Bradley Beal situation highlights the volatility, challenges of striking a deal with draft, free agency on the horizon

One week before the 2023 NBA Draft, the forecast is calling for plenty of trade activity at Barclays Center next Thursday night. From the Portland Trail Blazers fielding calls for the No. 3 pick to established veterans like Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal entering the trade market, there are a variety of dynamics currently hanging over the draft landscape and the looming start of free agency.

Beal’s status with the franchise seemed to shift the moment Washington hired Michael Winger to be the Wizards’ chief executive in late May and team owner Ted Leonsis empowered the former Clippers general manager to reshape this Washington roster however Winger sees fit — even if that includes a rebuild. Previously, as long as Beal remained committed to the Wizards — and by all accounts, Beal has long prioritized helping lead a contender in Washington as opposed to requesting a trade elsewhere — Leonsis had directed his Wizards leadership to retain Beal, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and build around one the game’s top scorers. Washington’s allegiance to Beal has been so strong, the Wizards never truly entertained inquiries for Beal prior to the 2022 trade deadline, sources said, before Washington awarded him for his loyalty with a five-year, $251 million contract in the opening sequence of free agency. That megadeal also includes a no-trade clause, the only player contract in the NBA to feature such a powerful provision, and a massive element in any potential blockbuster that would send Beal out of the nation’s capital this summer.

Beal has the right to veto any transaction, allowing the three-time All-Star to essentially pick his destination if the Wizards are presented with several options. Yet for all of Beal’s talent, and how smoothly his game should connect among any team’s preexisting offense, this contract is going to scare away many suitors who’d otherwise be interested in Beal’s services. Beal turns 30 at the end of this month, and he’s already battled durability issues throughout the past few seasons. But the no-trade clause and the four years and $200-plus million remaining on Beal’s deal remain difficult pills for most teams to swallow under the NBA’s impending new collective bargaining agreement.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) in action during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Washington. The Trail Blazers won 124-116. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Trading Bradley Beal won't be easy. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The no-trade doesn’t just disappear if and when Beal gets moved. It will impede any team that acquires Beal from moving him too — in any scenario where trading for him doesn’t necessarily bring dividends — and any smart front office considers how easily it can mitigate a potential mistake before making such a pricey transaction. Star trades don’t always deliver. This league can be unforgiving. James Harden was a Brooklyn Net for 13 months. The Lakers would have faced even more difficulty moving Russell Westbrook, Beal’s old Wizards teammate, if Westbrook had a no-trade clause of his own, and Westbrook’s $47 million salary was challenging enough to maneuver as an expiring contract.

Miami has always been the franchise most often mentioned by league personnel as a Beal suitor. The Heat are perpetually positioning themselves to make a run at the next available star, whether it was Donovan Mitchell last summer or contacting Brooklyn about Kyrie Irving before February’s trade deadline, sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports. There have been rumblings about Milwaukee’s interest in Beal as well, as The Athletic first reported, but that would almost certainly have to include All-Star guard Khris Middleton heading back to Washington, and Milwaukee, by all accounts, has plans to bring back both Middleton and Brook Lopez.

Bradley Beal headshot
Bradley Beal
SG - PHO - #3
2022 - 2023 season

From there, drawing other potential spots for Beal might come down to an exercise of teams that have their own long-term contracts they’d like to shed and the draft capital to both offload that salary, plus obtain Beal. To be clear: There’s no indication yet from league personnel that New York is going to seriously pursue Beal. But if the Knicks, as an example, could part with Julius Randle and Evan Fournier plus a package of first-round picks, that might be Washington’s best path to the richest offer in draft compensation.

Any Wizards return for Beal won’t take place in a vacuum. Washington might also have another trade chip to consider during any Beal talks in center Kristaps Porzingis. The 7-foot-3 center is considering picking up his $36 million player option for the 2023-24 campaign, sources said. And the true introduction of another All-Star into the trade market could perhaps impact the Wizards’ efforts to find a significant return for Beal.

Wishful executives will keep their eyes peeled on Portland and Damian Lillard, but it’s the Chicago Bulls who have started contacting teams, quietly gauging the trade interest in Zach LaVine, league sources told Yahoo Sports. It remains to be seen just how willing Chicago is to part ways with LaVine, or if it receives a commensurate offer for his services. LaVine has four seasons remaining on his five-year, $215 million contract, and multiple teams have indicated the Bulls are holding a steep valuation for LaVine — one that’s likely to exceed what Washington can ultimately net for Beal.

Don’t count on Boston entering the Beal trade conversation. The Celtics intend to move forward with their All-NBA tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, sources said, despite Beal’s immense talent and close relationship with Tatum, a friendship that dates back to childhood roots in St. Louis. The Philadelphia 76ers, often floated right behind Boston as a potential Beal suitor, are also not expected to target Beal, league sources told Yahoo Sports, regardless of whether Harden decides to remain with the franchise.

