In the new world of NBA economics—one where Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll will earn a combined $35 million next season—a new question will inevitably emerge as it relates to every promising plus-contributor in the NBA.
To pay, or not to pay?
Apparently, it’s Bradley Beal’s turn to deal with that question.
Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard lead the way for the 2012 draft class as far as talent goes, and with each of those two signing mega contracts this past summer, Beal, Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond among others are now looking to get paid.
But as we sit, still before the money guaranteed to the NBA through its new television deal with its partners begins to impact basketball-related income and the salary cap, we are caught in a weird “middle ground” that is seeing players being paid enormous sums in anticipation of the inevitable cap rises.
In a way, NBA owners and general managers have been given credit cards with limits that will be three times what their current credit cards are, and they have been promised by their parent (Adam Silver in this case) that the bill will be taken care of before it comes. No questions asked.
That is, of course, except for the question that was raised here initially.
To pay, or not to pay?
* * * * *
Through just three seasons, Bradley Beal has already emerged as one of the league’s top young shooting guards. Because of injuries sustained by John Wall over the past few years, Beal has even been asked to play a little point guard. While not his strength, he has shown enough to be considered a plus combo guard in the NBA. Especially now as the Wizards attempt to take the next step and become an “everyday” team in the NBA, there is no denying that he is the second most important player in Washington, D.C., trailing only the aforementioned Wall.
From what I understand, many around the Wizards organization feel that of all players that enjoyed the experience of Paul Pierce being around the team, Beal was one of those who benefited the most. Since entering the league in 2012, the expectations thrust upon the then-19 year-old were daunting. There were some around the Wizards who felt that Beal’s work ethic didn’t really resemble one of a player who truly wanted to be great. It was a situation that made some question whether he truly believed he could be great.
Above all, that was Pierce’s message to this team and it is something Pierce and I have had multiple conversations about. The one that sticks out more than any other occurred at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day in 2014.
The legacy that Pierce leaves in Washington will mostly be remembered by one shot, but his off-court contributions may be felt for many years to come. If there is one thing he helped this young Wizards team do, it is believe in itself.
Now, in the wake of his departure, we will see whether the likes of Otto Porter and Beal are truly ready to step up and fill the leadership void that has suddenly reappeared.
Perhaps that is a part of the reason why the Wizards and Beal have not had any substantive conversations about a new contract. There are some that believe that Beal is hoping to secure the same type of five-year extension worth about $120 million that Damian Lillard signed with the Portland Trail Blazers this past summer. The first and most natural question to ask is whether Beal is truly “worth” that type of investment.
For as long as I can remember, figuring out the “worth” of a player has been such a difficult endeavor, especially in the complicated world of NBA economics. A player’s size impacts his market value, as does his age. After all, with guaranteed contracts being doled out that will pay players for as many as five years into the future, promise means a lot.
Market value is also heavily determined by, quite obviously, the market. If players to whom Beal is comparable are paid maximum dollars or the like, then Beal himself will make the case for a similar payday. At this point in time, Klay Thompson is widely regarded as a superior player, but how much better is he than Beal? $20 million? $10 million? $5 million?
And finally, what will determine what a player is eventually paid is the cap situation of the incumbent team considering whether to re-sign him. In the complicated world of NBA economics, depending on the cap situation of the incumbent team, it is often wise for the fringe contender to re-sign a player, even if it means overpaying him.
Case in point, without having re-signed Draymond Green this past summer, if things played out in exactly the same way, the Warriors would have $78 million in salary commitments for the 2015-16 season, whereas with Green’s committment, they currently sit at $93 million. While the Green contract will have ramifications as it relates to the franchise’s luxury tax bill, the simple truth is that, for the Warriors, there is no competitive advantage to having a ledger with $78 million as opposed to $93 million. Because the franchise would be over the cap even with a $78 million payroll, it’s not as though the Warriors would have been able to allow Green to walk and then sign an adequate replacement with the money that they “saved” by not paying him.
The intricacies and details of that is a numbers and logic-based discussion about Bird rights, cap holds and mid-level exceptions and frankly, it’s a discussion better had another day. The bottom line is this: it made a lot more sense for the Warriors to re-sign Green for maximum money than it would have made for a team like the New York Knicks to pay Green maximum money to come and be their savior.
The same exact logic applies to Beal and the Wizards. To the Wizards, retaining Beal, almost at any cost, makes much more sense than letting him walk.
That is especially true considering the upside he has already shown, the chemistry developing between he and Wall and the fact that the salary cap will rise to a point where some of his peers—many of whom are inferior basketball talents—will be paid in excess of $15 million per year.
In all likelihood, Beal, whom the Wizards can make a restricted free agent next summer, will command a maximum offer sheet from some team at that time. Quite a few teams will have truckloads of cap space and can have a Brinks truck arrive at the residence of Beal at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2016. Until that time, though, since the Wizards will have the right of first refusal, it makes sense for them to wait—just like the Warriors did with Green, just like the Chicago Bulls did with Jimmy Butler and just like the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard.
Make no mistake about it, though, Beal is a maximum player in today’s NBA. That is true despite the fact that he has never played as many as 75 games in any one of his three seasons. It is also true despite the defensive ineptitude that he has shown on a fairly consistent basis over the course of his young career. And yes, it is true despite the fact that he has not consistently shown that he can impact the game on multiple fronts. Above all, he is regarded as a strong offensive player and a deadly three-point shooter (his career three-point conversation rate is about 42 percent). His ability to create his own shot has improved tremendously, and, still at just 22 years old, he is nowhere near his physical prime. As he ages and matures, he will only get better.
Indeed, in today’s NBA, contract impasses are nothing extraordinary. But as it relates to Beal, with his upside, his production thus far and the influx of money that the NBA will see over the next few years, even a blind man can see that this movie ends the same way as the ones we have just witnessed.
In Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Beal is a maximum player. Drawing that conclusion is the easy part. The difficult part, for the Wizards, is determining whether or not he will fulfill the lofty expectations that such a contract would yield and whether they want to be the team to roll the dice on him.
But best believe, in today’s NBA, someone will.
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