One of the consequences of being an obsessive Raptors fan is reading NBA news and having two distinctly different emotional reactions. How I should feel about said news — and how being a Raptors fan makes me feel about it.
For instance: while I am definitely not happy that the NBA debut of Zion Williamson has been delayed (and I’m especially unhappy that we’re not even one day into Zion’s career and we’re already worrying about the possibility of chronic injuries shortening it), as a Raptors fan a piece of me isn’t completely bummed that Williamson won’t be around to potentially rain on the banner raising parade.
Now take the news that broke on Thursday. The Washington Wizards extended All-Star guard Bradley Beal with a two-year $72-million deal that runs through 2022-23 (assuming Beal picks up his player option).
On one hand, I’m happy to see the deal get done. Washington, of course, needs a win — even if it’s only of the P.R. variety. They’re tethered to John Wall’s horrendous max extension, and are facing a long season that will likely see them finish near the bottom of the still weak East — and that’s with Beal. Now, they know they’ll have him for at least this year, and they’ve positioned themselves to be able to give Beal the best possible contract the next time he’s up.
Because of that last point, the deal makes a lot of sense for Beal too. Even without picking up the option, the contract lets him play his way to his 10th season, allowing him to unlock that higher max value on his next deal. There’s no reason for him not to protect against the threat of injury by grabbing that cheddar. It also suggests Beal is being true to his word when he says that he wants to stay with Washington for the rest of his career.
It’s also a savvy business move in case that’s not true.
On his old deal, Beal was due to be a free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season. A class that could boast names like Giannis, Kawhi, Paul George, Jrue Holiday and many others.
Now, Beal, if he exercises the option, would be sitting in a class where the most intriguing names could be Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Kristaps Porzingas (unicorns anyone?). There are other wings due, but they’d either be aging (Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler), players who have yet to prove their superstar status (Andrew Wiggins), or are likely to have been extended already (everybody significant from that draft class).
From that perspective, Beal made a solid move — he’ll likely be the best wing on the market by some margin, and he’ll still only be 30, young enough for a full max deal to make sense. If he gets hurt, or for some reason loses some juice in his game, he’s still likely to be option 1 or 1A for any team needing a scoring guard.
A struggling franchise wins. A great player wins. And at first glance, as a Raptors fan, I win too. I’m always pleased when any excellent player languishes on a lousy team — that’s just one more guy who can’t jump up and bite Toronto when the playoffs begin.
And Beal won’t be able to do that this year. The rules of the extension prohibit Washington from trading Beal this season. That could have a huge impact on the title race — Beal has long been seen as perhaps the X-factor for a team trying to win the title this season. As Raptors fans have seen over the years, especially in last season’s electric 140-138 overtime thriller, Beal isn’t just a second or third banana — he’s the kind of player who can take over a game.
However, as much as I believe the rest of the league is underrating the Raptors yet again, Beal getting traded now wasn’t the real concern for the hometown faithful. Toronto might surprise everyone and make a deep run into the playoffs, maybe even defending their Eastern Conference crown. But that’s an incredible ask where a lot of things have to go right in Toronto — with or without facing a contender who has leveled up by adding Beal.
The more likely concern for obsessive Raptors fans is the fact that this extension makes Beal a much more desirable piece to acquire going forward — in the same way Kyle Lowry’s extension makes him more intriguing to the other 29 NBA teams.
Unlike players like Kawhi and George who have given their teams a very narrow window of contention — trading for Beal when he’s eligible to be dealt gives his team the possibility of three-years with his game-changing talents.
Look at the Milwaukee Bucks. They’re already hearing the rumbles of Giannis’ free-agency, and as well as they’ve re-built that franchise, they’ve struggled to attract other marquee free agents. Having Beal locked in past Giannis’ free agency date could radically increase their chances of keeping the Freak — quite apart from the boost to their title chances in the interim.
Or maybe this year makes the Sixers unsure if Tobias Harris is really their guy at the three, they could package him, both of their past two first-rounders (Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle) and future picks to land Beal. The Wiz could then surround Wall with shooting and defense — maximizing his value.
Or maybe Danny Ainge, wanting to land himself at least one sure-fire All-Star with all that draft capital he amassed, is willing to part with Jaylen Brown, (or, gasp, if he has another season of wayward shot selection, Jason Tatum), the Sacramento Kings first rounder, and other goodies?
The extension also means that dark horse teams could be more likely to try to copy the Raptors and take a risk. If this season proves to Indiana that Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis can’t co-exist, would they move one of them, along with Aaron Holiday, Jeremy Lamb or T.J. Warren and picks?
Would an Orlando package of Mo Bamba, or Jonathan Issac, plus Terrence Ross or Evan Fournier, plus 2019 first rounder Chuma Okeke and future picks get the job done?
And while Masai Ujiri can make things change in a hurry, Toronto is about as poorly placed as anyone in the NBA to take advantage of Beal coming on to the market this year or next. If OG Anunoby pops, you’re probably not trading him — and if he doesn’t, he’s not the centrepiece for a guy like Beal.
Lowry’s expiring? Nope. Not for Washington.
While the Raps first rounder will likely be more valuable than any save the Jakob Poetl pick in the past five years, it, on its own is not going to be a needle mover.
(The other bummer: with no extension if Beal was moved, one of the losers in his sweepstakes might have looked at Kyle Lowry — and his extension — as the sort of consolation prize worth backing up the truck for.)
Ugh, that’s it. I’ve promised myself that any piece this year that leads me to the idea of trading a franchise legend as a bright spot is too depressing to continue.
So, I’m left hoping that the Beal news means that one of the better players in the NBA remains tethered to a franchise stuck in a quagmire for the full length of the deal. But, quietly, the odds have increased that as Masai Ujiri reloads the Raps to make another run at the title, one of his bigger rivals is going to make the same sort of league-changing move he did a year ago — and make that run less likely in Toronto.