Talk to a Washington Wizards executive about the franchise’s future and Bradley Beal is included as a foundational piece alongside John Wall in the back court. The assumption is Beal and Wall will have at least a few more years to grow together and help propel the Wizards to heights not reached since the Carter administration.
Yet Beal’s inclusion is not a foregone conclusion. Beal is a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the NBA’s 29 other teams can offer him a contract once free agency starts on July 1 and the Wizards would have 72 hours to match. Beal reiterated he wants to stay in Washington in a telephone interview from Tokyo last week, but at the right price. That price is a maximum contract.
“I want to be valued the right way,” Beal, 22, said from Japan, where he visited as part of a promotional tour for the NBA and attended a playoff viewing party with fans. “I feel like I’m a max player and that’s what I’m looking for. If Washington can’t meet that requirement then I may be thinking elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that they probably won’t [let me go]. At the end of the day, that’s where I want to be. I think a deal will probably get done but you just never know.”
The exact amount for a maximum contract for Beal will depend on the league’s salary cap next season. Initial projections pegged the figure at $90 million – a $20 million jump from last season — but league executives have been using $92 million as the number and it could increase even further. As a four-year veteran, Beal could earn up to 25 percent of the cap. If the cap is $92 million then a max deal would pay him $23 million next season.
The Wizards have two factors going in their favor: They’re the only team that can sign Beal to a five-year deal (other teams can only go up to four years) and they can exceed the salary cap to retain him because they own his Bird Rights, which allow teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents, provided they have been with the club for at least three years.
Washington offered the 6-4 Beal a contract extension before the NBA’s Nov. 2 deadline for fourth-year players, but it wasn’t the max so Beal declined it and the two sides agreed to wait until the summer. The Wizards’ decision to not give Beal a max extension in October was strategic: By waiting until July, Beal’s cap hold is just over $14 million, as opposed to over $20 million had he been given the max extension. The difference will give Washington more wiggle room in their attempt to lure a top-tier free agent or trade for a high-priced star and fill the remainder of the roster. It is the same strategy the San Antonio Spurs chose with Kawhi Leonard a year ago and the Detroit Pistons are using now with Andre Drummond.
But Beal’s injury-plagued season complicates matters. He played a career-low 55 games and was hindered by another stress injury to his right fibula, his fourth in four professional campaigns.
“I hear about it all time, but that doesn’t define me as a player,” Beal said. “That won’t stop me from growing as a player and it won’t stop me from being who I am. The injury thing, that’s behind me. I’m moving forward. I’m past it. I’m focused on my career from here on out. Hell, Steph Curry was hurt his first four years. Look at him now. John [Wall] was hurt his first three or four years. Look at him now. I’m not worried about it. People are going to say what they want to say. At the end of the day, it’s not going to affect me or the money.”
The injury history could be a concern for teams, perhaps enough to prevent them from making him one of the highest-paid players in the sport. But Beal’s talent and potential – he turns 23 in June and has averaged 21.2 points in 21 career playoff games – makes the possibility of him garnering a max contract very likely in an unprecedented market.
If Beal does return to the Wizards, he’ll have a new coach in Scott Brooks, who replaced Randy Wittman. Despite Beal’s contract status, the two met for lunch in Los Angeles recently.
“It was a good move. In some ways he’s similar to Witt,” said Beal, who was not consulted during the coaching search. “He allows his players a lot of freedom on the offensive end but he’s a defensive-minded coach. I got to pick his mind a bit and he’s great. I got a great feel for him. He’s really a player’s coach. He loves to be hands-on. He loves to develop guys and get his guys better.
“On top of that, he’s a proven coach. He’s shown that he can win and he’s shown that he can get his players to the finals. That’s exciting. It’s great to be in a situation to have a coach with that experience. He’s been there before. We’ve been in the playoffs, too. So put those two together and hopefully we make something work.”
Beal said he’ll begin his offseason workout regimen at the beginning of June and it will include more weight lifting than in previous summers. From there, his future isn’t as clear but he prefers a return to Washington.
“I want to be” in Washington,” Beal said. “I do. It just comes down to July 1st. I want to think about it a little bit, but this has been home for me. It’s great to have our core back and a new coach. So things are changing. It’s just up to me and the front office to get it done.”