We’re 18 months removed from Bradley Beal declaring once again that he and Washington Wizards teammate John Wall are “the best backcourt in the league.” It was a year ago that Wall said LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were afraid to face them in the playoffs. They were fresh off pushing the Boston Celtics to seven games in the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals. Wall was a 26-year-old All-Star then, Beal a 23-year-old on his way to being one, and they should have had the East by the you-know-whats once LeBron left for the Los Angeles Lakers. Austin Rivers certainly agreed.
Except, every time it came time to walk the walk, they never stopped talking long enough to realize the league lapped them, culminating in Monday’s news that the Wizards are prepared to mercifully blow up their overpaid and underachieving roster following a “verbal barrage” at a “volatile practice.”
There is no greater metaphor for these Wizards than this, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski: coach Scott Brooks asked his team to respond to a 5-11 start with an intense practice, and the All-Star point guard responded, “F— you,” warranting a fine. As Beal told Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld at practice, “I’ve been dealing with this s— for seven years,” per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
We knew there was discontent in Washington. Wall and Beal have openly discussed their “tendency to dislike each other on the court.” Wall took offense when in his absence the Beal-led Wizards found success feeding each other last season. Together, Wall and Beal ironically called out the rest of their teammates for having their own “agendas” this year. And this recent practice appears to be the final straw, with Grunfeld reportedly prepared to trade anyone and everyone on the roster, NBA willing.
So, what now? The Wizards have their choice of five doors, none of which may lead anywhere.
Door No. 1: Build around Wall and Beal
Shockingly, this is the route Grunfeld prefers, according to Wojnarowski, which is just astounding.
The Wizards set their ceiling in 2014, reaching the second round of the playoffs, touched it three times in four years, and then had it cave in on them. They lost to the Toronto Raptors in the first round this past spring before slogging their way to five wins in their first 16 games this fall. Their two stars have all but declared war on each other, lobbing verbal grenades in the locker room for half a decade now.
There may have been a time to salvage the Wall-Beal relationship, but Grunfeld wasted it, burning cap space in 2016 on Ian Mahinmi’s $64 million contract and spending draft picks to rent Bojan Bogdanovic in 2017 — to name two examples. In the five years after selecting Beal third in 2012, the Wizards owned only two of their own draft picks, and opposing teams reportedly aren’t willing to trade for either one, because Otto Porter Jr. is owed $82 million through 2021 and Kelly Oubre Jr. has stagnated entering free agency.
On talent alone, Porter is Washington’s most attractive trade asset. Over the previous two seasons, he was everything you would want from a 3-and-D wing — long and athletic, capable of defending multiple positions, and shooting 44 percent on more than four 3-point attempts per game. He should be the perfect complement to an All-Star backcourt, which is why the Wizards felt compelled to match the Brooklyn Nets’ max contract offer to the 2017 restricted free agent. That Porter has not expanded his role since is why any team would be hesitant to acquire the three remaining years on his deal.
The Wizards may actually be able to use the failed Wall-Beal tandem to their advantage here, trying to convince would-be suitors that their toxic relationship has poisoned Porter’s progress and a change of scenery would do wonders for the 25-year-old. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that “there are whispers” the New Orleans Pelicans may be interested in Porter for a presumed package of Julius Randle, Solomon Hill and a first-round pick. He would be a fascinating fit alongside Anthony Davis.
Except, I’m not sure that does anything to elevate Washington’s ceiling, nor do any of the other deals that might make sense from another team’s perspective. He would be useful for the Houston Rockets or San Antonio Spurs, but neither team is going to offer anything more than Plus Player X, Salary Filler Y and Pick Z. The Sacramento Kings are always game to make a dreadful deal, but even they probably wouldn’t part with a burgeoning young player like Contract Year Willie Cauley-Stein for Porter.
Door No. 2: Build around Bradley Beal
This would be the wisest course of action, so long as you can find a trade partner for Wall.
Beal was billed as the second coming of Ray Allen, and he’s come closer to the Hall of Famer than all the others who drew the same comparison. He’s a deadly shooter who has developed as a pick-and-roll playmaker, and he’s dominated playoff games in his early 20s. That’s a foundation for a franchise.
Trade your five-time All-Star point guard for promising young pieces, and you have the makings of a roster still entering its prime. The problem is that Wall won’t fetch the price you’ve paid for him. Wall hasn’t even started his four-year, $169 million contract extension, which takes him and his injury-plagued knees past his 32nd birthday. Good luck finding a team willing to pay him $47 million in 2023.
There are few teams in need of a starting point guard and fewer with pockets deep enough to take on that monstrous contract. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are trying to save cap space for next summer. The Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic are too far from contention to think Wall is enough to accelerate their rebuilds. The Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves are all desperate to build around their young superstars, but probably not with an overpaid and overbearing point guard. Would the Heat flip Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic for Wall, Mahinmi and filler? General managers aren’t as inept as they used to be, and Pat Riley wasn’t inept when they used to be.
The problem is, in any deal you might find for Wall, you’re losing the best player in the deal. Wall remains an incredible talent — a pace-setter who can defend when willing and has averaged darn close to his career averages of 19 points and nine assists per game in each of his nine seasons.
Door No. 3: Build around John Wall
If you must break up the Wall-Beal partnership (and it’s looking like they must), and if you can’t find a trade partner for Wall (and it’s looking like they can’t), then it might be time to face the harsh reality that Beal must go. The fact that he will fetch the best return might make it slightly easier to swallow.
Teams will line up for Beal’s services in an era when the 3-pointer reigns supreme. Just imagine him on the Lakers, spreading the wings while LeBron soars down the middle. Magic Johnson would surely offer Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart for Beal, but you would want to hold out for Brandon Ingram. That’s the caliber of player you’re going to need in order to part with a 25-year-old All-Star built for now.
And if you’re going to pull the trigger on a trade like that, you might as well …
Door No. 4: Blow it up
Trade Wall and Beal. There’s no sense in developing young talent while Wall plays out his mega-deal on a team that can’t compete with any of the East’s top four seeds for the foreseeable future. Maximize your return for Beal, get whatever anyone is willing to give you for Wall, steer the tank into a lottery pick, and rebuild around whatever high-end young talent you get as a result. (You might as well part ways with Grunfeld at this point, too, if you really want to reset this miserable culture.)
This may seem like a drastic measure for a team that was one Kelly Olynyk outburst away from the Eastern Conference finals two seasons ago, but it’s high time the Wizards face reality. They’re not as good as the Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers or Boston Celtics now, and there future is nowhere near as bright. They’re all but capped out until the end of Beal’s contract in 2022, and the roster might be just good enough to avoid drafting from a franchise-altering slot until then.
The only alternative …
Door No. 5: Let it burn
Kick up your feet and watch as Wall and Beal tear down the Wizards from the inside. It can’t be worse than when Gilbert Arenas brought a gun and dared Javaris Crittenton to shoot him in the locker room.
It’s almost like this was Grunfeld’s plan all along, adding Rivers, Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to an already volatile mix that also includes Markieff Morris. He couldn’t have honestly thought that this mix of players would promote the development of the few draft picks he’s managed to hold onto.
Maybe Beal had a point about the “seven years” of “s—.” At least the Wizards will get a high-end lottery pick out of this one if they manage to set this campaign ablaze — another player for Grunfeld to mismanage and for his team to mold into one more overpromising and underdelivering Washington Wizard.
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