When Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld evaluated the current state of the organization and its plan moving forward last Thursday, he included Bradley Beal in its future. He highlighted that Beal is young and has already starred in two postseasons. Beal is a franchise pillar and a reason why the Wizards’ vacant coaching job is desirable, Grunfeld said.
But there’s a catch: Beal’s future in Washington isn’t sealed. Beal, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday in June, will become a restricted free agent on July 1 because the two sides didn’t come to terms on a contract extension before a Nov. 2 deadline.
“I want to be here. I don’t know,” Beal said when asked if he plans on gauging interest around the league or re-signing with Washington immediately. “I don’t even know what I’m getting into right now. It’s like choosing colleges again. But I’m happy where I am. Hopefully, we can agree with each other this summer and we can get it done. But if not, it’s a business at the end of the day.”
The consensus around the league is that the Wizards will retain Beal and will need to pay him max-contract money to do so. Based on current projections, a max contract will pay Beal around $20.7 million per season for five seasons. Beal, who made $5.7 million this season, would become the highest-paid player on Washington’s roster by a good margin – John Wall would be second next season at $16.9 million – unless the Wizards acquire another big-money player this summer.
Beal and the Wizards didn’t agree to a four-year extension in October essentially because the team didn’t want to limit salary-cap space at all this summer. Because Washington didn’t sign him to an extension, Beal will count $14 million toward the Wizards salary cap on July 1. Beal wanted – and wants – more than $14 million next season, which meant he would’ve been on the books for a bigger figure. Beal will garner more than that this summer.
“It didn’t bother me at all, honestly,” Beal said. “The first week after I didn’t sign, I kind of thought about it a little bit but I will say not one time has it ever affected my game or my performance on the floor. Sometimes I kind of forget about it. I forget I ever went through the process. Now it’s a different story.”
Washington will enter free agency with more wiggle room by not extending Beal. Other franchises can offer Beal a contract on July 1 but cannot officially give him an offer sheet until July 7, when the moratorium ends. The Wizards would then have 72 hours to match because Beal is a restricted free agent. So Washington will have at least nine days in free agency to recruit free agents that fit into their cap space – currently projected to be $27.4 million – before needing to re-sign Beal.
The Wizards could also elect to trade for a player – or players – before free agency. However they decide to use the cap space, Washington can then go over the salary cap to sign Beal because they own his Bird Rights. The Wizards are also the only team that can offer him a five-year contract. The rest of the league can only go up to four years.
Beal is a virtual lock to attract a max-contract offer because of his potential and skill set in conjunction with the television money set to flood the market this summer. He’s still younger than some players coming out of college for June’s draft and averaged a career-high 17.4 points per game this season. The question is whether Beal can stay on the floor to earn the money.
Injuries have plagued Beal during his four-year career. While some have been random ailments – for example, he missed time with a shoulder injury, concussion, broken nose, and sprained pelvis this season – he’s had stress reactions in his right fibula in each of his four seasons.
This season, the injury came up after he averaged 39.7 minutes over a seven-game stretch. He was also leading the NBA in distance traveled per game at the time. He then missed 16 straight games, from Dec. 11 until Jan. 13, and ended up setting a new career low in games played with 55 this season. When he returned, he was placed on a minutes restriction — he averaged 28.6 minutes per game — and came off the bench in 20 of 38 games.
“The injury always comes unexpected,” Beal said. “I’m my toughest critic. I love to be on the floor. I’ll do whatever it takes to play the most minutes. No matter if it’s a back-to-back, four games in five nights, if I have to play 40 minutes, I’ll play 40 minutes. That’s just my mentality. We did have convos about whether or not my minutes needed to be adjusted. We kind of figured that they needed to be. At the same time we just want to win. I just have that desire to win. That’s what’s most important. Sometimes it’s kind of immature, but if I get injured I get injured. I just want to win. We try to back off and be smart about it.”
Beal said he plans on modifying his offseason workout regimen, but just didn’t know exactly how when he addressed reporters last week. He could lift more or lift less or run more. But he “definitely” plans on changing his diet and making other necessary adjustments.
“It’s crazy. I’m very unique,” Beal said. “Nobody else has this injury except for me so it’s kind of hard to reach out or research anybody else who has it and that they’ve done for it. So it’s kind of like a guinea pig, so to speak, and I’m just testing out things to see if they work or not.
“But I trust the doctors. We’ve been on a good program every summer. I haven’t had any experiences or any injuries during the summer so I think as far as that, it’s kind of a 50-50 thing. But when the season [comes] around, it’s something I need to adjust to. Really think adjust, really think about what can help prevent me from having the injury again.”