Michael Scotto is joined by Wizards beat writer Fred Katz of The Athletic on the latest episode of the HoopsHype podcast. The duo discusses Bradley Beal’s commitment to the Wizards, poor body language recently, Beal’s trade value around the NBA, and the futures of coach Scott Brooks and Wizards management long-term. Listen to the podcast above or check out some snippets of the conversation in a transcribed version below.
1:40 Bradley Beal’s body language against the Nets during the first half and what NBA executives and scouts were saying
Scotto: I texted with a couple of executives and scouts. One executive in the East told me, “Damn, that’s unbelievable. Red flags everywhere.” Another scout, who’s been in the league for over a decade at this point, texted me, “He looks like he’s done with them.” That was in the first half.
Katz: Ever since I’ve been covering the Wizards, which is two and a half years, the narrative around Beal has been when is he no longer going to be a Wizard?
A couple of times a year, the Wizards will end up on the NBA TV game, and Beal’s body language will be weird because that’s just what he looks like a lot of the time. He slouches, hands at the sides. Him not running back on defense has been a thing for a couple of years now. It’s just kind of part of his game.
Scotto: You mentioned that the Wizards aren’t necessarily looking to move him. I’ve gotten that same sentiment as well. Coming into the year, they thought with re-signing Davis Bertans, trading for Russell Westbrook and reuniting him with Brooks and hoping he can recapture that MVP form or at least an All-Star level player, pair him with Beal, they thought they were a playoff team in the East and as high as six in the conference according to some people I spoke to in the organization going into the season. That was their hope. It hasn’t turned out like that. Thomas Bryant also got hurt.
6:50 What’s the vibe around the Wizards?
Katz: They’re frustrated without question. To be clear, when I talk about Beal’s body language, it has moments where you’re like, ‘Whoa. What the hell is going on?’ I’m not implying that the first quarter when he took zero shots was just the norm every single day. But he goes in and out. My impression is I’ve had this conversation so many times in two and a half years where every six months somebody says to me, ‘I saw his body language. He looked frustrated. He was sitting on the side of the court, he had a towel over his head, and he looked so down. He looked fed up. He must want out.’
Brad hasn’t said he wants out. The team doesn’t want to trade him. At this point, that’s been the case for long enough that I’m just going to continue to believe that until I explicitly hear hints of otherwise. And this isn’t just from conversations with people close to Beal. These are conversations with people from other teams who call up the Wizards. The league sees what’s happening here. The Wizards are 4-12. Beal’s a free agent in the summer of 2022. The league sees him as the next guy to get traded after James Harden.
I don’t necessarily agree with the Harden comparison. Harden demanded a trade, wanted out, and the Rockets weren’t doing it. That was Harden’s way of saying, ‘Ok. I don’t want to be here. Do something about it right now.’ That’s not the case with Beal. If it is the case with Beal and he does want out, he hasn’t made it clear to the team that he does.
11:53 So if Beal wants a trade or the Wizards explore a trade, what’s his value?
Scotto: One exec said, ‘A whole bunch of picks, and I think they could try to have another team take a bad contract with him as well. I think it’d be somewhere between the Jrue Holiday and Harden trades. Harden was an MVP scoring champ in terms of talent. He (Beal) is in between both of them.’
Another exec said, ‘If you look at the last couple of trades, depending on the players going back, I’d imagine two or three first-round picks and potentially pick swaps as well.’
14:00 Beal’s long-term future in Washington
Katz: I think it’s important to remember that when we talk about the organization’s interest in holding onto him, it’s not that they’re interested in holding into him for the next year and a half, it’s their interest in holding onto him beyond the next year and a half. They wouldn’t be handling it this way if they didn’t feel like they had a really legitimate chance to re-sign him during his 2022 free agency.
Something that’s important to the context of all of this is that Beal is kind of like a Damian Lillard kind of guy. Lillard believes there’s inherent value in being able to stay with one franchise, and Beal is a similar guy. I know he loves that Dirk (Nowitzki) title in 2011.
I don’t think Beal wants to lose for the rest of his career. I just think all things being equal, he’d rather win in Washington than win elsewhere. While the entire rest of the world has made up their mind that he’s not going to win in Washington, I don’t think Beal has.
17:30 What would the Wizards want for Beal?
Scotto: There was a period where internally the Nets discussed, and obviously this was before the Harden trade, what would it be if they tried to package Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen and somewhat similar to the trade that they did for Harden? I’m not sure about all of those pick swaps for Beal. Let’s be clear on that, but that type of package centered around a guy like LeVert, who at the time was in the conversation that he could be an All-Star at some point. Allen is a center that’s valued around the league and a guy that’s on the upswing for sure. They had plenty of first-round picks, as you saw given in the Harden trade. From Washington’s standpoint, I touched on it with a few of them theoretically behind the scenes if that would have interest, and I didn’t get the vibe that it would.
To your point, if that type of trade package scenario didn’t float their boat for a guy like Beal at the time, and he’s only gotten better since then. This is a guy averaging 35 points a game and is definitely going to be an All-Star this year. If that wasn’t enough then, what’s the package going to be now? It’s going to have to be more than that.
Katz: The Wizards have been an organization that has historically prioritized making the playoff above breaking it down. Ted Leonsis is the owner who famously said, ‘I will never ever tank.’
If you arrive at a situation where you’re going to trade Beal, let’s hear out New Orleans. They have young players and tons of picks. Let’s hear out Golden State. They have James Wiseman. They have the Minnesota pick. Let’s hear out Denver, who has Michael Porter Jr. Atlanta has a lot of young players and some picks. Let’s hear out these teams. The Knicks have a lot of picks. Or, you could say, ‘Let’s see if we can get Ben Simmons?’
25:18 Who’s getting the blame in Washington if this season continues the way it has? Brooks or the Wizards front office?
Katz: I don’t think that you can say that any coach that’s in the last year of his deal, hasn’t gotten an extension, and whose team has the worst winning percentage in the NBA right now is completely safe. In terms of being out in the middle of the year, Brooks makes $7 million this year. Leonsis, the Wizards owner, just furloughed 40 percent of his company’s employees a few months ago. So, I don’t know what the desire would be to pay someone $7 million or the remainder of the contract not to work for him. I can’t imagine he’d be that enthusiastic about that. I think this is an organization that thinks about optics and that kind of stuff. I don’t think the optics are there to pay somebody that much when you just furloughed that many people not to work for you in the middle of an economic crisis in the middle of a pandemic.
Scotto: If they go a different direction, one guy I’m sure you can bank on hearing his name out there in some form is Masai Ujiri. Whether it’s for leverage or not, when it comes to executive openings, his name always seems to find its way out there — and for a good reason after building the Toronto Raptors.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto