On Wednesday, Lance Stephenson finalized a deal with the Charlotte Hornets to be their shooting guard for three years and $27.5 million. While that’s great for him and the Hornets, it’s bad news for the Washington Wizards.
This coming year marks the final year in which Bradley Beal will be under his rookie contract. In 2015, Washington will have the ability to exercise a club option worth $5.6 million. If all goes according to plan, you have to believe that will happen. In other words, Beal will become a free agent in 2016 and the Wizards will most certainly be looking to bring him back.
Stephenson received a $27.5 million contract averaging 13.8 points per game. Beal, on the other hand, averaged 17.1 points per game this past season and 15.7 for his career. In other words, he’s going to want much more than $27.5 million over three years when it comes time to negotiate his new deal. In fact, you can sum up the contract that he and his agent will be shooting for in two words.
They will want a max deal and nothing less for a player who could possibly be the league’s best shooting guard two years from now. With John Wall already on a max deal, it’s going to be difficult for Washington to fit both Wall and Beal under the same salary cap and still have room left over for a strong supporting cast. Both players are worth the money, but it’s going to be a challenge to satisfy both their financial needs.
Another thing you must factor in to this equation is the possibility of signing Kevin Durant. In 2015, Durant will become a free agent and many have speculated that if he’s going to leave Oklahoma City, then it will be for his hometown of Washington D.C. One of the premiere players in the league and the reigning MVP, Durant is going to have quite a price tag put on him when he hits the open market.
Let’s also not forget that the Wizards just recently signed Marcin Gortat to a five-year, $60 million contract. When it comes time to resign Beal, Gortat and Wall will both be making $12-plus million per year. If the Wizards are able to get Durant next offseason, then you can add a third player making at least that annually to the mix.
There just simply won’t be enough room left in the books to satisfy Beal’s financial needs. As a disclaimer, it’s important to note that a lot can change between now and two years from now, but the point remains that Beal will not be cheap for the Wizards or any team that wants to sign him.
For Washington, now is the time to fix that. They can restructure contracts and front-load them so players like Gortat and Wall get most of their money now. By doing that, they will free up cap space down the road to re-sign a player like Beal. Another option would be to trade players to free up cap space.
Of course, this is all assuming that Beal is even needed on this team when that time comes. Should the Wizards get Durant next offseason, they’ll have one year left with Beal before he becomes a free agent. It’s not unlikely that it’ll be a one-hit-wonder for the big three of Durant-Wall-Beal. Once that year is over, there’s nothing that says the Wizards absolutely need to re-sign Beal. If they still have Wall, Durant, Gortat and a solid bench, then letting Beal go could be in the cards.
All of this is speculative upon the Wizards making a move for the hometown Durant. But it’s fun to think about after years of the Wizards being a joke or worse — an afterthought.
It is still a concern that is two years away, but it will be a concern nonetheless and Stephenson’s deal helps to shed some light as to how big of a concern it will be. However they want to do it, the Wizards will need to free up cap space in the future if they want to retain Beal for the long term. If they can’t free up space, then they need to make sure that they’ll be in good hands should they let him walk away.
Brian Skinnell is a sports writer born and raised in the Washington, D.C.-metro area and covers the Washington Nationals, Wizards and MiLB for District Sports Page. He’s had work published on Yahoo Sports and Rant Sports, and has made several radio show appearances across the country to discuss his works. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+!