In rather surprising news, an NBA superstar committed to a mediocre team on Thursday. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports Bradley Beal has agreed to a two-year extension with the Washington Wizards. The contract locks Beal in with the Wizards through 2021-22, and has a player option year for 2022-23. Beal had been on track to become a free agent in 2021.
The extra year before Beal can become a free agent gives the Wizards more time to prove the team is worthy of hosting the best years of his career. Beal had been the NBA star most likely to be involved in trade rumors and perhaps trade talks this season given the Wizards’ lowly status and the potential for Beal to walk in 2021.
Washington had extended a full max extension offer as soon as it was legal this summer; if Beal demurred completely before the deadline next week, that would have been a strong sign the guard wasn’t excited about the prospect of committing to the Wizards, and could have sparked the front office to put a back-up plan into motion to trade Beal when his value is really high.
Beal didn’t commit to the full max he could have, and the player option on the last year of this extension is notable. But the mere fact of delaying free agency to remain with Washington, and to essentially decline the opportunity for a super-max salary in 2021-22: that’s a huge win for the Wizards.
That’s a commitment no matter how you slice it. It’s not the maximum commitment Beal could have made to D.C., but it’s a commitment and that’s a victory right now for a team that has sunk back into familiar doldrums.
How did Beal give up a potential year of super-max salary? Had Beal made the All-NBA team last season — he came just short — Washington could have offered 35 percent of the salary cap for the 2021-22 through 2023-24 seasons for a Beal extension. Because Beal fell short, the extension can only be for 30 percent of the salary cap. That’s about a $6 million annual difference. Beal could have become eligible to sign a super-max extension next summer if he made All-NBA in 2019-20 (the season starting next week). Beal has taken that off the table by accepting this extension.
The rub is that Beal is eligible for 35 percent of the salary cap as a 10-year veteran in 2022 anyway, and now that’s when he’s scheduled to become a free agent. So he’s really only sacrificing that bump for the 2021-22 season, and there’s no guarantee whatsoever he’d make All-NBA from a bad team this coming season. Really, this might be a smarter long-term move than becoming a free agent after Year 9 in 2021: unless he made All-NBA in the 2020-21 season, he’d have to sign a 30 percent max for at least one year since he wouldn’t yet have the service time to be eligible for a 35 percent max.
In other words, this extension greatly simplifies Beal’s next free agency for him at the cost of a tenuous possibility of a $6 million raise in 2021-22.
So what now for the Wizards? They have Beal, their best player in decades (apologies to peak Gilbert Arenas), for three more years. This season is likely a bust as John Wall recovers from his ruptured Achilles. (The Wizards could be frisky with rookie Rui Hachimura and a fully invigorated Beal. We’ll see. It’s probably a bust, though.) The Wizards really have the 2020-21 season to convince Beal the team is on an upward swing. Then comes the famed 2021 free agent class, where the Wizards probably can’t be players due to Wall and Beal’s massive contracts, but where some franchise is going to miss out and be raring to overpay for a star talent.
If Washington isn’t in a better position that summer, it should have some leverage to earn a big trade return on Beal, who’d have one season left on his deal (with a second-year player option). That’s certainly better than what would be the case had Beal not taken this extension: Beal would have been a free agent already, if he hadn’t been traded. The Wizards can now go into 2020-21 with a different sort of pressure to win: if it goes poorly, trading Beal — not losing him for nothing in free agency — is the result.
The Wizards still have to build a competitive team around Beal and around Wall’s contract, and hopefully a healthy Wall can be a part of that. Now the cost of failing to do so isn’t quite so great. Given Beal’s commitment to D.C. and the life it could breathe into the franchise, the chance of it all succeeding seems that much greater.
Good job, Wizards, for a change.