LAS VEGAS — In the middle of an NBA summer that will be remembered for Kevin Durant’s stunning trade request from the Brooklyn Nets and the Utah Jazz’s decision to deal Rudy Gobert to Minnesota, Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis appeared at a news conference Friday and made the case for loyalty.
The occasion was the official feting of Bradley Beal signing a five-year, $251 million max contract that cements him as the Wizards’ cornerstone through at least age 32.
The reason Leonsis spoke so effusively of loyalty and commitment was because of the terms of the contract and the staggering control it gives Beal: The deal comes with a fifth-year player option, a no-trade clause and a 15 percent trade kicker, according to multiple people with knowledge of the contract.
Beal, a three-time all-star, is now singularly powerful among NBA players. The clause means if one day Wizards President and General Manager Tommy Sheppard decides either to initiate a rebuild or to transfer franchise cornerstone duties to another player, he needs Beal’s permission to make a trade and Beal has say over where he goes. It’s a detail that decimates a team’s leverage, which is why no other player has one — not even Stephen Curry, who asked the Warriors in 2017. Beal is just the 10th player to receive one in league history, joining LeBron James (in Cleveland), Kevin Garnett, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and John Stockton according to ESPN, which first reported details of the contract.
To Leonsis and Sheppard, giving Beal a no-trade clause is part of a long game. They rewarded Beal’s loyalty for sticking with a franchise that hasn’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs in his lifetime. That reputation for rewarding commitment, Leonsis argued, will make Washington a sought-after destination for the league’s best free agents.
“If you can show the industry, show the world that you can draft, develop, keep great players, that’s how you start to make your way to become a destination,” Leonsis said.
“There’s a lot of movement, a lot of non-partnership that you see around the league. And for there to be a public statement that essentially says, ‘We have a player that wants to be here and serve out his contract, as do we,’ that allows your general manager to plan, to be able to have the confidence that your best player, your bedrock player, is a part of the process. So that was something that we did, and when the player brings that to you — we’re not naive. I read the press on occasion, and I see what people are thinking. I didn’t take it as a point of leverage; I took it more as a point of partnership. All we can do is show you that we’re in this together.”
Aside from the fact that Washington has demonstrated a willingness to fork over cash as a sign of commitment (see: John Wall, Otto Porter Jr., Davis Bertans) and has nary a major free agent signing to show for it, Leonsis’s defense rests on the assumption that “loyal” organizations have a high value on the free agent market.
All-star guard Zach LaVine’s decision to re-sign with the Chicago Bulls could be considered an act of rewarding loyalty; the Bulls were also able to offer LaVine a bigger contract than any other team, just as the Wizards were with Beal. Jalen Brunson signed a four-year, $110 million contract after the New York Knicks cleared cap space and hired Brunson’s father as an assistant coach in a different sign of loyalty.
“To me, [Beal’s signing] really cements what we are trying to build,” Leonsis said. “We want to have great, great players that we draft and develop and sign who basically put their own heart, soul and passion into helping us build a winner.”
To Beal, the Wizards’ commitment mattered. The guard is mindful of his legacy in the NBA and has perspective on the meaning of his deal, the largest in franchise history.
With his wife and parents in attendance, he spoke thoughtfully Friday on the significance of generational wealth among Black families when asked about what the contract means for his growing brood — two young boys with another due this month. He opened the news conference with remarks about Brittney Griner and the country’s gun violence crisis.
“It’s real tough for me to be super excited, right? We have Brittney Griner in Russia still. Highland Park just lost six or seven lives. My hometown, St. Louis, from July 1 to 5, there were 22 shootings,” Beal said. “That’s tough. That’s three or four days. But this is a celebratory moment for my family. But it’s tough when I look at my two sons right here. I have to figure out how do they come up in this world that is unpredictable at this point. Just careless.”
Beal went on to thank Washington fans for loving him since he was drafted a decade ago and reiterated his goal of turning the Wizards into a winning franchise. When asked what the blueprint for that is now, Beal gave a familiar answer.
“We win; we attract those free agents. We attract those guys that win; we attract all-stars like” Kristaps Porzingis, Beal said. “At the same time, we trust Tommy to make those type of moves and not sit stagnant and improve our team as we go. All I can do is trust continually what he’s done.”