Bradley Beal‘s new contract (five years, $251 million) has received some media backlash given it’s the richest contract in Wizards’ history and Beal has had mixed results in terms of carrying the franchise to significant wins. Yet, there might be reasons to be more bullish than the narrative suggests.
Let’s explore the future for Beal and the Wizards through an optimistic lens.
Beal Brings Stability, Chance at Continuity Advantage
Beal’s 10 seasons with the Wizards ranks only behind Wes Unseld for the longest-tenured player in franchise history. Unseld played 13 seasons with the club, spending his entire career in the franchise (five seasons as a member of the Baltimore Bullets; one year as a member of the Capital Bullets; and seven seasons as a Washington Bullet).
Having a franchise pillar allows a team to optimize and move forward with a clear plan that builds on continuity. With Beal locked in, Tommy Sheppard & Co. are adding pieces that truly complement his game. On paper, players like Kristaps Porzingis, Monte Morris, and Will Barton all fit seamlessly around Beal and the team will be given a chance to gel and internally improve.
Take a look at this past year’s NBA Finals: the Warriors, a team with a core that has spanned three different presidential terms, vs. the Celtics, a squad that has battled through multiple postseasons together and four of the core members (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Derrick White) played alongside each other for USA Basketball in the 2019 FIBA games.
New Team USA head coach Steve Kerr had some interesting comments on the importance of continuity back in 2019 during that FIBA run.
“You can really feel the importance of continuity,” Kerr said. “We’re playing these teams who have a lot of players who’ve been together for years and years. For example, the Aussies. They had Patty Mills, (Matthew) Dellavedova, (Andrew) Bogut, (Aron) Baynes, Joe Ingles. A bunch of really good players who’ve all been playing together summer after summer.”
While there’s always going to be talk about potentially bringing another star to Washington to play alongside Beal, the reality is the team may simply be banking on further building on the right fit around Beal as well as banking on the continuity he brings as a competitive advantage moving forward.
True, the Wizards don’t have the level of familiarity as the Celtics or Warriors do, though they are ahead of many teams that have seen massive changes to their team DNA over the past few seasons. The Sixers have played just 33 games with James Harden in town. The Hawks have a new backcourt but are they guaranteed to be much better? The Bulls have a tantalizing mix of veterans with players in and out of the lineup. The Knicks and Pacers are ushering in different flavors of new and what exactly are the Nets right now?
The Eastern Conference’s middle is supposedly a place where no team wants to be but the Wizards are poised to have a clear lane in that space. Few are doubting the talent that the front office has placed around Beal and if all goes well, this is a team whose path to internally improve may be less rocky than some of the other teams positioned to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Beal Aims To Make Team Better
At his contract signing press conference last month, Beal touched on a number of subjects, including how he feels he can make his teammates better. The shooting guard told the local media (including FortyEightMinutes’ Chris Crouse) that he wants to help elevate his teammates, turning them into max players.
Washington has three forwards who could hit the open market next summer and while we wouldn’t necessarily bank on a max contract for any of the Porzingis-Rui Hachimura–Kyle Kuzma trio, it’s easy to envision each of the three having their best season this upcoming year.
Hachimura is eligible for a rookie-scale extension this summer, something that is likely to happen given his trajectory and place on the team. Porzingis has a $36 million player option looming and Kuzma has a $13 million player option on his deal as well. Each player has added motivation to improve on their respective games.
Wizards’ Depth Provides Opportunity
This Washington team is arguably the deepest team in the Beal era. The rotation isn’t full of stars but it’s full of starting-level players that provide value without dominating the basketball. Wes Unseld Jr. should have multiple lineup looks that put Beal in a position to be the engine of the offense.
Beal’s playmaking skills have shined in action as the default point guard on the floor and no doubt, this will be a situation where he’ll be tasked with further expanding that part of his game given the team’s additions (and how well both Monte Morris and Delon Wright play off the ball). Beal had a career-high 6.6 assists during the 40 games he suited up for during the 2021-22 season. Expect that figure to increase during year one of Beal’s new deal.
2023 Outlook vs. Future
The Wizards are unlikely to win the 2023 NBA Championship but few teams are. Washington is in a position to put a competitive team on the floor and consistently improve. Beal has elevated his game nearly every year he’s been in the league and if the new pieces fit with the core as anticipated, then this is certainly a team that could be better than the sum of its parts with the 29-year-old captaining the ship. It might even lead to a surprise lengthy playoff run over the next five years.
In poker, there’s a saying called a chip and a chair. The Wizards are built to have a seat at the playoff table for the foreseeable future. Being optimistic is about expectations and while the expectations are not relatively high in Washington, the team is set up to surpass them.
On the other hand, the team could easily be looking at trading Beal in 18 months if the team floats in the 30-to-40 wins range as expected. That might even be a probable scenario but through the lens of an optimist, we’ll save the conversation about that outlook until after we give the Wizards a chance to work their magic at the ever-changing Eastern Conference table.