Bradley Beal and Tristan Thompson: Still Waiting

Not to be overly dramatic, but it may be coming to an end for Bradley Beal in Washington and Tristan Thompson in Cleveland. The cities that drafted them are taking hardline approaches to contract talks that might drive the two lottery picks out of town despite this season being one in which both players may be on the cusp of something special.

Specialness, though envied, is not what Bradley Beal and Tristan Thompson have in common. What makes them similar, the St. Louis native Beal and the Canadian Thompson, is that their futures with their perspective organizations- the Washington Wizards and the Cleveland Cavaliers– is very cloudy, although Beal’s situation is not as much of a tightrope as Tristan Thompson’s.

Both players want max deals. But, a max player is like a Porsche. You see it coming. You know what it looks like. You don’t have to guess.

Beal has until October 31st to accept a contract extension and he has several choices. He can accept what the Wizards offer and be done with it. Or he can go the Jimmy Butler route, reject what comes across the table and bet on himself, anticipating a gigantic free agent season in 2016. What is problematic about that scenario for Beal is that he has been a hot and cold player since he’s been in the league. He can be a killer from the perimeter. He beats just about everybody off the dribble. He is a magical clutch shooter, hitting game winners. But his mid-range game is trash. He doesn’t use his athleticism to get to the line. He can have stretches of games where he is inconsistent and where he dominates the ball. And he has never played an 82 game season. Bradley Beal is not as good as max player James Harden. He is not as good as max player Klay Thompson. But he’s only 22 years old.

One of the gambles for Beal, if he rejects a non-max deal, is his injury plagued body. Can he string together an 82 game season to capitalize on his value? The Wizards haven’t been shy about letting people know they will pursue Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016. Can they max him and Beal? Would Beal be their consolation prize if Durant stays in Oklahoma or goes to Miami? Would other teams force the Wizards into renouncing Beal by structuring the contract so the Wizards, in pursuit of Durant, can’t match Beal at the beginning of the free agent season.

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Tristan Thompson is trying to see if he can cause the Cavs to blink. The threat that he would leave after one year is a promise about a future he doesn’t even know exists. Yes, he can walk. The bridges may indeed by burned. But what if the Cavs win the NBA Finals? Because Thompson isn’t a max player in talent- he’s a very good role player- his loss hardly sways anyone to the misplaced idea that the Cavs are hard asses in the front office.

Cleveland, with Anderson Varejao returning, all of a sudden have a very crowded front court with several players who are duplicates of one another. So let’s say the Cavs stay firm to their $80 million offer and Thompson feels insulted, signs for the qualifying offer and leaves as an unrestricted free agent for Toronto. He would be the first player in NBA history to leave a championship caliber team for a team that is good but not great. The addition of Thompson won’t suddenly put the Raptors over the top.

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The thing about Beal and Thompson is that so much of what happens is in their hands and that is the importance of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Players have choices and those choices bring on other choices. September is here and neither Beal nor Thompson know what is going to happen with their respective teams other than they will be playing on playoff contenders this year as they fight their way towards a NBA title. The rest of it is up in the air.

 

photo via llananba