We should all be so lucky one day to afford living in the wondrous land of make-believe. After signing the richest contract in Washington Wizards history, Bradley Beal has all the money necessary to build an estate — maybe four — in that dreamy paradise.
“The money is awesome. Granted, when we grew up playing, we played the game to make a lot of money. We played the game to take care of our family,” Beal told fellow NBA player Draymond Green recently. “But that also comes with, when you make that money, you want to win ballgames. You want to be able to play for something, right? I want to play in meaningful games, right? I want to be playing in late June. That’s what I want.”
There you have it: Preorder your 2023 Wizards Eastern Conference finals hat, T-shirt and commemorative section of The Washington Post. While the rest of us broke peons remain sadly tethered to reality and therefore see the Wizards for what they are — a franchise so average, its losses become legendary — Beal envisions greatness.
With all the delusion $251 million can buy, Beal has convinced himself that his best chance at winning will come from remaining here. In D.C. Where he has never played beyond the conference semifinals. Where he had to average 31.3 points a night for the indignity of losing in five games in the opening round of the 2021 playoffs. And where franchise decision-makers rushed to mire themselves in another long-term, bloated contract. They should have remembered: Those don’t work out so well around here.
In 2008, the Wizards gave Gilbert Arenas $111 million over six years, and words like “disaster” … “cluster bomb” … and “why God, why?!” are the nicest things that come to mind about that deal. Arenas appeared in just 55 more games for Washington, and his gunplay episode with Javaris Crittenton led to Washington circling the drain for the next several years.
In 2017, after John Wall made the all-NBA team, the team rewarded him with a $170 million extension. He hasn’t completed a full season since. Feeling generous, Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis handed out another max deal that summer, this time to Otto Porter Jr. The next year he averaged 14.7 points, which was a career high at the time, but he also became the best trade asset in Washington’s emergency salary dump following Wall’s franchise-altering injury.
An NBA contract should honor prior service, and judging by the individual work performed by Arenas, then Wall, Porter and now Beal — who has pocketed multiple max contracts over his 10 years with the team that drafted him — they all deserved their bag. However, none of these anointed franchise stars have ushered the Wizards off the treadmill of late-lottery pick purgatory and into so much as a conference finals. The team stands alone in the NBA with the longest active drought since making that round.
But $251 million whispers to Beal that’s about to change. Even though evidence from the recent past screams otherwise.
The Beal era in D.C. dawned when Wall’s eroded. For years, the young duo formed a dynamic backcourt that teased with great possibilities. They thought they could have been contenders, but broken bones, second-round exits and an oh-so-close Game 7 loss snapped them back to reality.
Their dynamic changed suddenly late in 2018, when Wall departed for a surgeon’s table to fix a lingering bone spur issue. Because fate doesn’t want the Wizards to have nice things, in early 2019 he compounded that injury by slipping in his home bathroom and rupturing his left Achilles’. The injury and rehab guaranteed that he would miss the entire 2019-20 season. Then before the start of the shortened 2020-21 season, the Wizards dealt Wall to Houston for the right to have Russell Westbrook chase stats in a Washington jersey for one season.
All the while, Beal ascended as the new and undisputed face of the franchise. He has been an all-star, an all-NBA player and even a top-two scorer in the league. Everything but a winner.
Thanks to my colleague Neil Greenberg, we can see just how uninspiring these years have been. With Beal as the face of Monumental Basketball, the team has a .434 winning percentage in games he has appeared in — which would give Washington the eighth-worst percentage in the league over that stretch. In the 203 games Beal has played — he missed more than half of last season with a wrist injury — the Wizards were outscored by an average of 2.2 points, almost indistinguishable from the negative-3.7-points margin when he was inactive.
Here — and only here — do 88 wins against 115 losses deserve a participation trophy worth $251 million.
Of course, Beal isn’t to blame for all the L’s. One man can only do so much with a rotation of role-playing big men miscast as starting centers and a bunch of younger wings whose development arc hasn’t aligned with his all-NBA ascent. That subpar record since Beal’s takeover points to the franchise’s greatest handicap: No top-tier free agent wants to play in Washington.
Beal knows that. He admitted as much during his podcast tour this offseason, openly lamenting about the team’s inability to draw all-star running mates.
“It is tough to get free agents here for whatever reason,” Beal told Taylor Rooks last month. “That’s kind of always been an Achilles’ heel here. We kind of more or less have to draft and rely on the draft and develop our guys. And it’s tough.”
And yet he’s staying anyway.
Anywhere else, a franchise player choosing loyalty would rally the fan base. Here, a cascade of misery follows in the comment section.
It’s both predictable and sad because Beal has been as good a company man as any team or community could want. He has hosted local camps, mentored young Black boys, finally got vaccinated and helped finance the renovation of city basketball courts. Then again, his marketable smile, philanthropist’s heart and splashy jumper haven’t pulled the franchise anywhere close to relevance.
Still, Beal’s dreams may reach farther than Capital One Arena, and his new money will help. A few years ago, Beal reportedly tried to partner with Alex Rodriguez to purchase the New York Mets. Beal wanted to sit at the table occupied by billionaires. That might be his legacy — the business-first baller. And the next time a Major League Baseball team goes up for sale, Beal might be part of the bidding. He has that kind of money.
In the meantime, because Beal claims he wants to win, we’re to believe that next season, things will be different. Maybe he knows something the rest of us don’t — that the NBA plans to disqualify Boston, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago from participating in the 2022-23 season, thus opening the door for a Wizards’ run to the conference finals. Or maybe, Beal is simply viewing the world through $251 million-colored glasses. All those dollar signs can make you see whatever you want.
Money can’t buy Beal more wins, but it certainly can buy him a fantasy.