Training camp is rapidly approaching, but the Washington Wizards‘ off-season roster activity may not be complete because Bradley Beal’s contract situation remains unanswered. The negotiating period for a contract extension, which would kick in for the 2016-17 season, opened July 1 and closes on Halloween, the day of the Wizards’ home opener against the New York Knicks.
So, there’s time. Both sides have maintained dialogue throughout the summer but there’s no rush and substantial progress hasn’t been made, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. That’s not unusual – deadlines usually spur activity. But, in this case, bypassing the negotiation window without an agreement could be the right move for both sides.
The Wizards want Beal to stay in the District long term and form a prolific back court alongside John Wall. He’s 22 years old, has excelled in the playoffs each of the last two years, and the common expectation is he is on the cusp of a breakout campaign. He will sign a contract for a large amount of money with an NBA team, most likely the Wizards, within the next year. But there are two uncertainties: when exactly he will be sign that contract and whether he will garner the maximum amount of money available to him.
Beal is eligible for a four-year extension – not five years because Wall was given a five-year deal two summers ago, thereby becoming the Wizards’ designated player, which is a tag a franchise can only grant one player on a rookie-scale deal – until Oct. 31. If an agreement is not reached, he would become a restricted free agent on July 1.
Other prominent members of Beal’s 2012 draft class – top pick Anthony Davis, No. 2 selection Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and sixth pick Damian Lillard – have signed extensions this summer. Davis signed the richest contract in league history (a five-year pact worth $145 million he was eligible for because of the Derrick Rose Rule in the CBA), Kidd-Gilchrist went for $52 million over four years, and Lillard signed for a five-year max of $120 million.
The circumstances, however, are different for Beal and the Wizards. Unlike Davis and Lillard, Beal, the third pick in the 2012 draft, is not the undisputed franchise player on his team. That title goes to Wall. But Beal also figures to garner a richer contract than Kidd-Gilchrist, a defensive dynamo with offensive limitations.
Furthermore, waiting makes sense for Beal because he would be eligible for a five-year contract from the Wizards next summer (no other team can go beyond four years) and the max, which he believes he is worth, would remain the same – 25 percent of the salary cap.
Waiting makes sense for the Wizards because Beal’s cap hold would be $14 million – about $7 million less than it would be if Beal signs a max contract extension by Oct. 31. The difference affords Washington essential flexibility for free agency and the Wizards could go over the salary cap to re-sign Beal after addressing free agency because they own his Bird Rights. They can also match any other team’s offer sheet to Beal. Therefore, though Washington is unlikely to offer Beal the max before Halloween, that doesn’t mean they won’t give him the max next summer. They just don’t have to right now.
The decision boils down to whether Beal prefers the financial security immediately. As exhibited during this summer’s free agency period — when the overwhelming majority of players opted for multiyear deals instead of short pacts to jump back into the free-agent fray next summer when the cap is supposed to jump to an all-time high as many expected players would — it is difficult to turn down millions of dollars even if a bigger jackpot potentially awaits. And Washington could decide inking Beal for less than the max could be worth diminishing next summer’s flexibility a bit as long as they still had the space to make a run at Kevin Durant.
Then there’s Beal’s injury history. Beal has dealt with various leg and ankle injuries in each of his first three seasons. Cashing in now would erase the risk of an injury affecting his next contract. But even a significant setback probably wouldn’t substantially diminish Beal’s earning potential next summer. There aren’t any 23-year-old two-way sharpshooting two-guards who averaged 23 points while playing lockdown defense in 10 postseason games before his 22nd birthday sitting around. A team will most likely take a chance on Beal with huge payday regardless.
For evidence, see Wes Matthews and the Dallas Mavericks. Matthews is one of the NBA’s best 3-and-D pieces but he ruptured his Achilles’ heel last season – a catastrophic blow that has ruined careers — and may not be ready for the start of the campaign. He also turns 29 next month. Yet, after initially committing to pay Matthews $57 million over four years, the Mavericks increased the compensation to the maximum — $70 million over four years – following the DeAndre Jordan fiasco.
The imminent influx of record-breaking television money has altered the market and two-way wing players are prized commodities in today’s pace-and-space NBA. And Beal, whether before Oct. 31 or after July 1, stands to benefit.