February 02, 2022
Though Bradley Beal's name has been tossed around by Sixers fans as a target for quite some time, the Wizards guard has infuriated fanbases around the league with his consistent vow to a fruitless Washington Wizards project. Just over a week away from the deadline, there is a bit of smoke that suggests Beal may be reconsidering that position, perhaps opening the door for a big deadline move.
That's the word from David Aldridge and Josh Robbins over at The Athletic, and as a rule of thumb, when Aldridge speaks up on DMV hoops matters, you'd better listen. Here's the important part of the dispatch from that duo:
Sources have heard no indications the Wizards are seriously considering trading Beal. But there is less unanimity among league sources about what Beal wants to do.
Multiple league sources have indicated Beal remains conflicted. His desire to stay for his entire career with the franchise that took him third overall in 2012 remains genuine. But Beal also remains uncertain about whether the Wizards can surround him with difference-making talent that will make them a regular playoff contender. His contention in a recent interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller that another Play-In Tournament appearance would be a step back for him spoke volumes.
The team’s nosedive since its hot start has frustrated Beal, leaving him less sanguine about just taking the big bag next summer and staying in Washington. For the first time in a long time, sources close to Beal indicate he’s not rejecting out of hand the notion of trade elsewhere — even though his preference is to remain with the Wizards. Neither Beal nor his representatives, though, have officially asked for him to be moved with a week left before the deadline. [The Athletic]
Frankly, this is relatively soft language that fits Beal's M.O. over the years, with the veteran guard grumbling just enough to create speculation, but apparently not enough to put the wheels in motion for a move the franchise wants/needs to happen right now. In that sense, he is sort of a great fit with the franchise, with the Wizards content to be even semi-relevant in the way the treadmill Sixers teams were between Allen Iverson's departure and the start of The Process. It's not the first time we've seen Beal hint at openness to a move, and it obviously didn't move him out the door when it happened two years ago.
That said, Beal is a big enough name that any sort of lean toward the door is big news, especially for the Sixers. Were the Wizards to explore a trade for him pre-deadline, he would pretty easily be the biggest name available as the Sixers canvass the market for Ben Simmons' next home, and he brings skills to the table that would help out Philadelphia's best player.
I don't need to tell most Sixers fans that Beal is an electric scorer when he has it going, because Beal dropped an easy 60 points on Philadelphia early last season, lighting up the Sixers in a scintillating fashion. That game was a great display of everything Beal can do on the offensive end — the Wizards ran him off of dozens of screens to get Beal clean catch-and-shoot looks all over the floor, and Beal balanced his prowess there by killing the Sixers in pick-and-rolls, posing danger as a pull-up shooter, and cutting toward the basket to punish mental lapses. In theory, Beal can do just about everything on offense, including playmaking, and he's averaging a career-high in assists this season with 6.6 per game.
Dropping Beal onto Philadelphia's roster has some pretty immediate appeal for Beal himself, who stands to benefit from an adjustment in how he plays. Though the value of his pull-up shooting is a major selling point on Philadelphia's end, getting Beal to a place where he can focus more on his movement shooting should help him reclaim the shooter's rep he has.
Over the years, Beal has been given more freedom and grown as a primary creator, but coming out of Florida and playing next to John Wall during the early days in D.C., Beal had to get a healthy chunk of his offense as a roaming off-ball threat. Like just about every player in the league, Beal is a much more effective marksman as a catch-and-shoot guy, and his volume has dipped there in recent seasons as he has become the No. 1 option for the Wizards. With early offense built around Embiid in the post, the Sixers could get Beal some clean, stress-free looks to open games on kick-outs from doubles and sets designed to exploit his off-ball movement. That would allow him to get in a rhythm without needing to dominate the ball, building up to the moments later in the game where he'd carry the offense with Embiid sitting.
