Bradley Beal is a max player, and barring any unfortunate circumstances such as a season-ending injury, he'll be paid like one this summer when the Wizards' oft-injured shooting guard hits the market.
He returned from a 16-game absence Wednesday, scoring 11 points in a 106-101 win vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. He's nowhere near his top form and played 23 minutes off the bench but Beal's reappearance has rekindled a lot of what-ifs:
What if he returns to the form he showed early in the season?
Good for the Wizards and their chances of getting a top 4 seed that guarantees homecourt advantage in the first round. Beal had been out since Dec. 9, everyone under the sun has been injured (add Otto Porter with a sore hip) and the Wizards are just two games from the No. 5 seed in the loss column. Their intentions for the last two seasons have been to max Beal anyway, so if he plays like an All-Star how can that be a bad thing? Figuring out the rotations with Drew Gooden and Nene back playing as well as the emergence of rookie Kelly Oubre is the challenge.
What if another team offers him a max deal when the signing period opens in July?
Beal is restricted. The Wizards would have 72 hours to match and will have the cap room to do it. Not working out an extension before the season began manufactured more cap room for the Wizards to chase other big-name free agents, fill the roster spots that will come open and pay Beal under the Bird rights provision that allows them to exceed the cap. Not an issue. A player's value is determined by the market which is no different than any other business negotiation. It's not about Player A last summer being better than Player B next summer. If players who you are better than get a certain number in their offer during a signing period, you'll get more than that number. If there's high demand but low supply at your position, it raises the pricetag even more. That's the cost of business. Sometimes the market goes up and you pay more. Other times you'll get bargains and pay less. That's how it is. The cap is expanding from $70 million to about $89 million-$90 million starting next season so it's all relative. Contracts will grow.
What if the Wizards allow him to walk?
Won't happen. The Wizards aren't going to let their No. 3 pick from 2012, who comprises one of the better backcourts in the NBA when he's healthy with John Wall, leave while getting nothing in return. See what happened when the Portland Trail Blazers signed Enes Kanter, a restricted free agent, to a $70 million offere sheet. The Oklahoma City couldn't let him leave after giving up a future first-round pick and Reggie Jackson. Maybe injuries will prevent Beal from reaching his full potential, but before they let Beal go they'd move him in a sign-and-trade instead. In the 2011 CBA, provisions were put in to prevent a repeat of the situation like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors ended up in with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010 bolting for the Miami Heat which can gut a franchise. Now players are more inclined to work in concert with the team that holds their Bird rights to work out a deal. A sign-and-trade would allow the Wizards to replace the loss with assets while Beal can earn an extra year (about $20-plus million more) in a deal with the receiving team because his Bird rights would transfer.
What if Beal develops another stress reaction?
Based on the previous three occurrences, this likely won't happen. He hasn't had a second one during the same season and the Wizards held him out a couple of weeks longer this time compared to his last one. And this reaction was the smallest of the four. As long as he doesn't develop a season-ending stress fracture, he should be just fine. Beal, as CSNmidatlantic.com reported to be roughly 35 before he returned, said he "probably" would have to have his maximum minutes played capped to protect him long-term. His less three stress reactions have been preceded by a spike in minutes for long stretches. Keeping him to 35 is not a huge adjustment. Beal was averaging 36.5 minutes before his injury but his usage was rising at an alarming rate. He had seven consecutive games leading up to the re-injury when he played a minimum of 38 minutes. The Wizards have the depth and scoring options (Ramon Sessions, Gary Neal, Kelly Oubre) to compensate. To make the situation more manageable for coach Randy Wittman, bringing Beal off the bench makes this easier. Beal, of course, clearly wants to start again.