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June 14, 2023

Why the Sixers (probably) won't trade for Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal's name is in trade rumors and reports once again. Here's why he probably won't end up with the Sixers.

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Joel-Embiid-Bradley-Beal-Sixers-Wizards Brad Mills/USA Today Sports

Sixers MVP Joel Embiid defending Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal.

The 2023 NBA offseason is expected to be a wild one, with the new collective bargaining agreement putting additional pressure on teams to sort out their balance sheets. More than ever, teams will have to weigh the risk and reward of pushing their chips in vs. staying lean and mean, and it could mean major star movement over the next 8-12 months.

Bradley Beal appears to be the hot name in NBA rumor circles for the time being, which comes down to a few discreet factors.

  1. The Wizards have completely overhauled their front office, giving them fresh eyes on a situation that could charitably be described as “hopeless” in recent years. A ceiling outcome for the Wiz has been scraping into the playoffs just to get stomped by a good team in round one.
  2. The new front office appears to have the authorization to tear things down and/or rebuild, at least according to the public statements from Michael Winger. Ownership authorization is something that gets glossed over by the public in favor of piling on the executives who carry out the broad plans they want, but Ted Leonsis being open to all paths forward is an important development.
  3. The most important one, and one we’ll expand on below — Beal is clearly miscast as the lead dog in D.C., and might be gettable for cheaper than you’d think for a player of his level.

Those three points all matter, but it’s No. 3 that makes Beal’s trade candidacy so fascinating. He is ostensibly a very good player, two seasons removed from scoring 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons, but his contract puts him (and the team that has him) in a very weird spot. Beal is one of just 10 players in NBA history who have had a true no-trade clause in their contract. The full list of players: Beal, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, John Stockton, and David Robinson. It’s a who’s who of first-ballot Hall of Famers and NBA legends, and then Beal.

While you could argue that all superstar-level guys always have enough leverage to dictate where they want to go, there’s at least the theoretical possibility that a team could move them somewhere other than their top option. Beal is not at a “superstar” type level as a player if you’re asking me, but he has even more power than one with the NTC. Beal has the power to nuke any trade that doesn’t suit him, which allows him to manipulate the return the Wizards could get for him. But any team that acquires him is bringing on a player with an AAV of over $50 million who can depress the trade return for your team if things don’t work out.

That giant salary number, which spikes with a $57 million player option for the 2026-27 season, puts an absurd amount of pressure for Beal to deliver All-NBA level production for whoever has him on the roster. As we laid out while discussing the new CBA last week, teams who spend lavishly are getting hit hard by new rules which limit their flexibility in trades, drafting, and free agency.

(A quick refresher: Teams over the second apron, $17.5 million above the tax line, will be unable to use the taxpayer midlevel exception, can't use cash in trades, can't sign most bought-out players, can't aggregate salaries in trades starting in 2024, and can't trade first-round picks seven years out. There are also new triggers for the NBA's hard cap at the first apron level, making close salary-matching in trades much more essential.)

NBA insiders have hinted at how this will impact Beal’s market, should that actually become relevant, and it’s important to note that Beal has to want to leave D.C. because of the no-trade clause. But assuming he can be convinced there are greener pastures outside of the D.C. humidity, it doesn’t sound like the Wizards are going to be getting a haul for him.

The fun part for fans, obviously, is imagining what Beal could do for their team and whether he makes them better. If we are strictly talking about on-court skills, Beal would be an interesting candidate for the Sixers in a world where James Harden leaves this summer. He would replace some (but certainly not all) of Harden’s on-ball creation for others, offer a more traditional “two-guard” scoring blend with off-ball movement and shooting, and a built-in relationship with Joel Embiid from day one thanks to their connection through trainer Drew Hanlen.

However, sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity insisted that the Sixers will not be pursuing Beal and are not interested in him as a long-term building block. The concerns on Philadelphia’s end are all the obvious ones laid out above. Committing $200 million to a player over the next four years under a CBA that is punitive for expensive teams is not a route they’re looking to travel.

As the Sixers assess their options to operate over the cap, they are not going to move swiftly toward the second apron and all of the limitations that come with it. Even if Beal were a perfect option, there would be trepidation about going after him. But when you consider the market variables next to Beal’s own limitations — he has played just 90 games in two years, has taken fewer and fewer threes in recent years, and has not accomplished much of anything from a team perspective — he does not scream “must acquire” even if you’re simply flipping Tobias Harris’ contract, a role player, and picks to get a deal done. You are assuming a ton of risk for a theoretical upside that is unclear, and perhaps nuking future flexibility in order to do so.

The team still has some major decisions to make in the months to come. For example, what will James Harden’s next contract look like? A four-year max is not in the cards, so can the two sides come to an agreement on a structure that works for both parties? Time will tell if Harden is amenable to a 2+1 structure or a two-year deal with a bigger dollar value.

Also of great importance — what does Tyrese Maxey’s extension look like? The entire Philadelphia brain trust from the front office down to the floor is high on Maxey, and his next contract will take him from a cheap rookie deal to a big-money, produce-or-else contract that factors heavily into future planning.

Beal’s name will get thrown around a ton until/unless he is moved in the coming weeks, and as always, you should leave room in the “never say never” department in the event someone changes their mind or the price becomes too good to be true. But when it comes to the Sixers, it sounds like a firm no on Beal right now, as the team continues to work to bring Harden back to Philly.

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