The to-do list for the Washington Wizards this offseason isn’t as exhaustive as last summer, when they had two starters hit free agency. They ultimately kept one, Marcin Gortat, and watched another, Trevor Ariza, depart for the Houston Rockets. This time around, the Wizards will have at least four reserves on the free-agent market beginning on July 1 – Drew Gooden III, Rasual Butler, Kevin Seraphin and Will Bynum – but the focus will be on a player who isn’t eligible for free agency until next summer.
Bradley Beal, the soon-to-be 22-year-old rising star, is eligible for a four-year contract extension this summer that would kick in for the 2016-17 season. If a deal is not agreed upon before the end of October, the two sides would have to wait until next summer to resume negotiations. Beal, who will make $5.6 million on the final year of his rookie contract regardless, would then become a restricted free agent next summer.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Beal said Monday. “I haven’t talked to my agent about it. I haven’t talked to [General Manager] Ernie [Grunfeld] and those guys yet. I don’t even think I’m allowed to. It’s up in the air and I’m just sitting back and mourning this loss a little bit. And when the time comes, I’ll sit down with my agent and discuss some things.”
Beal is not eligible for the five-year extension John Wall received two summers ago because teams are only allowed to ink one player to such an extension before the conclusion of their rookie contract. Washington chose to allocate the “Designated Player” extension to Wall and he received a five-year max contract worth $80 million that kicked in this past season.
But like Wall, Beal has likely earned himself a max extension after a standout two-way postseason performance. The shooting guard averaged 23.4 points per game and supplemented the production with premier defense, particularly on Atlanta’s Kyle Korver in the second round. Korver, the NBA’s leading three-point shooter during the regular season, was held to seven points per game and 28.6 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line in the teams’ six-game series.
“Brad, we’ve seen make that next step, really through the Atlanta series,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s one thing to be able to do it. But when you’re asking him to do something at the offensive end, too, you don’t know: Am I burning him at one end and is it costing us at the other? And I think he proved that wasn’t the case. Chasing and defending a guy like Korver, a guy like, in the Toronto series, [DeMar] DeRozan, and still be able to put numbers up at the other end. So that’s a great luxury. That was important to see.”
A max extension would garner a yearly salary that starts at about 25 percent of the salary cap in 2016-17, which is projected to jump to $89 million from $67.1 million thanks to the league’s new television contract, followed by yearly raises of 7.5 percent. It would make Beal the highest-paid player on the Wizards. If a deal is not reached this summer, the Wizards could re-sign Beal to a five-year contract next offseason and match any offers other teams make.
There are two other wrinkles in Beal’s situation: his health and the upcoming salary cap spike. Beal could bank on himself to continue his ascension next season and reap the benefits of the new TV money that will continue to flood in by waiting for a five-year deal or even signing the qualifying offer for $7.4 million in 2016-17 and entering unrestricted free agency the summer of 2017 when the salary cap is projected to rise to all-time high of $108 million.
But injuries, particularly leg issues, have hampered him each of his first three seasons so he must decide whether to secure the jackpot this offseason and push unrestricted free agency to when he 26 years old in 2019 or take the chance.
“My goal this offseason is staying healthy,” said Beal, who was sidelined for 19 regular season games due to wrist, toe, and fibula injuries. “That’s always what’s set me back each year I’ve been here. So my biggest thing is just staying healthy, taking care of my body, getting stronger, but I think if I can put together a full season, I can be one of the elite players in this league.”
Having Beal wait until restricted agency next summer would also help the Wizards; Beal would count significantly less against the cap next offseason, which would give them more money to sign other free agents under the cap. Washington could then exceed the cap to match any offer from another team and re-sign Beal after using the additional funds on other player(s). And even if Beal signs an offer sheet with another club to force the Wizards to re-sign him before they could make other moves, they’d be where they were had they extended him this summer.