Unlike the majority of NBA organizations, the Washington Wizards’ plan was never to partake in any high-stakes free agent bidding wars this summer. Paul Pierce’s decision on Wednesday to return home to Los Angeles won’t change that.
With the Wizards needing financial flexibility to attempt to lure Kevin Durant next summer, their most important decision this offseason likely will be in-house. Bradley Beal, their 22-year-old sharpshooter, is eligible for a four-year contract extension this summer, and the team has begun discussions with Beal’s camp. The Wizards view him as a franchise cornerstone alongside John Wall who could also help entice Durant from Oklahoma City a year from now.
The question is how much money Beal will command, a figure that likely will be linked to when he signs. The key to negotiations will lie in how both sides balance the risks and rewards of reaching a deal sooner or waiting a year — or possibly two.
Whenever it happens, Beal believes he is worth the maximum.
“I’m not going to sell myself short,” Beal said Thursday in a telephone interview from his home town of St. Louis, where he was hosting a youth basketball camp. “If I get offered, I get offered. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m just going to continue to be the player I am and not let money really have any effect on me like that.”
The two sides have until the start of the regular season to negotiate, and reaching an agreement this summer is not vital. An extension wouldn’t kick in until the 2016-17 season, and Beal will play out the final year of his rookie contact for $5.6 million next season regardless.
But the Wizards displayed a willingness to secure young talent by signing Wall to a max contract two years ago, a season before his rookie deal was due to expire. The five-year, $80 million pact was viewed by some as risky because an unproven Wall regularly battled injuries his first three seasons. Now, after Wall’s two all-star game appearances and because the league’s financial landscape is being redefined by an impending infusion of money from television contracts, it looks like a bargain.
Beal has made a case for a max contract. The Wizards’ youngest player from the moment he was drafted third overall in 2012 until Washington traded for Kelly Oubre Jr. in last month’s draft, Beal was a standout performer this spring, averaging 23.4 points. He supplemented the offensive production with premier defense, particularly on Atlanta’s Kyle Korver in the second round.
Beal is not eligible for the five-year extension Wall received because teams are allowed to sign only one player to such a deal before the conclusion of their rookie contract. Washington chose to allocate the “designated player” extension to Wall. But Beal would make more money than Wall over the life of a four-year max deal anyway.
The NBA’s salary cap is projected to leap from $69.1 million in 2015-16 to approximately $89 million in 2016-17, when Beal’s contract would begin. Based on those estimates, Washington can offer Beal up to $21 million the first season followed by annual raises of 7.5 percent. Beal could collect north of $90 million over the four seasons.
“I talked to [my agent] a little bit about it,” Beal said. “Not in depth. He just gave me a basic rundown of it, of what may or may not happen and what the plans are for both us and the team. And we’re going to go from there. I really haven’t talked to him. . . . But I think in a couple weeks or so, in a week or two, we’re going to sit down and talk about it.”
There are two other wrinkles in Beal’s situation: the Durant pursuit and Beal’s health.
If the Wizards give Beal the four-year max this summer, his cap hold for next year would be the $21 million he would be scheduled to make the following season. He also would be poised to become a free agent again at age 27 — the start of many players’ prime, health permitting.
But if the two sides table discussions until the
following year, his cap hold would be $14.236 million — 2.5 times his 2015-16 salary — which would give the Wizards about $7 million more in cap room to recruit free agents. Washington could then go over the salary cap limit to re-sign Beal as a restricted free agent using his Bird Rights. The Wizards also would be the only team that could tack on a fifth contract year.
From that perspective, waiting until next summer makes sense for both sides, but Beal could be taking a risk after dealing with various injuries, particularly to his leg and ankle, in each of his first three seasons. He could sign a qualifying offer for $7.4 million in 2016-17 and enter unrestricted free agency in 2017, when the salary cap is projected to rise to an all-time high of $108 million. But the prospect of waiting two years in hopes of a potential bonanza also would be a significant risk considering a lockout is possible that summer.
So it likely will come down to a four-year agreement before the end of this offseason or a five-year pact next year. A five-year deal would be the more lucrative route for Beal, but he has to choose whether to secure a jackpot now or wait for a bigger one that could also help the franchise. Regardless, he sees himself in the District for years to come.
“I can. I can,” Beal said when asked whether he envisions himself in the District for the long haul. “It’s just a matter of what the front office wants to do. I love D.C. I love being there. I love playing for the team. I was part of helping build this team, so I wouldn’t just leave that easily. I’m definitely looking forward to playing next year regardless of what happens this summer. I’m still going to be wearing a Wizards jersey.”
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