolade. Some believe he is a favorite to snag one of the two guard spots on the third-team.

The dilemma is can the Wizards justify offering a contract with those hefty terms knowing what’s already on the books, plus the upcoming challenges.

Pass and the likelihood of trading Beal at peak value becomes a leading option. Hold Beal regardless and his trade value effectively decreases over the next two seasons with the possibility he leaves as a 2021 free agent without compensation.

“The Wizards is a hard job right now,” a former GM told NBC Sports Washington. “There’s a lot to figure out. Timelines can’t be certain with John Wall in particular. For Bradley Beal, that's a decision… Hard to walk in [to those interviews) with a specific plan.”

Leave the supermax contract off the table and the human element arises. Those familiar with Beal’s mindset do not see a Robin to Wall’s Batman. Co-headliners, cool, but then pay and appreciate accordingly. Maybe folks could start referring to the pair as Beal and Wall once in a while.

Forget the money, which isn’t Beal’s driving motivation. As one source familiar with Beal’s thinking stated, “Brad needs to be in the playoffs. He’s not disruptive...Brad just wants to win.”

The Wizards might not be in playoff position next season even if Beal maintains his All-NBA level. It's a near lock they won't if the 2012 first-round pick is traded.

Beal averaged 30.9 points in February, the same month he dropped a season-high 46 at Charlotte and his All-NBA buzz soared. Beal joined 2019 MVP finalist James Harden as the only players this season to average at least 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.5 steals.

The wing guard’s leadership kept Washington tangibly in the playoff race until realities of the undermanned roster kicked in.

“I think [Brad is] an all-NBA player in my eyes,” said Wall, an All-NBA selection in 2016. “You know how tough it is to make that team? It’s always tough. The year he’s had speaks for itself.”

How do you trade that player especially one groomed by the organization since selecting him third overall in 2012? You can't -- but the Wizards might not have a choice.

Nobody recognizes this more than Bradley Beal.

"Honestly, I’m here until I’m not here," Beal told NBC Sports Washington earlier this month. "I’m not thinking too strong on it. My personal desire is to be here and see the direction we go. Hopefully, the correct direction.

"I keep hearing the possibility of rebooting, trading Brad and getting assets back. It’s a business. I understand both sides of it. I can’t be mad at it."

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Bradley Beal rooted for the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, so now he deserves to see his hometown team win it this year

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Bradley Beal rooted for the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, so now he deserves to see his hometown team win it this year

The St. Louis Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks Tuesday to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970, where they were eliminated by the Boston Bruins.

They will look to even the odds, as they will be taking on the Bruins yet again on Monday night.

Blues fan and St. Louis native Bradley Beal will hope that his hometown squad will take the cup from the reigning champs, the Washington Capitals, and win the matchup against the Bruins.

Beal cheered on the Caps just a year ago and is ready to show out for the surging Blues.

To really put it into perspective how long it has been since the Blues played for the Cup, take a look at the number one song in the country when these two teams faced off 49 years ago. 

The Blues besting the Bruins will be a challenge, and Beal will be ready to root for his squad until the final buzzer.

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