After a historic season in which Bradley Beal established himself as the centerpiece of the franchise as well as one of the best to wear a Washington Wizards uniform, he still fell short of one major recognition.
On Thursday, the league announced its 2018-19 all-NBA teams, and Beal was not named among the top 15 players, as voted by members of the media. Though Beal received 31 points in third-team votes and 34 overall points, the most of any player left off the team, the consolation prize will prove hollow in Washington.
The results revealed that voters could not admire Beal’s masterpiece amid the rubble of the Wizards’ season in which the team lost 50 games and fell far short of its goal of making the playoffs.
With John Wall appearing in just 32 games because of left heel pain, which eventually led to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, Beal filled in the all-star void. Beal had career-high averages in points (25.6), assists (5.5), rebounds (5.0), steals (1.5) and minutes (36.9) among several other categories, and early in the season he reached the top of the franchise’s ladder in three-pointers. In February, when Beal earned his second straight trip to the All-Star Game, he passed 1,000 made threes in his career, becoming the youngest player in league history to reach the mark.
Washington’s resident iron man has appeared in 170 consecutive games since 2017-18, including all regular season and postseason matchups. Beal also became the first player in the franchise’s 58-year history to average at least 25 points, five assists and five rebounds. The other five players to reach that threshold this season (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden and LeBron James) were named all-NBA.
While the Wizards’ 32-50 season sank Beal’s chances at the individual honor, it saved the team from a potential dilemma.
With an all-NBA mention, Beal would have become eligible to receive the Designated Veteran Player Extension, commonly known as a supermax contract. The award would have prompted Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis to make a high-priced decision on Beal’s future in Washington.
After Wall made the all-NBA team in 2016-17, which qualified him for a supermax extension, Leonsis rewarded his five-time all-star point guard with a four-year, $170 million deal. Though Leonsis went all in with Wall, the decision has limited the team’s financial flexibility. Further complicating matters, Wall is expected to miss most of the 2019-20 season, when his supermax actually kicks in, while recovering from the Achilles’ injury. Even if Wall sits out all 82 games, the Wizards have to pay his salary, although insurance will cover 80 percent of that total up to a certain amount.
On April 3 when addressing questions following the dismissal of longtime basketball president Ernie Grunfeld, Leonsis shared his vision for spending in the future. Though he did not directly address the looming dilemma with giving Beal a supermax deal, he did not fully endorse the idea in doling out big contracts just to keep players.
“I’d be willing to do whatever the right strategy is, make the right investments for us to have a great team,” Leonsis said. “I’ll also note that one of the greatest statements I’ve ever heard was from a coach that we had to fire. ... ‘Just because you pay them more money doesn’t make them a better player.’
“I know that whoever’s coming is a student [of the game] and understands what the salary cap is, where the tax is, and we will make very, very smart decisions. But we’ve proven we’re not shy in spending money,” Leonsis continued. “I just want to make sure, we all want to make sure that it’s part of a strategic plan, not to appease or try to have a sugar high of some sort.”
Leonsis does not have to choose between giving Beal a contract that will take up 35 percent of the salary cap and escalate each year or refusing to launch back into the luxury tax with another bloated contract. Another supermax deal might have forced whoever is hired as the Wizards’ next president of basketball of operations to consider a franchise-altering trade.
If the team chose not to extend a supermax contract, Washington could have envisioned a scenario in which it lost Beal in two years, thereby escalating the need for a trade. Beal’s current deal ends after the 2020-21 season; he will make nearly $29 million in that final year. As the Wizards face an immediate future without one half of its all-star backcourt, the lead basketball executive would have had to think about trading Beal to receive young assets.
That scenario is suddenly a little less pressurized. The voters helped the Wizards in that regard.
MVP candidates Antetokounmpo and Harden received unanimous votes for the all-NBA first team, which also includes Curry, Paul George and Nikola Jokic. The second team features Durant, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid. James highlights the third team along with Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Blake Griffin and Rudy Gobert.