Wizards and Beal should consider parting ways

Bradley Beal says he wants to stay in Washington. But it might be best for all parties for him to move on.
Bradley Beal says he wants to stay in Washington. But it might be best for all parties for him to move on.
Image: Getty Images

Ray Allen didn’t ask to be traded when it was clear he probably should’ve done so if he wanted to win. Not when the Milwaukee Bucks sent him to the Seattle Sonics in season seven, and not when the Sonics shipped him to the Boston Celtics before season 12.

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In Allen’s first six seasons with the Bucks, Milwaukee made three playoff trips, only getting past the first round in 2001, where they took the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. After toiling around .500, the team moved Allen for a package centered around Sonics legend Gary Payton. After Allen joined Seattle, the team only finished above .500 once, in 2004-05, where they posted a 52-30 record and landed the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, only to fall to San Antonio in the second round. It was Allen’s only playoff trip with the Sonics. He was subsequently dealt on draft night of 2007, turning the franchise over to Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, departing for a Boston squad featuring Paul Pierce, and later Kevin Garnett, that would win a championship in 2008 and contend for several more until Allen left in 2012 for the Miami Heat.

We can try, but there’s no seamless statistical method to comparing Allen with Bradley Beal, his modern-day counterpart. Basketball has evolved too quickly to make a sufficient side-by-side case without a lengthy explanation of the nuance to factor in. But if you watch basketball — not exclusively consume House of Highlights and react to trade rumors on Twitter, but actually watch basketball — the parallels between Beal and Allen are apparent.

The Athletic reported today the Beal, averaging 34.9 ppg, not only doesn’t want to leave his struggling Washington Wizards, but he’s tired of people suggesting he’s pissed.

“Beal has so far expressed he wants to remain in Washington and has not indicated he prefers to be traded, sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Athletic,” reported Shams Charania and Fred Katz. “The Wizards, in turn, have no interest in trading him. Amid calls from the general public and even ones from around the league that a team at the bottom of the standings would be best off dealing its prized player, Washington has made it clear it has no plans to move him.

Beal is “privately frustrated and confused with the perpetual portrayal of his situation,” according to sources familiar with his thinking. After seeing other players take criticism for requesting to leave teams, those sources say Beal feels he’s getting nitpicked for choosing to stay in D.C., where he began his NBA career in 2012. He felt similarly when he signed an extension in October 2019. Speculation about his future has swirled since before then.”

The Wizards have struggled with COVID and injuries as much as anyone (outside of maybe the Miami Heat?) this season. They’re 4-12, less than two months removed from the March 25 trade deadline, and, according to The Athletic, one rival executive says Washington is still assuring other teams that they’re building around Beal. The prolific two-guard is still just 27 years old and under contract until at least 2021-22, with a player option for 2022-23.

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Just because Beal and Wizards are reportedly on the same page isn’t going to make the speculation end. Should the Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, and Denver Nuggets all inquire? Absolutely. We could go as far as to assume they probably already have. Sure, Beal’s disdain for rumors, superteams (according to the same Athletic report), and a lack of loyalty is to be commended, especially with how we saw James Harden’s exit manifest in Houston. But does that mean it would benefit both Beal and the Wizards to remain in lockstep? Depends.

It all comes down to what each party values most. If Beal, now in his prime, wants to win immediately, he’d probably have already asked to be traded. The same narrative gets ushered out about Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but neither want to leave Portland. You can argue that they should all want to play under different circumstances, but as Lillard says, that doesn’t always make it better for everybody. If Beal legitimately sees a path to winning eventually with Washington, and or he just wants to remain loyal to one team for the immediate portion of his career, then, yes, he should remain in DC. But to win now? Then Miami, Philly, Golden State, Boston, and Denver would all be better destinations. (How much winning would vary by team.)

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Washington may actually have to internalize this more than Beal does. Starting center Thomas Bryant tore his ACL earlier this season, Russell Westbrook is on a dangerous downhill career slope, and the team still can’t guard three fire hydrants and two bags of Doritos. Westbrook is owed $44.1 million next season, and has a player option worth over $47 million in 2022-23, the same year Beal could opt for free agency. The Wizards won’t have a ton of cap space until then, and they’re currently locked into five years and $80 million of Davis Bertans, who has regressed in the first year of the contract. Otherwise, the Wizards are gifted with youthful talent like Rui Hachimura, Beni Avdija, and Moe Wagner. In fact, that’s it … ain’t no lie — that’s the young core, injured Bryant aside.

We could all look at this through the prism of championships or bust, but that’s a mistake. We overlook the middle-ground when doing that. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said it himself in the same Athletic piece.

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“We haven’t won. When you don’t win, teams think that you’re just gonna throw the towel in and give up, and you’re just gonna wanna get rid of your good players,” Brooks said. “So that’s all part of the business. We’re not interested. I’m gonna just tell Tommy [Sheppard, Washington’s GM], you might as well just block all the 29 other teams’ numbers. We’re not answering.”

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But it may be in the Wizards’ best interest as an organization to part with Beal before he’d ever be driven to the point of asking for a trade. The Wizards are likely stuck with Westbrook, unless they could convince another team to take part in a sad exchange of ballooned salaries. If Beal hasn’t asked yet, it may never happen because the immediate future in DC appears to be one of the bleakest in the league. But to replenish their youth, commit to a non half-ass rebuild and assemble draft capital, they may need to act first. But if they’re cool with riding this out with Beal for however long this lasts, that’s OK, too. But the Allen trade did work out for the Sonics, who became the Oklahoma City Thunder and quickly contenders out west. And obvious, it worked for the Celtics, too; we remember Allen as a champion because of it.