Hughes: Could the best-case for Beal's legacy look like Zimmerman? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Everyone has taken their seats at halfcourt as the banner bearing his name and number remains cloaked in the rafters. John Wall, Marcin Gortat and other teammates from the past have flown in; some with gray hair, some with none at all, some who look like they could still play a few minutes and score a few baskets if needed.
Longtime broadcaster Dave Johnson approaches the podium to emcee the ceremony. It’s Bradley Beal Weekend at Capital One Arena.
That may be the scene someday in an absolute best-case scenario for Beal if he re-signs in Washington. It could look something like Ryan Zimmerman Weekend did at Nationals Park two weeks ago. If Beal stays in D.C. and the Wizards build a winner with him as the face of the franchise, it’s not hard to imagine a dream scenario for how it could end.
Beal, who turns 29 this week, has other significant factors to consider in the decision about his future, which should be made this weekend. The Wizards can pay him about $64 million more than another team and can sign him to an extra year, a contract that could be worth upwards of $248 million over five seasons.
Beal also has a family to consider; where to raise his soon-to-be three kids. And he wants to win, so he has to determine whether the Wizards as currently constituted have a realistic path towards doing so.
But in the celebration of Zimmerman’s career, Beal could see the potential for himself. The parallels aren’t perfect, but there are definitely parallels.
Zimmerman was and is beloved in part because he was the first draft pick for the Nationals when they moved to D.C. He became the franchise’s first star in Washington and helped define a new era for Nats fans.
Beal, meanwhile, has arguably had the longest prime any Wizards star has produced in a long time. You could say someone else like Gilbert Arenas or Wall had a higher peak, but Beal has had the good fortune of longevity.
That goes beyond basketball, too. Only Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Stephen Strasburg have had longer careers in D.C. among active pro athletes. If he plays out a five-year deal with Washington, Beal will have been a Wizard longer (15 years) than Zimmerman was a National (14 years).
Like Zimmerman did years ago, Beal has an opportunity to lead generations of local fans to a place they have never been. While the Wizards have been in existence in D.C. for decades, unlike baseball before it returned, they haven’t been on a deep playoff run since 1979. That was the last time they went to the conference finals or won 50 games in a season.
Just accomplishing those goals would count for something, as it would give many (most?) Wizards fans something they haven’t experienced before. Sticking around to finally climb that mountain would separate Beal from many Wizards/Bullets stars that came before him.
Now, to what degree Beal can win here is debatable and also hard to project at the moment. Team president Tommy Sheppard has dramatically reshaped the roster each offseason he has operated the front office and at each of the last two trade deadlines. They have already made significant changes since Beal last played, as he was shut down with a left wrist injury just before they traded for Kristaps Porzingis.
While the results haven’t been spectacular, as the Wizards won just 35 games last season and missed the playoffs, the roster is likely to look very different one week from now. Signing Beal to a supermax contract may also add some natural urgency to improving the roster in hopes of capitalizing on the rest of his prime.
It’s impossible to know, but it doesn’t seem likely Zimmerman’s career would have had the same ending if he had left somewhere along the way to join another team. He was very good, but injuries affected the length of his prime. He made two All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. His jersey number was retired with festivities that would befit a Hall-of-Fame player, even though he wasn’t one.
Team accomplishments still pending, Beal could be more decorated in his own sport when he decides to hang them up. He’s a three-time All-Star, an All-NBA selection and is on pace to set the Wizards/Bullets franchise record for career points this season. He’s only 1,320 points behind Elvin Hayes and, just going off his career scoring average of 22.1 points per game, would get there about 60 games from now.
Even if Beal were to leave, he has already made his mark on the Wizards/Bullets franchise. He’s second on the scoring list and owns the 3-point record. It’s possible he would still get his jersey retired someday, depending on the nature of his exit. But there seems to be no question, athletes who stay with one team for the entirety of their careers are boosted by that distinction.
Beal, to his credit, covets more than individual accolades. He wants to win and only has so many years left in his prime to be a key contributor on a winning team. He has already played 10 NBA seasons and has not made it past the second round of the NBA playoffs.
For his career to transpire like Zimmerman’s, he will need some help from the front office. The back half of Zimmerman’s career was buoyed by Nationals president Mike Rizzo building a powerhouse with young stars like Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Strasburg. They pulled off possibly the best free agent signing in baseball history with Max Scherzer.
Beal would have to do his part and other stars would have to align. But if he and the Wizards want a glimpse into what the ideal scenario for him re-signing could look like, they may have just seen it about two miles down the road.