“The money is great. Admittedly, growing up playing games, we played the game to make a lot of money. We played the game to provide for our family,” Beal recently told fellow NBA player Draymond Green. “But that also comes with it, when you make that money you want to win ball games. You want to be able to gamble, right? I want to play meaningful games, right? I want to play at the end of June. This is what I want.”
Bradley Beal has signed a five-year contract with the Wizards
There you have it: pre-order your 2023 Wizards Eastern Conference Finals hat, t-shirt, and commemorative section of The Washington Post. While the rest of us broken peons sadly remain grounded in reality and therefore see the Wizards for what they are – a franchise so average its losses are legendary – Beal envisions greatness.
With all the deception that $251 million can buy, Beal has convinced himself his best bet is to stay here. In DC, where he’s never played past the conference semifinals. Where he had to average 31.3 points a night because he lost in five games in the opening round of the 2021 playoffs. And where franchise decision-makers rushed to tangle themselves in yet another long-term, bloated deal. You should have remembered: They don’t go so well here.
In 2008, the Wizards gave Gilbert Arenas $111 million over six years and words like “catastrophe“…”cluster bombs” … and “Why God, why?!“ are the nicest things I can think of about this deal. Arenas appeared in just 55 more games for Washington, and his gunplay episode with Javaris Crittenton had Washington circling the drain for the next few years.
After John Wall was named an All-NBA team in 2017, the team rewarded him with a $170 million overtime. He hasn’t completed a full season since then. Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis, feeling generous, issued another Max deal that summer, this time to Otto Porter Jr. The next year, he averaged 14.7 points, which was a career high at the time, but he also became the best trade item in Washington Emergency payroll loss after Wall’s franchise-altering injury.
An NBA contract should recognize past service, and judging by Arenas’ individual work, then Wall, Porter and now Beal – who has pocketed several maximum contracts in his 10 years with the team that drafted him – they all have theirs pocket earned. However, none of these anointed franchise stars have taken the Wizards off the late lottery purgatory treadmill and even into a conference finals. The team stands alone in the NBA with the longest active drought since this round.
But $251 million, Beal whispers that’s about to change. Even if evidence from the recent past screams otherwise.
The Beal era in DC dawned as Wall eroded. For years, the young duo formed a dynamic backcourt that teased with great opportunities. They thought they could have been rivals, but broken bones, a second-round loss, and an oh-so-close loss in Game 7 brought them back to reality.
Her momentum changed suddenly in late December 2018, when Wall headed to a surgical table to fix an ongoing bone spur problem. Because fate doesn’t want wizards to have nice things, he compounded that injury in early 2019 by slipping in his bathroom at home and tearing his left Achilles tendon. The injury and rehab guaranteed he would miss the entirety of 2019-20. Then, prior to the start of the truncated 2020-21 season, the Wizards turned Wall over to Houston for the right to have Russell Westbrook track stats in a Washington jersey for a season.
Meanwhile, Beal rose as the new and undisputed face of the franchise. He was an All-Star, an All-NBA player and even a top two scorer in the league. Anything but a winner.
Thanks to my colleague Neil Greenberg, we can see how uninspiring those years were. With Beal as the face of Monumental Basketball, the team has a 43.4 win rate in games he has appeared in — which would give Washington the eighth-worst percentage in the league at that stretch. In the 203 games Beal has played — he missed more than half of last season with a wrist injury — the Wizards have been outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game, almost unmatched by the negative lead of 3.7 points per game distinguishable when he was inactive.
Here, and only here, 88 wins against 115 losses earns a $251 million competitor’s trophy.
Of course, Beal isn’t to blame for all the Ls. A man can only accomplish so much with a rotation of big roleplayers miscast as starting centers and a bunch of younger wings whose development arc doesn’t match his All-NBA promotion. That underperforming record since Beal’s acquisition points to the franchise’s biggest handicap: No top-flight free agent wants to play in Washington.
Beal knows that. He admitted as much during his podcast tour this offseason, openly lamenting the team’s inability to win All-Star running mates.
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“It’s difficult to get free agents out here for whatever reason,” Beal told Taylor Rooks last month. “It has always been an Achilles heel here. We more or less have to design and rely on the design and develop our guys. And it’s tough.”
And yet he stays anyway.
Anywhere else, a franchise player choosing loyalty would rally the fan base. Here one cascade of misery follows in the comments section.
It’s both predictable and sad, because Beal was as good a company man as any team or community could ask for. He’s hosted local camps, mentored young black boys, eventually got vaccinated, and funded renovations of the city’s basketball courts. Then again, his marketable smile, philanthropist’s heart, and flashy sweater didn’t bring the franchise anywhere near relevance.
Still, Beal’s dreams could reach further than Capital One Arena and his new money will help. A few years ago, Beal reportedly attempted to work with Alex Rodriguez to buy the New York Mets. Beal wanted to sit at the table occupied by billionaires. This could be his legacy – the business-first baller. And the next time a major league baseball team comes up for sale, Beal could be part of the bid. He has the kind of money.
Meanwhile, with Beal claiming he wants to win, we have to believe things will be different next season. Maybe he knows something the rest of us don’t — that the NBA plans to ban Boston, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago from participating in the 2022-23 season, closing the door on a Wizards run to open the conference finals. Or maybe Beal just sees the world through $251 million glasses. All those dollar signs can make you see whatever you want.
Money can’t buy Beal more wins, but it can certainly buy him an imagination.