The Washington Wizards entered the 2015-16 regular season hoping that Kevin Durant would be a realistic prize on July 1. Unfortunately, that dream was likely dashed by an atrociously disappointing year in which the Wizards missed the playoffs. Their bad luck has been compounded over the past couple weeks by Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder making an unexpected Finals run.
But Plan B isn't the worst thing in the world: Give 22-year-old restricted free agent Bradley Beal whatever he wants, then go fishing for decent contributors with the cap space that was reserved for Durant. The Wizards will reportedly go that route as soon as the league allows it (via The Washington Post):
The Wizards are expected to offer Beal a five-year deal for the maximum amount allowed under the salary cap as soon as the free agent negotiating period kicks off on July 1, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Based on the $92 million salary cap projection teams are working with, a max contract would pay Beal around $22 million next season because his salary would be allowed to take up slightly under 25 percent of the cap amount as a four-year veteran.
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This is a ton of money for a player who's spent most of his career battling stress injuries in his right leg. A player who only started 94 games over the past two seasons and has a career PER of 14.3.
But when healthy, Beal can shoot threes, get into the paint, run a pick-and-roll and play capable on and off-ball defense. Poor health can derail his career, but good health almost guarantees multiple All-Star appearances; the Wizards would almost definitely boast the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
An easy comparison (if you're a Beal optimist) is Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, who battled ankle injuries through his first few seasons but went on to realize his full potential in ridiculous fashion over the past couple seasons. Beal likes this comparison a lot (via The Washington Post):
"The injury thing, that's behind me. I'm moving forward. I'm past it. I'm focused on my career from here on out. Hell, Steph Curry was hurt his first four years. Look at him now. John (Wall) was hurt his first three or four years. Look at him now. I'm not worried about it. People are going to say what they want to say. At the end of the day, it's not going to affect me or the money."
Curry was much more productive in virtually every statistical category through his first four seasons than Beal has been through his own, so expectations should definitely be tempered on that front. But, in the end, this basically comes down to Washington having no better way to spend its money. Why not bet the bank on a potential perennial All-Star whom you're already familiar with?
Another logical option would be to let Beal sign a four-year max offer sheet elsewhere, then immediately match it. But that could harbor bad blood between both sides, and losing him as an unrestricted free agent as Beal hits his actual prime would be a disaster. Letting him walk now isn't a viable option.
The Wizards are still able to sign another max player this summer. Washington can come to an agreement with Beal, then hold off on officially signing it until another free agent is locked in under the cap. It's unclear who Washington may go after if Durant is unofficially officially ruled out, but someone like Harrison Barnes, Nicolas Batum or Chandler Parsons would be a solid get, even with Otto Porter already on board.
The Wizards aren't in a great spot right now, but a lot of teams would love to lock Beal into a five-year deal. It's fine to be optimistic about his future.