Bradley Beal’s name intrigues despite last playing as an All-NBA player during the 2020-21 season. Once you garner stardom in the NBA, your reputation rarely diminishes until long after your production does.
Beal sits squarely on that edge as teams prepare to infer which side he’ll land on next year.
A wrist injury and the Wizards’ poor play derailed his 2021-22 season as the team reorganized, after more failed moves like the Spencer Dinwiddie signing, and 2022-23 played out similarly. It’s difficult to quit on top-shelf talent, so it’s worth betting on whether Beal can still access his as he prepares to switch locations — in some cases. The Celtics probably do not fit among that group of teams. Brian Windhorst reported they will not.
According to Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowksi, Beal and Washington could agree on a trade if the Wizards pursue a rebuild, likely Washington’s new front offices way of couching an official announcement. Michael Winger, their new president of basketball operations, teased that route at his introduction. Beal owns a no-trade clause, creating another negotiation beyond whatever team the Wizards eventually engage with.
As the reality of the super max stares down the Celtics to the north — coinciding with the new collective bargaining agreement — teams will juggle maintaining their stars and team-building assets into the future with contending. You can no longer do all three simultaneously.
Players will break free and Beal becomes the first, himself a case where the the super max kept a star where he likely would not have stayed. That contract, four-years, over $50-million annually with a 15% trade bonus makes for a difficult deal if the Celtics decided they had interest.
The likelihood of Beal landing elsewhere in the east seems high though, with both the Bucks and Heat poised to upgrade on the talent of their starting lineup if they add him. The Bucks want shooters around Giannis Antetokounmpo and Beal can thrive off-ball. The Heat long needed to upgrade on the array of unheralded contributors that convincingly battled to the Finals before proving appearing incapable of defeating Denver.
Miami acquiring Beal’s scoring, shooting, cutting and playmaking would shake up the east most. The Heat already knocked off Milwaukee, New York and Boston by stringing together shooting by committee without Tyler Herro. Herro and Victor Oladipo’s absences allowed Duncan Robinson to restore some value. Miami can also free up multiple first-round picks by amending the 2025 first-round pick (lottery protected) they owe the Thunder, which becomes unprotected in 2026 if it does not convey. For now, they can only trade their first in next week’s draft (No. 18), a 2024 swap, 2027 swap with either their 2028 or 2029 first-rounder.
That’s an immediate advantage over the Bucks, who owe their first-round picks to the Pelicans for years to come and will struggle to match Beal’s $46.7-million salary if Khris Middleton doesn’t opt-in to his player option. Early reports indicated the 76ers won’t pursue Beal, but they can offer Tobias Harris and future draft capital to form an intriguing, albeit expensive big three with James Harden and Joel Embiid.
The Celtics can top all offers with Jaylen Brown, a popular idea going back several seasons given he and Jayson Tatum’s relationship. Washington would stand little advantage to keep him in next summer’s free agency and the Celtics arguably wouldn’t improve significantly either.
Beal’s extended absences probably faded his shooting off movement, recent passing strides and nearly unmatched cutting ability off-ball from memory. His spurts of greatness show a better player than Brown. Brown’s consistency and availability prevail, especially given his finishing, transition and mid-range superiority. Defensively, both players showed great spurts hampered by inconsistency.
Brown averaged more points (25.1-23.2), shot better from the field (48.3-48.0), from three (34.6-33.3) and attempted more free throws per game (5.0-4.8) than Beal over the past two seasons. Brown posted 2.8 turnovers per game compared to Beal’s 3.1, and most importantly, played 133 games compared to Beal’s 90. Beal beats Brown as a passer, though doesn’t set the table in a way that would warrant forgoing Brown’s other advantages, or in the big three argument, trading away multiple point guards for Beal to start three scoring wings.
Beal could undergo a renaissance in a new team with more to play for. It’s not worth the risk in Boston’s case, particularly considering the long-term implications of adding his contract. Whether Brown wants to stay or not, part of the consideration in moving his contract would be creating long-term flexibility around Tatum. Beal and Tatum would eventually both make super max money the way Brown and Tatum project to, without the continued upside Brown projects to achieve at 26-years-old. Beal’s play on a rival will inevitably impact the Celtics in 2022-23, and it’s easy to imagine him playing next to Jimmy Butler and solidifying a familiar foe.
Miami’s team salary would balloon to $174.6-million with Beal, just short of the second apron that would prevent the Heat from utilizing the mid-level exception. Kyle Lowry makes $29.7-million, a tough contract to move even as an expiring, Oladipo will opt into his $9.5-million option while recovering from knee injury and Kevin Love, Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the team’s backup big men enter free agency.
They’d likely lose Strus, retaining Vincent would hurt and they’d need their other free agents to return for minimum salaries. Fortunately for them, Miami remains a free agent destination for veterans.
Beal’s 1.16 points per possession on spot up jumpers finished in the 80th percentile of NBA players and trailed only Butler and Strus among Heat players from the regular season. He also posted 1.15 PPP on handoffs, a Heat specialty, and created 0.94 PPP running pick-and-rolls. The zone and Bam Adebayo would insure his defense.
The Celtics’ search for answers following their loss to Miami continues if they don’t decide Beal fits into any solutions. Beal’s almost seamless fit on the Heat and whatever boost he receives from playing with them would force Boston to find more.
The NBA Draft begins that process in one week.