What will Wizards’ future look like with Beal locked in? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Once again, the Wizards have bucked the trend. In an era of player empowerment and star movement in the NBA, the Wizards continue to enjoy a perfect record of retaining the high-profile free agents they want to keep.
Bradley Beal’s five-year deal worth a projected $251 million is yet another significant victory for the Wizards’ organization in that they wanted to keep him and did. It follows a long line of similar success stories between John Wall’s two extensions, Otto Porter Jr.’s max contract and the deal to keep Davis Bertans. Beal himself has now signed up three times to stay in Washington.
Now, not all of those contracts worked out. In fact, about half of them didn’t. Wall’s career was decimated by injuries not long after he signed his second extension. Porter and Bertans, meanwhile, just never even came close to living up to the money they were paid.
Beal has by far provided the best return for the Wizards’ investment and they are betting the same will transpire on his fourth contract with the team. That investment, by the way, is a substantial one. Beal is set to earn one of the largest contracts in NBA history and will be paid through his Age 33 season, his 15th year in the NBA.
Based on current salary cap estimates, Beal will earn about $57.1 million when he’s 33 years old. The salary cap will go up and so will the salary numbers across the league. But that’s a lot of money at a point in Beal’s career that could be past his prime, or at the tail end of it.
The Wizards not only decided to keep a very good player, they made a bet on how his game will age. Beal has one season left in his 20s, he will play the majority of his contract in his 30s and after a decade of the NBA grind. The Wizards’ hope is that he achieves longevity as an NBA star and remains highly productive for years to come.
A contract this big may have some natural domino effects. For one, the Wizards now have a window that could add urgency to building a contender. There may be an element of striking while the iron is hot. They have a star in his prime, but it won’t last forever. At some point, it may be time to get him some significant help and go for it.
Maybe they have already done that to an extent. The Wizards still haven’t seen him play alongside Kristaps Porzingis, who was acquired in a trade at the February deadline after Beal’s season was cut short due to injury. Porzingis only played six games with Kyle Kuzma before Kuzma was shut down, also because of injury.
That trio certainly has potential. You could argue Porzingis is the best scorer Beal has ever played with in D.C. Kuzma showed last year he is continuing to improve at 26 years old.
The Wizards also have a collection of young players that should continue to rise the tide of the organization. But you have to wonder if signing Beal to the money that they did will trigger a new phase of their roster-building plan, perhaps one that includes mortgaging the future (young players and draft picks) in trades for more immediate help.
The investment the Wizards have made in Beal may also require some more detailed thinking about how to construct the roster around him. Certainly, they have considered how to best complement his skillset all along. But as he enters his 30s as one of the highest-paid players in the league, there may be ways to help prolong his prime with depth and the types of players they put around him.
Maybe it will become even more important to have a strong defender next to him at point guard and small forward. Maybe by drafting Johnny Davis, a shooting guard, they can take pressure off of Beal by having an ascending player coming off the bench at his position.
Beal, of course, will have to do his part. As much as we can talk about the Wizards, that’s the more important element here. He now has to live up to a mammoth contract and knows very well not all of them work out, having played with Wall, Porter and Bertans. All three were traded away and their presence on the salary cap hindered the Wizards’ ability to build the roster.
Beal is going to make much more than those guys, too. In fact, he will make more than any other athlete in D.C. sports history. His $251 million will surpass the $245 million deal Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg signed in 2019, which eclipsed the $210 million contract his teammate Max Scherzer inked in 2015. One of those contracts worked out very well, while the other has become a nightmare.
The more you talk to athletes who sign mega-deals, the more you realize the public often has the impact they have on the players themselves backward. When contracts like this one are signed, the individuals are often asked about the pressure of living up to the number attached to their name.
Many of them say it’s the exact opposite, that signing the deal relieves pressure. They have just been guaranteed more money than most of us can even imagine. They are set for the rest of their lives.
Beal has already been financially secure many times over. This deal will take his career earnings from about $180 million to about $430 million. So, maybe the same relief isn’t there.
But it’s a big number to justify and both Beal and the Wizards are going to hope this one goes better than some of the others did in their recent past.