Philadelphia has made it clear the Sixers are focused on re-signing Harden, who has until June 29 to decline a $35 million player option for next year. Similar to last summer, it appears that Philadelphia would prefer to sign Harden to a shorter-term agreement, one that still provides a lucrative payday for the 10-time All-Star but doesn’t present the Sixers with the possible predicament that Washington currently faces with Beal’s long-term salary. The Sixers will have various paths to move forward if Harden were to walk, particularly by exploring trades for Tobias Harris, who’s entering the final season of his five-year, $180 million contract. But Philadelphia, sources said, is not expected to target Fred VanVleet in the event Harden departs via free agency, despite the obvious connection to new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, who won a championship with VanVleet in Toronto in 2019. One smaller trade element to monitor for Philadelphia: The Sixers are actively seeking opportunities to acquire a second-round pick in next Thursday’s draft, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Harden’s other potential free-agent outcome still stands to be rejoining the Rockets, although it’s hard to trace a straight line through all the forecasts of Houston’s offseason plans. There is one common denominator among the Rockets’ long list of summer goals: spend money, acquire talent and compete for the postseason under the guidelines from owner Tilman Fertitta. Rumored free-agent targets such as Lopez, Dillon Brooks and a long list of wings would seemingly slot well next to Harden. And yet, if the 34-year-old were to return to the franchise where he became an MVP, that would come after the Rockets pick at No. 4 in the draft, where Houston is said to be targeting a point guard, leading many rival teams to project the Rockets selecting Overtime Elite playmaker Amen Thompson.

The Rockets have also attempted to bring G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson to Houston for a pre-draft visit, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, albeit so far to no success. Moving up to land Henderson would also seem counterintuitive to any designs on netting Harden. Any lead guard-type drafted by the Rockets would certainly lose on-ball opportunities in Harden’s presence. Houston, though, doesn't seem to have the veteran talent that would entice Portland to slide down from the No. 3 position, should Henderson fall there, and it remains to be seen if Charlotte, holding the No. 2 pick, would entertain a legitimate offer from Houston, as the Hornets are also said to harbor playoff hopes for the 2023-24 campaign.

The Hornets are attempting to bring both Henderson and Brandon Miller back to Charlotte on Monday to visit with team owner Michael Jordan, league sources told Yahoo Sports. All signs appear to indicate the Hornets choosing between Henderson and the Alabama swingman, despite bringing in Amen and Ausar Thompson last week.

Charlotte could feasibly trade the pick, but the Hornets appear deep in internal deliberations between Henderson and Miller. There has been plenty of buzz about New Orleans and Toronto, in addition to Houston, registering interest in jumping up the draft board. The Pelicans are indeed quite high on Henderson, sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports. He boasts the explosiveness and athletic build of a bonafide franchise-caliber offensive engine, with Henderson measuring just under 6-foot-4 in shoes during visits with Portland and Charlotte. New Orleans is armed with all the future draft capital if those two teams were to value that commodity. But that’s just not the present reality.

For all the incoming calls the Pelicans receive on Trey Murphy, dating back to February’s trade deadline, sources said, he’s not quite the headlining player that would appear to get Charlotte or Portland’s attention. So that leaves Brandon Ingram or Zion Williamson in this thought experiment. New Orleans staffers always speak philosophically about no player being “untouchable,” but the Pelicans have shown little interest in parting with Ingram at this juncture, league sources told Yahoo Sports. With Williamson’s health history, New Orleans has had to pragmatically consider alternatives for the Pelicans’ long-term roster construction, especially under harsher tax penalties in the league’s new CBA. New Orleans, though, still fondly remembers standing first in the Western Conference when this roster was fully available last season. It sounds like the No. 2 or No. 3 pick in this draft would merely be the starting point to meet New Orleans’ valuation of Williamson, all his possible downside entering a five-year, $194 million contract be damned.

Down the draft board, rival teams continue to mention the Pacers’ interest in packaging picks Nos. 26, 29 and 32 to move higher into the first round, or land additional talent. Indiana also holds the No. 7 pick, where the Pacers, long in pursuit of a starting power forward, are widely believed to value Houston forward Jarace Walker or UCF forward Taylor Hendricks at that spot. Indiana explored trade scenarios for OG Anunoby and the concept of sending Chris Duarte plus draft capital to Atlanta for De’Andre Hunter during February’s trade deadline, sources told Yahoo Sports. The Pacers are expected to be one team in the mix for restricted free agent Grant Williams as well.

The Jazz are another team making efforts to move up in the draft, sources said. Utah holds the Nos. 9, 16 and 28 selections and has contacted teams about various trade scenarios with those three selections.

The Mavericks are considering options to move down from No. 10 into the middle of the first round, sources said, to pick up a veteran rotation piece to help support Luka Doncic and free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving. The Mavericks and Hawks, for example, discussed the idea of swapping Dāvis Bertāns and the No. 10 pick for John Collins and the No. 15 selection, sources said, although those talks do not appear to have progressed at this time.