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Before everyone trades Bradley Beal away, consider why Wizards should keep him

Before everyone trades Bradley Beal away, consider why Wizards should keep him

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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How Mark Cuban's proposed regular season and expanded playoff format for NBA's return could benefit the Wizards

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How Mark Cuban's proposed regular season and expanded playoff format for NBA's return could benefit the Wizards

As the NBA continues to work toward resuming the 2019-20 season, one of the biggest questions remaining revolves around what the format of the remaining campaign will be.

When the season was put on hold, most teams had about 17 or 18 regular-season games left on their schedule. With play not set, it's unlikely the new timeframe could accommodate completing the original schedule. Though that won't impact the league's top teams, those fighting for the final playoff spots will lose valuable chances to gain ground.

How can the league hit the ground running and get into the playoffs while also giving almost every team a fair shot? Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has an idea.

"I want to change things around," Cuban told Mike Tirico on NBC Sports' Lunch Talk Live. “You know me, I’m a mover, shake. I want to experiment.”

Cuban suggested a plan that would include impactful regular season games for a majority of the league and an expanded playoff format. The regular season would have five games for every team, thus giving all 30 squads a chance to move up, or down, in the standings.

The five matchups become more important for those in the bottom half of the conferences when Cuban's playoff plans are taken into consideration. In this format, the field would be expanded from 16 teams to 20, with 10 coming from the East Conference and 10 from the West Conference. Teams outside of the eighth seeds would now have five games to secure one of the extra seeds in the postseason, and plenty of teams would be part of the race.

“If we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance, at least, of making the playoffs," Cuban said. "All but two in the Western Conference would do it.” 

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The innovation doesn't end there, the 17-20 seeds in the playoffs would play in a one-game elimination-style matchup. The winners then take on the eight seed from each conference in a best-of-five series, while the top two teams from each side have a first round bye. After that, the playoffs resort back to the normal format the NBA has followed for years.

Cuban feel his idea works not only because it brings more teams into the mix, but because it also ramps up the intensity and playoff-like feel of every matchup once the season resumes. It's something new for the league, but he thinks the unique situation of the season calls for just that.

“That gives us a chance to have some more playoff games, some more excitement, some more meaningful games," Cuban said. "That gives almost every team a chance  when we come back for whatever’s going to be left of our regular season to do something interesting and compete for something.”

“I think we gotta change it up some. We can’t just go the tried and true way," he added. 

For the Wizards, Cuban's idea would change everything, specifically the expanded playoff format. As it stands now, Washington is ninth in the Eastern Conference, but 5.5 games back of the Orlando Magic for the eighth spot. Even with five regular-season games, a perfect record combined with an 0-5 showing from the Magic would leave the Wizards a half-game short. But with 10 teams allowed, Washington could easily find its way into the four-team playoff with a chance to play a full series.

The 2019-20 season comes with unique circumstances. In standard times, the Wizards would have had 18 games to try and catch Orlando and others. But with that off the table, the extra seeds is the most appealing option. 

Besides giving more teams a chance in the shortened season, Cuban also believes that his idea could be a beneficial trial as the NBA continuously tries to adapt and improve the game. As someone who has had plenty of experiences with implementing new business ideas, he knows that the only way to see if something works is to try it out and see how the consumers react.

“Like a shark tank, we'll test it out first," Cuban said. "We'll see how the market responds.”

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Bradley Beal says 2017 version of him was 'trash' and 'F the analytics'

Bradley Beal says 2017 version of him was 'trash' and 'F the analytics'

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has recently incorporated some 2017 playoff games into his film sessions, in part to show the team's younger players what John Wall was like in his prime. It is one way for them to prepare for playing with Wall once he returns from injury, which is likely to be next season.

Bradley Beal has been watching those games and offering commentary to his teammates and, apparently, isn't impressed with the old version of himself. He joined Showtime's 'All the Smoke' this week and had some harsh words for the player he used to be.

Keep in mind Beal averaged 23.1 points and shot 40.4 percent from three that year, in the 2016-17 season.

"It's amazing to watch. I hate watching it because it's like 'I am f---ing trash.' I'm watching it and I'm like 'why are you hesitating on your shots? Why you ain't shooting? Why you ain't pass it right there?'... That dude from three or four years ago, that is not me today. I know that for sure," he said.

Beal spoke at length about his development into a multi-time All-Star. He said his constant improvement year-to-year has a lot to do with him watching players like James Harden, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson continue to ascend, and realizing "it's either get with the program or you get left behind."

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As for what he's focused on, Beal said it is being a consistent scorer "with efficiency." He wants to increase his volume as a scorer without leaving his shooting percentages to suffer.

He has been able to achieve that for the most part, this season averaging 30.5 points while holding a 52.0 effective field goal percentage. That is not easy to do, especially as a guard.

But don't let the efficiency talk lead you to thinking Beal is poring over the numbers, especially the advanced metrics. He also dropped a line on the show that may raise some eyebrows.

"Honestly, I'm not an analytical guy. I say F the analytics, just go hoop," he said.

That may be surprising to some, especially given Beal happens to show up well in advanced statistics. He's an efficient player who makes a lot of threes.

But it's also not surprising given many NBA players have shared the same opinions. Analytics have changed basketball in many ways, but they still aren't widely embraced by a lot of the players they benefit.

You can listen to Beal's full interview right here:

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