For all the recent buzz about the possibility of the Washington Wizards trading Bradley Beal, consider the following:
Maybe they shouldn’t.
Dealing away the two-time All-Star makes sense purely based on maximizing assets. Teams around the league including if not foremost the Los Angeles Lakers would logically be interested in an ascending playmaking guard who ranks among the league’s top players.
Beal just completed a near All-NBA season in which he and MVP candidate James Harden were the only players to average 25 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals per game.
If the next Wizards general manager believes in rebuilding after a 32-50 season, moving Beal with two years remaining on his value contract for a bevy of long-term assets turbocharges the process.
Bringing young, impressionable players into the fold won’t solve all issues if the culture reeks. That’s not to suggest what the Wizards have is rotten even though last year’s laborious start to the season stemmed in part from a contentious vibe.
It’s to say that the mature Beal, a natural leader despite not turning 26 until next month, is the tone-setter this franchise needs.
“Keep Beal as the vet who sets the culture, identity,” a league source familiar with the Wizards’ situation told NBC Sports Washington.
Team owner Ted Leonsis in Thursday’s “Wizards Talk” podcast called Beal one of the team’s “pillars” along with John Wall. Beal certainly dazzled throughout the season despite a myriad of roster changes and the underachieving Wizards falling far short of pre-season expectations.
Only the uninformed place significant blame for the 50-loss season with Beal. Only the unsophisticated think Beal’s significant campaign was based on numbers alone.
Signs of concerns began during training camp. The Wizards then opened the season losing seven of eight. Things would not get better.
Wall’s first heel injury ended his campaign just after Christmas. His second just before the Feb. 7 trade deadline altered the organization’s plan. Within 48 hours, Beal and Wall were the only high rotation player on the roster from the 2016 playoff team that came within a win of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
The situation left in the hands of others may have deteriorated quickly. Washington stood 13-22 after Wall’s first injury. Over the next 35 games, the Wizards went 17-18.
That’s hardly contender status, but certainly competitive despite the many challenges. Throughout this stretch, Beal scored plenty and led more. Just ask theWiz kids coming off their first full NBA season what about the All-Star stood out most.
”My takeaway is how he handles everything,” center Thomas Bryant said of Beal as the season wound down. “He’s always been the leader on this team. When John went down he absolutely stepped it up. ... It’s great just to be around him.”
“I would just say [Brad’s] mentality, honestly,” said Troy Brown Jr., Washington’s 2018 first-round selection. “He's a mentally strong person. ...He's always stayed the same leader that he was at the beginning of the year. He's never changed. He's always been positive. That would be my biggest thing.”
That’s a big thing for a franchise searching for a direction. With Wall likely out for much of next season, an immediate return to contender status isn’t a logical forecast.
While the next GM faces roster-building challenges because of Wall’s injury and supermax contract starting, an opportunity exists.
Beyond Beal, Brown is the only other (healthy) player currently on the roster considered a true future asset. Around half of the 2018-19 roster is entering some form of free agency including Bryant, Tomas Satoransky and Bobby Portis. Some will return, but that potential for turnover opens a path for establishing a new identity and culture. Beal is an ideal role model -- if he stays.
The shooting guard’s current deal lasts two seasons. His trade value will never be higher under the current terms than this summer. Waiting means the Wizards risk diminished trade returns or losing him to free agency in 2021.
There’s also value in letting Beal run the locker room flat out from the start of the season for the first time in his seven-year career.
In February 2018 before a game in Orlando, Beal told a reporter, “Leaders are born, not made. I feel like I have always been a leader ever since I was a kid. Every team I’ve been on, I’ve been a leader. Now I feel like this is what it was destined to be.”
Beal’s teammates responded this season like they believed. Eventually, the shorthanded roster and no-playoff realities overwhelmed the group over the final 10 games, but what if a Beal-led team develops chemistry and flashes that show a competitive form starting with those initial training camp practices?
Maybe the Wizards avoid a 1-7 start and instead pull off some gritty wins early while gaining confidence. Plant those seeds and see what grows this season and beyond.
Empowering Beal might deepen the connection with the only NBA organization he’s known. For the long haul, that could become the savviest decision anyone in the organization makes.
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