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Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal is a key piece of the franchise’s future. The 22-year-old jump-shooter is only three years into his NBA career, and the best appears to be yet to come—but so will a monster contract extension.

Beal is entering the final season on his four-year rookie deal and he’s done enough to warrant a max contract, based on projections, past performance and potential. The Wizards, however, find themselves in a peculiar position. With Beal’s extension on the horizon and next summer’s free agent frenzy looming, Washington might be wise to not offer a deal to the rising guard until next season, when Beal becomes a restricted free agent and the team will have money to fill out the roster.

The NBA salary cap is expected to increase another $20 million over the next three seasons. That means throwing huge dollars at Beal now would likely be a bargain once 2018 arrives, but would also tie up the Wizards’ cap space next year, when the team is expected to chase hometown superstar Kevin Durant. If the Wizards wait until next summer, and maintain John Wall and Marcin Gortat as the two big contracts on their books, they could chase Durant and even another high-level acquisition.

Team World’s Bradley Beal dunks against Team Africa during the NBA Africa Game at Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

They could also exceed the salary cap to resign Beal, should another team offer him a deal as a restricted free agent. While the latter could be a wiser plan, the idea would only work if Wizards owner and president Ted Leonsis is willing to pay luxury taxes for exceeding the cap. Washington hasn’t been the most generous franchise when it comes to handing out big deals, but the chance to contend for a title could be well worth Leonsis splurging.

If Beal re-signs this summer, then trying to fill out the roster next season while chasing Durant (or any other free agent) next year would be a tough assignment for Leonsis and general manager Ernie Grunfield, considering no one really knows what the final salary cap number will be. The Wizards have paced themselves to strike should Durant become available, and they have to stay true to their agenda. Beal is going to get his money, that’s no question. But structuring that money correctly will help the Wizards set their roster. The only way Beal doesn’t sign an extension, whether it’s this summer or next, is if he truly plans to chase after huge dollars by waiting another two full seasons to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017. That’s a gamble the oft-injured Beal probably won’t take.

Washington is in the driver’s seat right now with Beal, and they have several routes they could ultimately take, but holding firm on a contract until next summer seems like the most logical path. For a guard with a 15.6 point-per-game average, maxing out Beal now might not make sense. Another year of the guard trying to “earn” his big contract might be a good idea for both sides. Beal hasn’t been a rock during the regular season and leg issues have caused him to miss crucial time throughout the season. But he’s been stellar in postseason play and a two-year playoff average of 21 points per game is enough to warrant spending big money on him. Washington doesn’t have to move immediately to get a deal done, but they do have to move wisely as next season nears.