The Wizards’ biggest problem is they don’t stink enough.
It’s hardly a surprise that after trading John Wall for Russell Westbrook, a future Hall of Famer on the downside of his career, that Washington didn’t get much better. They had a .347 winning percentage last season, they’re at .368 this year, and thanks to having Westbrook and Bradley Beal for a combined $70 million, the Wizards don’t have any wiggle room under the salary cap — not to mention that Davis Bertans is in the first season of a five-year, $80 million contract, for which he comes off the bench and fires as many three-pointers toward the general vicinity of the rim as he can (he’s at 39%, which is good, but shoots more than anyone else on the team, which is ludicrous) before sitting down.
The Wizards are abysmal defensively, and while Bertans, Rui Hachimura (who’s really good), and rookie Deni Avdija have height, Washington has been missing a really forceful interior presence since they traded Otto Porter to the Bulls. Not that the Wizards are looking at what Porter has done in Chicago and looking back with regret, but they also dumped him for Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, or, in other words, nothing, unless the 2023 second-round pick in that deal turns into something.
The Wizards are on their way to a third straight finish out of the playoffs, and a 42nd straight season failing to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. And this is where the “they don’t stink enough” part comes in. The last time the Wizards went through a stretch of truly sucking, they drafted Wall, Beal, and Porter over a four-year stretch (missing on Jan Vesely at No. 6 in between), all in the top 3. That led Washington to a couple of second-round appearances, and now that window of contention has very much closed.
So, should they trade Beal? The Athletic reported that Washington isn’t even listening to offers, and that does make sense, not because Beal is going to help Washington reach the league’s semifinals for the first time in millennials’ lives, but because the return in a Beal trade wouldn’t make sense.
The Wizards aren’t going to get a star player back for Beal because any team that would want to add Beal would be doing so with an eye on a championship. Likewise, any first-round picks that Washington could hope to acquire for its best player would be well outside the lottery. And the Wizards already have too much of a head start on the Timberwolves, Pistons, and Rockets to try to tank their way to guaranteeing a super-high pick without the benefit of ping-pong balls.
The time to trade Beal would be this summer, when more of a blockbuster would be possible, but, really, Beal wants to be in D.C., and he’ll only be 29 when he hits free agency. The move for Washington is to do what it can to get picks and cap space out of this year’s deadline, then try to get out from under the last two years of Westbrook’s deal in the summer, to be able to go into free agency in 2022 with the ability to go big with Beal and someone who’s actually in his prime, to go along with Hachimura, Avdija, and whichever top-10 picks come this year and next. If you can’t trade Westbrook before his deal runs out, it’s still only 2023, with Beal and some young talent surrounding him, albeit, barring a draft miracle not the other star who would be necessary to make Washington a contender.
When you have a player like Beal and the ability to keep him, you do it, even though his talent prevents the franchise from bottoming out to truly be able to build through the draft. But the upside is that the whole point of tanking is to get someone like Beal in the first place. If you’ve already got him, in his prime, the task is to add around him, even if the current situation stinks.