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Extension Candidate: Bradley Beal

NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

It was somewhat surprising not to see Bradley Beal‘s name pop up alongside Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard when they agreed to max extensions on the first and second nights of free agency, respectively. After all, J. Michael of reported this past fall that Washington was planning a rookie scale extension for the former No. 3 overall pick, and Ken Berger of reported in May that the Wizards were committed to paying him the max. Still, talks didn’t begin in earnest until mid-July, and the sides apparently met with conflicting desires.

The Wizards want non-guaranteed salary if they sign Beal for the maximum, while the Mark Bartelstein client would want a player option in any deal for less than the max, Michael reported this summer. Washington can’t sign him to a five-year extension, since the team already did so with John Wall, making him its Designated Player. So a player option would mean Beal could leave after three seasons of the deal, setting him up for unrestricted free agency in 2019, when he’d be 26 and the salary cap would be a projected $102MM, giving him the chance to reap more than he could at the back end of an extension that would start in 2016/17, when the cap is projected to be a relatively paltry $89MM. Max salaries rise and fall with the cap, so the higher the cap, the more Beal could earn. Plus, Beal would qualify for a higher maximum salary tier in 2019, when he’d be a seven-year veteran and thus eligible for a max equivalent to 30% of the cap, rather than the roughly 25% he could get now.

That presents an intriguing compromise if Beal would be willing to come off the max number, but it’s unclear just how much the Wizards would want him to sacrifice in that scenario. If they asked him to sign for no more than the current projection for his max salary of $20.4MM, a hedge against an unexpected rise that the Warriors made with Klay Thompson last fall, Beal could end up having made no financial concession at all if the projection is accurate. If Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld and company want him to commit to a deal closer to the $16MM salaries that Jonas Valanciunas will see in the extension he signed with the Raptors last month, it would be easy to see why the sides haven’t come to an agreement.

Washington’s push for non-guaranteed money apparently stems from a concern over Beal’s history of injuries, though he’s avoided major issues and has missed only 26, 9 and 19 games the last three seasons, respectively. Beal could bet on himself and feel confident about his chances to collect on his full salary. Still, guaranteed contracts are de rigueur with core players, so Bartelstein may well have a desire not to set a precedent in that regard for his other clients.

Casting a shadow on the negotiations is the specter of Kevin Durant‘s free agency next summer. The Wizards certainly won’t be alone among teams seeking the former MVP, but they have a unique geographical advantage of playing in Washington, Durant’s hometown. An associate of Durant’s told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald this summer that if the four-time scoring champ were to leave the Thunder, he would sign with the Wizards. Washington has clearly been preparing should Durant be so inclined, but an extension for Beal would complicate that effort.

The Wizards have nearly $33.5MM in guaranteed salaries for next season, though that doesn’t include a team option of almost $5.9MM on Otto Porter‘s rookie scale contract that Washington will almost certainly pick up. That accounts for four players, and they’d have to carry cap holds for eight more. At minimum, they could strip down to seven roster charges, which are cap holds that represent empty roster spots and are equal to the rookie minimum salary, plus Beal’s cap hold, which would be about $14.2MM if he doesn’t sign an extension.

Thus, barring trades or stretch provision maneuvers, the Wizards would carry no less than about $54.6MM on a projected $89MM cap for 2016/17. That would be enough to sign Durant to a max contract starting at the projected $24.9MM he’d be eligible for as a nine-year veteran next summer, with about $6.7MM in cap room to spare. Give Beal an extension for the max, which entails a projected starting salary of $20.4MM since he’ll be a four-year vet, and the Wizards would have just enough to squeeze in Durant at his max salary, but essentially no breathing room beyond that. Barring a higher than expected cap, Washington wouldn’t even have room to hang on to its first-round pick next year. The Wizards would have Durant, Beal, Wall, Porter Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre, whomever they could sign with the room exception and only minimum-salary additions from there. The Wizards would be able to sell Durant on a strong starting five, but they couldn’t promise any depth.

Instead, the Wizards could forgo an extension with Beal and sign him to a new deal next summer, much in the same way the Spurs put off a deal with Kawhi Leonard last fall to help clear cap space for their successful pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge this year. The Wizards could spend freely while Beal’s cap hold stays at that $11.4MM figure, wooing Durant and supporting talent, and use Beal’s Bird rights to finally re-sign him once they’re finished scouring the market. Of course, such a strategy would require Beal’s cooperation, but the Wizards would have the ability to match offer from other teams, since he’d be a restricted free agent, and the July Moratorium buys Washington some time to negotiate with Durant and others before Beal could sign an offer sheet. The Wizards would have three days to match even if he signed an offer sheet the moment the moratorium ended, giving them plenty of time.

Beal is no doubt a sterling talent. His scoring average dipped this past season in part because he took fewer shots than the season before, but his shooting percentages, from behind the three-point line and from the floor as whole, improved. He was the ninth-most accurate three-point shooter in the league in 2014/15. His defense was so-so, as he was essentially break-even in Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Box Plus Minus and the 18th-best shooting guard in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus. Still, at only 22 and already an elite floor-stretcher, he offers enticing value.

It’s merely the context that should prevent the sides from reaching a deal this year. The Wizards have incentive to let this fall’s deadline pass because of Durant and all the other avenues they can pursue in free agency next July. They must be careful not to poison their relationship with Beal if they present too many reasons for not signing him, so it’s somewhat curious to see them bring up the notion of non-guaranteed money. Ultimately, the main reason for the team not to sign Beal is timing, and if Washington makes that clear to him and to Bartelstein, chances seem better that the sides will continue a fruitful partnership for years to come.

Do you think the Wizards should sign Beal to an extension, and if so, what sort of deal should they give him? Leave a comment to tell us.

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2 thoughts on “Extension Candidate: Bradley Beal

  1. smittybanton

    Convince OKC that Durant is leaving anyway, agree to a sign and trade, Beal and Oubre for Durant.

    • Chuck Myron

      I suppose that’s possible, but if there’s any hint that Durant wouldn’t otherwise sign with the Wizards, I’m sure OKC would be reluctant to help.

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