Bradley Beal Payday Affects Kevin Durant

Bradley Beal is awaiting a contract extension from the Washington Wizards that would pay him $90 million dollars over five years, beginning in 2016. The shooting guard is a typically flawed one year college player who has not reached his full potential but there is no denying what he is capable of when he is healthy. Beal has never played an 82 game season (he played 63 games in 2014-15) and he has never been an All-Star and like most young shooters he has his spots on the floor where he is atrocious. But Beal, a clutch scorer, is the perfect compliment for a driving, in your face, at the rim John Wall, comprising the best young backcourt duo in the Eastern Conference.

For the Washington Wizards, the decision to extend Beal makes sense. It would be one more evidentiary truth that the Wizards are building something real in the East. Last summer they took care of their big man, Marcin Gortat. They have a young talent on the wing in Otto Porter who had a nice sophomore season. The Wizards role players are good enough since Wall and Beal do the heavy lifting. It’s pretty good to be a member of the Washington Wizards right about now.

You don’t have to tell Kevin Durant that his hometown team has an infrastructure waiting for a superstar like him. Waiting and salivating. That the Wizards are in the discussion for a possible Kevin Durant theft is a reversal of fortune for the once owned Abe Pollin team that drafted Kwame Brown, flamed out with Michael Jordan, nurtured the Gilbert Arenas and Nick Young debacle and had a significant playoff drought. It’s almost revoultionary to think that the Wizards are on the precipice of something big.

Every six years a franchise player best of his generation becomes a free agent. It was Kobe Bryant in 2004. LeBron James in 2010. Now it is Kevin Durant in 2016. The spike in the salary cap perfectly coincides with Durant’s free agency making several teams possible destinations.

Does Durant stay in Oklahoma City and finish what he started? Doe he replace Kobe Bryant in L.A.? Is he swayed by Pat Riley? Or does Durant decide a homecoming ala LeBron James is what’s next? The storyline will morph much of this season into segments with Durant being asked in triplicate what he wants to do and what he is going to do. Fans on the road cheering him at every opportunity in a desperate serenade will be a subliminal message without much chance at paying dividends, but why the hell not? There’s nothing to lose.

Except for the Washington Wizards there is a lot to lose. Bradley Beal has this monstrous contract extension due him. As Zach Lowe pointed out in his Grantland piece, Welcome to Extensionville, it’s ridiculous and pretty stupid to ask if a 22 year old is worth it. He hasn’t played long enough and there are two options. Beal will develop into his worth or he won’t, it’s that cut and dried…well, sort of. The problem is the Wizards have no guarantee what Beal will be by the time this contract is over. Will he be who he is now, an atrocious shooter from 3-16 feet, making 35% of his shots from that area of the floor. Beal is an athletic floor spacer who can hit perimeter shots and beat his man and get to the rim. The rest of his game needs a lot of work and consistency from him will help.

It’s complicated for Ernie Grunfeld because signing Bradley Beal to the extension he is entitled to which is different than the extension he deserves can take the Wizards out of the Kevin Durant sweepstakes in 2016. The peak in the salary cap also means the peak in the max player salary and no one is going to benefit more than Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Salary cap figures won’t be written in stone until early July 2016 so the question then, for the Wizards, is how much of a risk taker are those in the front office? Are they willing to play this with their eyes wide shut and hope the numbers can sort themselves out?

The reality of Durant on the Wizards with two large deals in Wall and Beal and a nice chunk of change tied up in Gortat is that the auxiliary players need cash too. Minimum deals translates into average talent. This NBA era is all about versatility on the bench.

Because Beal has a history of injury the Wizards have to have a quality backup for him, someone they can trust if and when things go south. That takes cash, cash needed for Kevin Durant. It’s about persuasion at this point, salesmanship. Can Ernie Grunfeld convince Beal and his representatives to take a little less dough so the Wizards have the flexibility for Durant and a bench crew. Is that even Beal’s responsibility, to figure out the Wizards cap?

It’s a puzzle. The Wizards have a few months to line the pieces up before the season starts. The NBA  truly is a six degrees of separation enterprise. Durant isn’t going to a team with a skeleton bench and stars who have yet to earn their playoff tragedy badges. So it’s in the Wizards best interest to sweet talk Beal.

Even so it won’t guarantee Durant. As Zach Lowe pointed out, Durant might sign a one year deal and wait for 2017 when the cap rises once more. And then this starts all over again.


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