Bradley Beal's future with Wizards could hinge on a substantial trade deadline deal
Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard might be facing his biggest challenge yet.
Prior to Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard taking over full-time in 2019, he presented chairman Ted Leonsis with a detailed presentation outlining his plan to turn Washington into a contending team built around three-time All-Star guard Bradley Beal. Sheppard has spoken so glowingly about his relationship with Beal, as well as their constant line of communication, that it almost seems like Beal’s impending unrestricted free agency (if he decides to decline his player option) has rendered Sheppard relatively unbothered.
However, this upcoming NBA trade deadline (February 10) could be where the rubber meets the road for Sheppard and Beal’s business relationship.
The Wizards aren't a contending team and haven’t been since Sheppard took over. The 2019-20 Wizards finished with a 25-47 record. The 2020-21 Wizards were bounced in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1. This year’s team sprinted out the gate to a 10-3 start, but since then has been fairly mediocre and currently sits 8th in the Eastern Conference standings with a 23-21 record. These results are not a byproduct of Sheppard doing a poor job, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather, it's because Sheppard has spent a large portion of his tenure cleaning up the mess former general manager Ernie Grunfeld left behind, as well as following impromptu directives from Leonsis like trading away their 2010 No. 1 overall pick, John Wall. While many of those moves have been impressive, it’s time for the big swing. This is what separates the “big boy GMs” from the rest.
There isn’t another fringe move to be made on this roster that would make them a respectable opponent come playoff time. Sheppard has shown mastery of low-risk, high-reward moves throughout his tenure. But, with Beal’s future hanging in the balance, he’s going to need to do more than that. Since taking over as the full-time face of the franchise in 2018-19, Beal hasn’t had a single All-Star teammate (he’s since made two All-Star teams, as well as an All-NBA team). He’s hasn’t been a part of a 50-win team. He hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs. Throughout the last three seasons, nobody has mistaken any of Beal’s surrounding pieces as enough to make noise in the postseason, let alone get there without the assistance of the play-in tournament, which Beal isn’t a fan of by the way.
“I don’t want to be in the play-in, I’ll leave it at that,” Beal said after the Wizards 117-98 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Monday. “I can’t be in the play-in. Can’t be a play-in team.”
Up to this point, Sheppard has done an excellent job of keeping Leonis happy while holding Beal at bay. Leonsis has been able to tap into foreign markets like Japan and Israel with the additions of Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija in the draft — two players who display significant upside. Leonsis was also able to turn his John Wall vexation into a one-year rental of the Russell Westbrook experience, which resulted in a few more nationally televised games than anticipated, amongst other attendance and viewership perks. Heck, Sheppard even got an extension and promotion out of the work he’s done thus far.
“Tommy has effectively improved our team each year of his tenure by following the plan he laid out to us as his vision when we hired him as general manager,” Leonsis said in the press release.
Now it’s time to earn the extension of Beal.
This upcoming free agency class is one of the weaker ones in terms of placing star-level talent around Beal. Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden headlines the class as an unrestricted free agent (if he opts out of his player option), but Washington doesn’t have nearly enough money (or appeal) to pull that move off. Then there’s Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, but all signs point towards him re-signing with the Bulls. Point guards Kyrie Irving (?), John Wall, and Russell Westbrook are the other big names available but, you know, not happening. That leaves players like Goran Dragic, Joe Ingles, and Gary Harris — none of which you can sell to Beal as feasible No. 2 options.
Expect Washington to approach the trade deadline aggressively with their sights set on Indiana Pacers star big man, Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis has received a ringing endorsement from Beal, and others, within the Wizards organization due to his skill set, possible fit within head coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s system, contract flexibility, and age, sources tell me. Sabonis, 25, is currently in year two of a 4-year, $74.9 million contract. Hachimura and/or Avdija would have to be included in said deal, I’d imagine, as well as cap fillers, and some draft capital.
Washington has also engaged in preliminary conversations with the Detroit Pistons regarding 27-year-old DMV native, Jerami Grant. However, his talent ceiling, as well as impending contract extension, has given them a reason to table negotiations for the time being, sources tell me. Grant could seek a deal well north of $100 million over the next four seasons.
While Sheppard has made some magic happen in the past (trading Wall for Westbrook and then flipping Westbrook into Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Spencer Dinwiddie, Aaron Holiday, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell) a move for Sabonis would go down as his biggest feat to date. Not only would it showcase immaculate negotiation prowess but it gives Beal a clear sign that the years of Sheppard’s talk about building a contending team was not a facade, thus motivating him to return to D.C.
Buckle up, trade season is here.
Reminder No. 1: Beal could opt-out, walk away in the offseason, and Washington would have nothing but a “Thank You, Panda” highlight tape to show for it when he returns to Capital One Arena for the first time next year as a member of [insert team name here].
Reminder No. 2: Beal could sign a five-year, $241 million contract to return to Washington this offseason, or a four-year, $179 million contract elsewhere. Roughly a $60 million difference. Beal, once again, will have to ask himself if he prioritizes winning or a lot more money.