Bradley Beal (left) and Kobe Bryant. (AP Photos)
NBA.com reporter Sam Smith stirred-up the rumor mill earlier this week when he suggested a Bradley Beal-for-Kobe Bryant trade involving oft-injured big man Nene.
The premise behind Smith’s idea was that the Washington Wizards are banking on success in the short term after the recent signing of Paul Pierce. Adding Kobe would give them a definite shot at finishing strong in the routinely weak NBA Eastern Conference, and still position them to make a run at Kevin Durant in 2016 when Bryant’s deal expires.
The idea floated around the District for much of the week, even prompting ESPN commentator Tony Kornheiser to take a stab at it on his ESPN Radio show. Washington (6-2) is off to their best start in 40 years despite Beal being sidelined with a fractured wrist. Bryant, 36, has made a furious return from two injury-marred seasons to average 27.5 points and nearly two steals a game so far this young season for the struggling Los Angeles Lakers (1-7), who appear headed for another lottery pick. The Lakers’ futility and Bryant’s impressive start will certainly keep the trade ideas churning. Stephen D. Riley and Perry Green of the AFRO Sports Desk debate whether a trade would be a good move for the surging Wizards.
Green: I’d be all for it. I’ve never been sold on Beal becoming a top talent in the NBA, and I wonder about his star power. Perhaps the worst-kept sports secret in D.C. is the Wizards’ plan to attack free-agent-to-be Kevin Durant with a contract offer in 2016, the same year that Bryant’s sizable deal comes off the books. Bryant is scheduled to make $48.5 million over the next two seasons, but that’s a small price to pay for the Wizards who are gearing up for a run at Durant. Moving Nene’s contract, although it only has two years remaining, would also be a win for the Wizards considering the team hasn’t been able to rely on the often-shelved Brazilian big since he arrived in D.C. three seasons ago. Adding Bryant would only make it easier to land Durant, as the championship statement the trade would send across the league would be big and bold. Even at this stage in his career, Bryant is still a better option than Beal and the Wizards would be wise to consider.
Riley: Nene’s contracts coming off the books should give Washington enough cap space to successfully make a run at Durant while retaining Beal. Look, the 21-year-old shooting guard’s talent is off the charts. He’s already one of the top off-the-ball shooting guards in the game and he carried Washington at times through the postseason with John Wall struggling to find his shot. This season was set to be Beal’s breakout campaign, but his wrist injury has him on ice until a potential January return. Wall and Beal are firmly entrenched as the Wizards backcourt of the next five to seven years. Breaking that up for a two-year Kobe rental would be a setback on too many levels, and Bryant’s game and penchant for jacking shots makes him too risky a player to fit in on the fly and expect to win.
Green: I’ll admit, if Washington was able to land Durant while keeping Wall and Beal, they’d have a legit trio that would contend for a title easily. Beal wouldn’t need to be a star in that scenario with KD and Wall leading the way, and Beal could serve as a complimentary player, a perfect role for him. But Beal’s wrist injury is just another injury for the former Florida guard who’s been banged up for most of his short career in the NBA. The Wizards fan base and the team’s front office continue to advertise him as a future star, but how much will his health play a factor in his future effectiveness? Beal’s trade stock may never be as high as it is right now and it’s not everyday that a guaranteed Hall of Fame guard could be available for a trade. Washington has been starving for young stars for so long that the Beal/Wall combo probably gets more hype than what it should, but that doesn’t mean NBA executives around the league wouldn’t make a move for one of the guards if the price is right. The Wizards should definitely be leaving the door open for any deal that may elevate them into a certified contender.
Riley: Playing roulette with Bryant’s health doesn’t give Washington some unquestionable edge over Beal. The third-year guard has been banged up more than what was expected, but when healthy he produces. The NBA East has been labeled as weak, but the conference still has the NBA’s best player in LeBron James. Cleveland is the darling of the league and if Derrick Rose can stay healthy then the Chicago Bulls could see a playoff run. Adding Bryant to Wall, Pierce and Marcin Gortat probably wouldn’t be enough to derail the conference’s big dogs, especially if Nene would be traded in the process. Despite a lenghy injury history, Nene stayed healthy for Washington’s playoff run last summer and was key in beating the Bulls in the opening round. You can never have enough big men in the NBA, so if you’re offering up an aged veteran with a penchant for playing selfishly for my young, All Star-in-the-making shooting guard and my experienced big man, then no thanks. Washington needs to play out the next two years, watch Wall and Beal grow, then make the move for Durant in 2016. It’s a simple plan.