Wizards

Hughes: Beal injury could change everything for Wizards

Wizards

The timing and magnitude of Tuesday's news that Bradley Beal has been diagnosed with a season-ending left wrist injury offer a few different ways to view how it affects the Wizards' future and most are not so good, of course. A team that has lost eight of nine games is now without their best player from here on out. On top of that, even if they wanted to trade him before Thursday's trade deadline because of his contract uncertainty, they can't anymore.

Beal could opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent. He could leave if he wants, which means it's possible he has played his last game in a Wizards uniform. Or, he can put the onus on the Wizards to re-sign him to a deal that is projected to be the largest in NBA history.

This, by the way, is the second surgery Beal has had on that left wrist. This time it's to repair a torn ligament, while in 2014 he had a non-displaced fracture. Wrist injury aside, the absences are starting to pile up for Beal.

His 2021-22 season is over after only 40 games, the shortest of his career. That means he could go into contract negotiations having only played 69.5% of the Wizards' total games over the past three seasons. This doesn't mean Beal has long-term injury concerns, but it's just worth noting when a contract worth a projected $245 million over five years is on the line.

 

From Beal's perspective, if winning is the deciding factor of where he plays next year, this is a blow to the Wizards' cause. They were hoping to take a sizable step forward this season and so far they have taken a step back in the standings. Now with Beal out, they may have a better chance in the lottery than the playoff picture.

Beal ultimately would have to give up about $60 million and an extra year of contract security to leave this summer. But he also wants to win and has grown impatient with how long the Wizards' process of building a contender has taken. This fall, he will be entering his 11th year in the NBA and his Age 29 season.

Exactly what the Wizards can do to show him more down the homestretch of this season is hard to tell. They aren't playing well now and it also seems likely their priorities could change drastically. Without Beal, the team's short-term ceiling is considerably lower, meaning it may be smart to favor the future over the now.

Their young players like Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Thomas Bryant, it would seem, are now even less likely to be dealt. Meanwhile, perhaps veterans like Montrezl Harrell and Spencer Dinwiddie could be better off helping other teams.

The Wizards could become sellers ahead of Thursday's deadline, retool with whatever future assets they can acquire and aim to create more salary cap flexibility. But that would continue to leave much of their big picture progress in the abstract until they can make real strides in the win column. Beal would again have to be sold on theories and good intentions.

There is an argument, however, for how this could be good timing for the Wizards. At least the re-evaluation brought this news now and not next Tuesday. The Wizards do have the deadline to work with and now have a better idea of how they should operate. They have the option of switching gears towards youth and player development over the next two months, if they choose.

Granted, truly bottoming out for top lottery odds may not be entirely possible at this point. They are nine games up from being in the bottom-3 of the NBA, the tier which gets flat odds for the best chance at landing the No. 1 pick. But the Wizards are also only six games up on the 5th-worst team, the Pacers.

Washington currently has the 11th-best lottery odds, which would give them only a 9.4% chance of picking in the top-4 if the season ended today. They would have a 90.6% chance of selecting in the 11-to-14 range.

But if the Wizards turn things over to Hachimura, Avdija, Bryant, Corey Kispert, Daniel Gafford and others, those odds could increase. In a best-case scenario, perhaps the Wizards could luck out like the Raptors did last season.

Toronto won 53 games (out of 72) in 2019-20, then went 27-45 last season and landed the fourth overall pick. They selected Scottie Barnes, who looks like a future star, and are now right back in the thick of the playoff race. If the Wizards end up getting a top-10 pick, it could help them by adding a blue chip young player or give them another valuable trade asset.

 

The Beal injury is another unfortunate example of bad luck for a Wizards franchise that has had far too much of it. But by knowing the full extent of their situation now, with time still to go before the trade deadline, they have an opportunity to adjust. Maybe they can make the most of a bad situation, just as Toronto did.