Wall’s latest injury might very well become a crossroads moment for not just the Wizards but for his longtime backcourt partner, Bradley Beal, who may be reaching a breaking point over yet another step backward for the franchise.
As for Wall, it could lead to a permanent downturn in his career.
Unlike DeMarcus Cousins, who is back on the court one year after his own Achilles’ tear, Wall isn’t a center and he doesn’t play for a superteam that can cover up his shortcomings and reduce his role. Wall is a point guard whose speed and athleticism have compensated for an inconsistent jump shot, and he plays for the middling Wizards, who have long relied on his ballhandling, playmaking and pace-setting. Although Wall is just 28, it’s fair to wonder whether this injury will permanently remove him from the tier of all-star guards. Will he still be able to zip past defenders? Will his body hold up to a heavy workload after so many surgeries? Will he ever be able to stay healthy for a full season again?
Those are painful questions to ponder, the same ones faced by the likes of Brandon Roy and Derrick Rose. In the short term, the Wizards have no off-ramp. Wall is set to enter the first year of a four-year, $169.3 million “supermax” contract extension in 2019-20, and the size and scope of that deal, coupled with his recurring injuries, makes him untradeable for the foreseeable future.
While Wall and the Wizards have no choice but to persevere through his recovery, the same can’t be said for Beal. The 25-year-old shooting guard has capably stepped up in Wall’s absence, averaging 24.8 points to earn his second straight all-star selection. Yet the roster around him lacks talent, chemistry and verve, placing the Wizards in a no man’s land between the bottom of the East’s playoff bracket and the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. Making matters worse, team owner Ted Leonsis has repeatedly said he will not tank, thereby cutting off the simplest path to landing meaningful help for Beal through the draft.
As Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis and Jimmy Butler have taken their careers into their own hands by requesting trades, Beal may conclude it’s time for him to consider the same approach. He’s in his prime, his franchise has struggled, and now his front office is boxed in by Wall’s injury and its insistence on chasing a meaningless postseason appearance.
Beal has carried Washington for two forgettable years — often logging obscene minutes to overcome the shortcomings around him — and the outlook only gets grimmer once Wall’s new megadeal kicks in. If Dwight Howard was an underwhelming summer acquisition, imagine how much bleaker it will get once Wall’s $37.8 million contract is clogging the books this summer.
There’s that old line: Once is chance, twice is coincidence, the third time is a pattern. Wall’s health problems sabotaged the 2017-18 season, they are submarining the ongoing 2018-19 season, and now they threaten the 2019-20 campaign 10 months before it will officially begin. For Beal, the question becomes: Why wait and worry about a fourth occurrence when there are greener pastures?
Beal’s contract pays him $56 million over the next two seasons, a fair price for a star. His trade value should be substantial this summer, given that suitors know they would be acquiring a proven piece in his prime years who won’t be a flight risk until July 2021.
While Washington has been protective of Beal in trade talks to this point — and rightfully so — he hasn’t yet forced the issue. The New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves have all had to explore trade proposals after receiving clear signals from their stars. If Beal joined that chorus come July, what recourse would Washington have but to move him for the best possible deal?
Perhaps Beal is blessed with impeccable patience, pure loyalty and an unyielding faith in the Wizards’ front office. Perhaps not. Tuesday’s injury news makes this much clear: Beal might get to be the face of the franchise, but the Wizards won’t truly be his team as long as he’s playing in the shadows cast by Wall’s injuries and contract. How long will he be okay with that?