In this Feb. 3, 2016, file photo, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) shoots as Golden State Warriors center Marreese Speights defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Washington. The Wizards have agreed to terms Friday, July 1, 2016, with Beal on a five-year maximum contract worth $128 million. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Five years and $130 million later, the Washington Wizards have retained restricted free agent guard Bradley Beal with a max contract under the NBA’s new inflated salary cap. Beal hasn’t been the only free agent to profit handsomely from the cap increase as several hefty contracts have been handed out since free agency started on July 1. However, for a Wizards franchise that absolutely needs some upgrades this summer just to compete in a steadily-
improving NBA Eastern conference, Washington has to be wise with its available cap room. Beal’s max deal means his starting salary next season will kick in just above $22 million which would’ve been an absurd figure just a few seasons ago but under today’s wide open NBA market, the numbers fit the bill for the position. But did they fit Beal? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate whether the Wizards really had a choice in handing their 23-year-old still-evolving shooting guard a maximum contract.
Riley: Critics will point to Beal’s injury history and missed games as a deterrent, but the reality is Beal’s been the team’s most effective player during the team’s playoff runs in the 2014 and 2015 postseasons. With playoff career averages of 21.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per playoff contest, Beal might not always be healthy for the regular season but he’s dependable for prime time. Beal, who just turned 23 last week, hasn’t even sniffed his own prime yet, and the Wizards’ brass clearly understood that. It isn’t like the Wizards are stacked to the shelf in talent. Letting Beal go would’ve been a colossal step back. With the way contracts are being handed out it’s a strong possibility that some team was going to offer Beal a max deal. If Washington wasn’t going to pay the tab then some other team was surely going to. They may have been forced into signing Beal to the max but it wasn’t a waste. Blossoming 23-year-old shooting guards with speed, size, athleticism and shooting strokes typically garner max deals on the open market in the NBA.
Green: With the way the market is going the Wizards may have felt pressured to offer Beal the max but it was a move they didn’t need to make. The goal for the last few seasons has been “KD2DC,” and although free agent forward Kevin Durant wouldn’t grant the team an interview, I don’t understand why the Wizards moved so quickly to sign Beal when Durant hasn’t even made his decision yet. Washington struck a deal with Beal just hours after free agency started at midnight on July 1. As a restricted free agent, Washington could’ve even let Beal test the market, sign an offer sheet with another team and still take seven days to match. Beal’s contract basically wipes out any chance of Durant playing in D.C. And, although chances were slim to begin with, I just don’t understand how a plan that was several years in the making is suddenly abandoned in just a few days to re-sign a guard that hasn’t played a full season since he entered the Association four years ago.
Riley: Its called Plan B, Green. There was no sense knocking down Durant’s door just to earn a telephone call with him so the Wizards did the second best thing they could do–sign the top guard on the market which happened to be their own player. I’d prefer having Beal healthy come playoff time rather than the regular season, even though he’s been dependable both times Washington has qualified over the last three years. This isn’t the old NBA from the ’90s and early 2000s when $100 million contracts were rare. They’re about to become the norm in the league and Beal’s deal is just an early example of what’s about to transpire in the NBA over the next few seasons. A few years from now Beal’s contract will be a bargain deal.
Green: You’re trying to justify the contract and the money without figuring out if Beal was truly worth the deal in the first place. Say what you want, but Beal has a career average of 17.6 points per game, and I don’t care how much the cap goes up, those numbers aren’t worth a max deal. The fact that the salary cap has swelled so much only means that teams need to be even more leery of handing out $20 million per year deals to players who haven’t put in consistent seasons. The face of the team is still John Wall, not Beal. Yet the latter is set to make over $60 million more in guaranteed money and there’s just something odd about that. Through the hands of General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards have been known to mismanage deals and this might be another example. After missing the playoffs last season it’s understandable that Washington clearly didn’t want to lose Beal, but the scarcity of talent on the roster forced their hand. It’ll be interesting to see how Beal’s deal affects the team’s ability to retain Wall when his contract is up three seasons from now.