Because watching The Last Dance meant fixating on the singular career of a shooting guard for five weeks, and because said shooting guard was surrounded by the likes of Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, i.e., ample talent to win, Thursday’s report that the Brooklyn Nets are interested in Bradley Beal seemed like one of those simple resolutions where the person who conceived of it snaps their fingers and wonders why no one had thought of it before: a team that needs someone, and a player that needs something. Together!
The Nets have “internally discussed avenues” to acquire Beal, the New York Daily News’ Stefan Bondy reported last week, though it’s “unclear” if the new Wizards front office is willing to let Beal go. Brooklyn’s interest makes sense: The Nets need to be internally discussing avenues to someone. The Wizards star is an ambitious catch, but so were Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and last summer’s free-agent haul suddenly gave the unlikely, easy-to-love Cinderella Nets serious championship hopes—and pressure. With superstars come superstar demands. It’s been four months since Irving made teammates uneasy (the most recent example) after a Sixers loss, saying, “Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces, but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces. … We’re going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we’ll worry about all the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer.”
So how would Beal to the Nets work? Chemistry is something to consider whenever Irving is involved (see: the time he said hello to Brad Stevens before a film session by asking him, “What does government mean to you?”) and whenever Durant is involved (see: Draymond Green drama, the falling out with Russell Westbrook, Twitter … activities). And, I guess, when Beal is involved (I don’t hold any of the things he’s yelled at coaches, teammates, or executives during his time with the Wizards against him). But the main concern about this hypothetical trade is how it could possibly happen. The Nets players that might tempt Washington either have injury histories or would strip Brooklyn bare at certain positions—making no potential offer obvious and complicating any deal. (Pieces I’d consider if I were the Wizards, which, thank God, I’m not: Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and Brooklyn’s 2021 and 2023 first-round pick.)
Regardless of whom the Nets move this offseason (whenever that might be), it’s regrettable that the team’s nucleus never had the chance to operate at full strength. Injury after injury made Brooklyn appear less flush with talent than it really is, and if the Dinwiddies or LeVerts or Joe Harrises have to go, they’ll be robbed of their reward—playing with Irving and Durant—for turning a rebuilding team into something appealing enough to catch Irving’s and Durant’s attention.
The Wizards are unlikely to get a full return on investment in any Beal trade, but Beal is also unlikely to get a full return on his investment with the team. He’s been in Washington since Ernie Grunfeld drafted him third overall in 2012, but the team’s somehow gotten worse as Beal’s gotten better. In eight seasons, they’ve made the playoffs just four times and are on the brink of missing out in back-to-back seasons for the first time with Beal. Washington is shrinking under him: John Wall is a ghost, in and out of a walking boot; Otto Porter Jr. is gone; the second-leading scorer on the team is Davis Bertans; the third-leading scorer is rookie Rui Hachimura. Beal is only 26 and in the prime of his career. He’s averaging 30.5 points, second most in the league and the most in the Eastern Conference, 6.1 assists, and 4.2 rebounds. It is because of his backdrop, not his individual play, that no one is paying attention anymore. When he was snubbed from this year’s All-Star Game—voted ninth by fans, fifth by media, yet second among fellow players—some pointed to a lack of exposure (among other things, some of which were said on his behalf). “We have no TV games,” said former Wizards teammate Isaiah Thomas.
Washington won’t get those coveted nationally televised spots as long as the Wizards are bad, and despite being five-and-a-half games back from the eighth seed with the season on hold, the current roster is set up to be bad for some time. Yet Beal is anti-superteam: “I kinda hate it. I hate superteams,” he said in February 2019. “Like everybody, just get your own team and just try to win with what you’ve got.” (The Nets, of course, are technically a superteam—two superstars teamed up to play together in Brooklyn—without the wins to prove it yet.) He hates change. Retiring in Washington is his goal. “If I can control it, I will finish in D.C,” he said in March. “For me, I am kind of loyal to a fault.” But he’s also been through the Grunfeld era, reduced to screaming “I’m sick of this shit!” (or something to that effect, according to the Washington Post) after watching his teammates yell and fight during a practice in 2o18. Beal has endured years of alarmingly passive-aggressive comments from John Wall, who has called Beal the “A-1” to his “A.” I thought this tension peaked in 2016 when Beal signed a massive five-year, $127.2 million extension—dwarfing the five-year, $84.8 million contract Wall signed three years earlier—and the latter said he and Beal had “a tendency to dislike each other” on the court, but the two seem friendly again. Which is good, because Wall’s under contract now until 2023. There are annual reports that Beal’s miserable, which is a more painful yet equally expected tradition than missing the playoffs. His curious decision in October to sign a two-year extension rather than max out for all the money Washington could offer suggested that he’s at least a smidge disillusioned.
The new Wizards front office inherited this mess last summer (though new general manager Tommy Sheppard is a longtime Wizards executive). Years of Grunfeld ruin left the organization without the means to immediately rebound. Except Beal is the means. A deal with the Nets seems far-fetched, but he’s the best trade asset the Wizards have. I don’t know how to fix the Wizards. I don’t even know how I’d begin the PowerPoint for next season’s realistic goals. But holding on to a star rather than cashing out for assets is rational only if he can lead you out of the mess.
For both teams, Beal to Brooklyn might seem too rash. But superteams contradict everything we’re taught about chemistry and synchronization. They do grow overnight. The lesson from failed superteams is to not hesitate on maxing out, such as going all in for a guard like Beal, who’ll fit regardless of where he plays. The Nets flipped the hourglass the moment they signed Durant and Irving. Trading for Beal is risky, especially considering the haul Washington would want in return, but Brooklyn can’t afford to be patient.