- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2022

Bradley Beal made his decision weeks ago. Ahead of becoming a free agent for the first time in his career, the three-time All-Star told reporters that he knew what he was going to do, but couldn’t reveal details just yet.

But on Thursday, when free agency opened, Beal’s intentions were clear: He’s going to stay with the Wizards.

Beal agreed to a new five-year, $250.9 million supermax contract with Washington. The deal, which can’t become official until July 6, will make the 29-year-old one of the NBA’s highest-paid players. The Wizards, though, were more than willing to pay up for their star player who has long been sought after by other teams around the league. 

Over the past few years, Beal became the Wizards’ cornerstone as the guard’s game tremendously improved after Washington turned to him to be the team’s No. 1 option in wake of multiple injuries to John Wall. As Beal progressed, the St. Louis native’s national profile rose — with storylines focused on whether rival clubs could pry him from the District, and whether Beal would want to leave. 

Beal, however, had long maintained that he had no interest in leaving the team that drafted him third overall in 2012. The guard appeared to like the spotlight and responsibilities that came with being the Wizards’ best player, and indeed management often consulted him on roster decisions.  

And when he signed his last contract in 2019 — a two-year, $72 million extension — Beal said months later on a podcast that he viewed demanding a trade as the “easy way out.” It would be more “meaningful and powerful,” he said, if he could win in the District. 

“I know what my decision will be based off of — and that’s where I feel like I can win,” Beal told Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks in June. “That’s going to be my decision. If I feel like I can win in D.C., that’s what I’m going to do. And I want people to respect that.”

Now, the Wizards’ challenge will be to surround Beal with enough talent to become a consistent winner. Since Beal became the franchise’s main star during the 2018-19 season, the Wizards have yet to finish above .500 in a season despite gaudy statistics from Beal. The closest that Washington has gotten to that mark was in 2020-21 — when the 34-38 Wizards lost in the first round of the playoffs as an eighth seed. That year, Washington traded for point guard Russell Westbrook and Beal ranked second in scoring with a career-high 31.2 points per game.

This past season, too, marked a step back for Washington and Beal. The guard was limited to only 40 games with a series of ailments that included season-ending wrist surgery. Even before Beal was shut down in February, however, the 29-year-old’s scoring average dropped to 23.2 points per game and Washington was unable to sustain a hot start to the campaign. The Wizards missed the postseason entirely with a 35-47 record.

Despite the lack of on-court success, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard remains convinced that Beal is a key piece to build a team around. The executive has already taken steps to upgrade Washington’s supporting cast, agreeing Tuesday to acquire point guard Monte Morris and shooting guard Will Barton from the Denver Nuggets in a trade for guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith.

The Wizards last made it out of the first round in 2016-17 when the team came a game away from making the Eastern Conference Finals by losing to the Boston Celtics in seven. That squad was powered by a trio of Wall, Beal and swingman Otto Porter. Wall and Porter have since long departed.

“We’ve shown this is a place we can build around him,” Sheppard said of Beal after the season. “He’s shown to the community here that when he’s healthy, he‘s one of the best players at his position. Those are hard to come by.” 

There was also a massive financial incentive for Beal to re-up with the Wizards. Under league rules, Washington could offer the Florida product roughly $66 million more than any other team. Beal qualified for the “supermax” — or 35% of a team’s salary cap — after making third-team All-NBA in 2021. 

Beal’s agreement with the Wizards came on an eventful day for the NBA in which star Kevin Durant demanded a trade from the Brooklyn Nets. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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