Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal made the somewhat surprising decision to sign a two-year, $72 million extension with the club Thursday, his agent told ESPN. Beal, who led the NBA in minutes played in 2019, had two years left on his current contract and was scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career in 2021. Under the new deal, the earliest Beal can enter free agency is 2022. He will have a player option for the 2023 if he wishes to stay with the Wizards for the second year of his extension. Let’s break down what this means for Beal, Washington, and the rest of the league.
With the extension, Beal is ensuring the opportunity for him to earn a supermax deal from the Wizards when he’s a free agent. By the time the 2022 season is over, Beal will have 10 years of service time in the NBA, which makes him eligible to receive the largest max contract allowable under the salary cap. Beal possibly could have been eligible to receive such a deal in 2021, but that would have depended on him making an All-NBA team or winning MVP. By basically punting on his free agency for another year, Beal will qualify for the full supermax no matter what happens the next three seasons.
I would be surprised if Beal doesn’t enter free agency in 2022. That doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign with the Wizards. But this deal makes the most sense as a one-year extension that gets Beal to 10 years of service time, with an option year tacked on in the case of injury or some other unfortunate circumstance. Ultimately, Beal is taking away the risk of something going awry in his career over the next two seasons, and guaranteeing by the time he enters free agency, he can make the most money possible, even if it means putting up with the Wizards for an extra year.
This is a joyous day for the Washington front office. Beal was outstanding last season, and his commitment will allow new general manager Tommy Sheppard to retool a roster hamstrung by John Wall’s onerous contract. Beal can be the best player on a very good team, and the Wizards do have some potential young talent in Thomas Bryant and lottery pick Rui Hachimura. Maybe Beal’s commitment ramps up Sheppard’s efforts to somehow find a taker for Wall. Maybe Wall’s rehab goes well and he and Beal can reform their once successful partnership next fall. For the Wizards, Beal’s extension essentially buys them at least another year before a full-on rebuild. In a not-so-great East, with the right moves, the Wizards could be back in the postseason sooner rather than later. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy, or that there are obvious moves out there for Washington to make. But Sheppard’s job to put a respectable club on the floor is a lot easier with Beal committed than with him having an eye toward his exit.
Beal could have been a swing piece for a contending team this year, and now there’s almost no chance he gets traded. Perhaps the Nuggets would have been willing to package some of their young talent to snag Beal and create an explosive duo with Nikola Jokic. Now, Beal appears happy to stay, and any team hoping to steal a star will have to hope another one somehow shakes free. Beal’s removal from trade talks could increase the price of someone like Kyle Lowry or maybe even Chris Paul, guys with their own red flags who could still conceivably help a team get over the top in the playoffs in a relatively wide-open landscape. Ultimately, in the short-term, Beal’s extension means we likely won’t see a true blockbuster trade this season, but the price of other, lesser guards could go up.
The extension also has ramifications for 2021. Beal possibly could have been entering free agency at the same time as Giannis Atentokounmpo. Any team that had a dream of pairing them up now has to go back to the drawing board. The 2021 class will almost certainly still have some big names, but Beal was one of the younger stars on the list, and GMs who were planning their cap flexibility around him (Miami, for example) may now be more inclined to take on an extra year of salary, or have to tweak their plans moving forward.