Once Beal has it rolling, he becomes a very difficult to deal with. Sell out to contest the three, and he has the handle and burst to glide to the rim and finish with both hands once there. Put a wall between him and the rim, and he has the touch from midrange to punish sinking big men. In theory, Beal could blend the best parts of the two-man game we've seen Embiid run with guys like Seth Curry and JJ Redick, in addition to the pick-and-roll exploits that allowed Jimmy Butler to succeed here. There are a lot of options on the table in an offense that includes Beal, and one thing Doc Rivers has shown throughout his career is the ability to maximize the value of guys who can shoot on the move. Hand him a guy like Beal in an offense that already has Embiid, and I suspect the Sixers would become a much more dangerous team. Even playing for a bad team, you don't average 30 points per game in back-to-back years without a killer skill set.
There's a catch with that claim, though — Beal is not as good at any one of those things as the aforementioned players are at their signature skills. Curry and Redick are in different universes as shooters, well beyond Beal's career 37.2 mark from deep (and way, way past his underwhelming 30 percent mark this year), with Butler a more rugged attacker off the dribble. Beal's uptick in free-throw attempts during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons was a welcome sight, but he has trended down on that front this year, the numbers suggesting he's a good, perhaps not great attacker of the rim. It leaves him susceptible to dips in form when the jumper isn't going, and though Beal is generally a jump-shooting threat from anywhere on the floor, he doesn't have either the playmaking chops or foul-drawing ability to play through a slump the way, say, James Harden is often able to.
The defensive end of the floor is another story, and we don't have to mince words. Beal is a borderline disaster on that end a lot of the time, an uninspiring man defender whose mind and effort often drift when he's away from the play. Beal's also not the biggest guy in the world despite playing the two-guard spot, standing at around 6'4" with a decent 6'8" wingspan. Put him in the starting lineup in place of Seth Curry, and the Sixers definitely add a little bit of size, but they're likely not getting much (if any) better at stopping teams on the perimeter, leaving a lot on Joel Embiid's plate with the roster in the state it is in.
If the price to acquire Bradley Beal was merely trading Ben Simmons, those are concerns you're probably going to live with. For whatever his drawbacks are, having Bradley Beal on the roster and playing for you is superior to having Simmons lighting $33 million on fire to not play for you. Through the mutual connection Embiid and Beal share in trainer Drew Hanlen, the Sixers would also likely be able to sniff out Beal's desire to stay with the team long-term, his thoughts about living in an Embiid-centric world, and all of the questions you might have about making a move for him.
The question is whether Beal is worth anything more than just Simmons, and where the line is drawn if it gets to that point. Frankly, unless we're talking about marginal assets (e.g. second-round picks), it's the opinion of this writer that a deadline Beal exchange probably shouldn't include anything aside from the two big-name players in question. Aldridge and Robbins note in their story that Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle aren't thought to be available in a Beal package, and that's a stance the Sixers should hold firm in.
This is not a case where the Sixers would be attempting to trade for a perennial MVP candidate and one-time winner as they were when they made an attempt to get James Harden last season. It's not even at the level of trading for Damian Lillard, who up to this season has put up big numbers in a superior conference and turned that production into a consistent winning. Beal is the rare multi-time All-Star who has basically been under no pressure to produce team results. While he is not solely responsible for where they're at in the league hierarchy, he's also not pushing them out of the spot they're in, and he hasn't seemed to particularly care that he's stuck in NBA no man's land. When you're talking about potentially committing an ungodly sum of money on him deep into the future, those are things you must consider.
(An encouraging note for the skeptics — if Beal looks underwhelming as the No. 2 next to Embiid, you could always opt not to pay him when he hits free agency and preserve the opportunity to make a splashy free agency move for, say, James Harden this summer. It would almost certainly mean moving Tobias Harris' contract in order to get that done, obviously, but that's why you hold a firm line of Simmons and Simmons only in order to get a theoretical deadline deal done. Beal does leave them with multiple paths forward whether he is an instant hit in Philly or a gigantic bust.)
The likelihood of a deadline Beal deal feels very low. The Sixers have signaled they're content to wait this Simmons situation out long past the deadline, and there's no indication the Wizards want to go down this road yet. If I had to guess, Beal is going to continue getting paid in D.C. for the foreseeable future after this additional round of light posturing. But if that changes between now and February 10th, it provides the Sixers with an opportunity for a major talent injection coming down the stretch.
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