Let’s be Swarovski-clear: Bradley Beal is an outstanding basketball player in a vacuum who will help teams win games, maybe important ones. That little nugget has been lost in most of the discourse online about Beal’s trade value.
Despite being a little overtaxed as the primary offensive engine in Washington, Beal averaged 23 points per game on rock-solid 51/37/84 percent shooting splits. He took nearly a third of his shots at the rim and finished a shockingly superb 72% of those attempts (Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James both shot 75% at the rim, albeit on higher volume; pretty good company!). That is nothing to sneeze at.
Brad’s also a solid playmaker (six assists per game over his last two seasons) and runs a crispy pick-and-roll. He has more than enough court awareness to function as the primary ballhandler:
Like the moon, Beal’s defense has waxed and waned over the years, but last year was waxy enough that he needed a Q-tip. He’s posted a positive defensive estimated plus-minus in the previous two years. At 6’4” tall and with a 6’8” wingspan, Beal can credibly defend either guard position. He’s certainly not a stopper on that end, but given his offensive contributions, he’s good enough.
Stylistically, Beal has the full bag, which allows him to fit pretty neatly into most offensive ecosystems. He’s more than comfortable running point guard when necessary, but he’s perhaps at his best as an off-ball cutter and attacking off the catch. Watch as he torches the usually stout Alex Caruso on a cut and finishes strong at the rim:
Who wouldn’t want that? But the Wizards must vault several hurdles to trade Big Panda.
The loudest obstacle is the no-trade clause in Beal’s supermax contract. No-trade clauses in the NBA are exceedingly rare; Beal is the only active player to have one. That seems weird!
But in actuality, most stars have a de facto no-trade clause for various reasons.
First, most stars don’t get traded until only a year or two remains on their contract. Teams are reluctant to part with big names and usually only do so when the player has made it clear he isn’t re-signing with the team (think Anthony Davis on the Pelicans). But teams trading for a disgruntled superstar don’t want to give up major assets for a player who can bolt in a year. Therefore, the player exerts significant control over his destination by indicating ahead of time whether or not he’s likely to sign an extension with that team. It’s not quite a no-trade clause, but it often functions as one.
(One notable exception: the Toronto Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard even after he informed them he was unlikely to extend after the one year remaining on his contract. However, the Raptors didn’t have to give up too many assets, and even though Leonard DID leave after one season, they still got a championship out of the deal. Not a bad piece of work.)
Franchises also are reluctant to alienate star players (and their agents) by sending them somewhere they don’t want to be. There appears to be a perceived reputational risk; teams want to be seen as “taking care” of their stars. (Does this really matter? I’m skeptical.) Portland isn’t going to trade Damian Lillard to, like, Charlotte, no matter what the trade package back looks like, unless Lillard wants to live in the Queen City. Lillard and Portland have established too much two-way loyalty for that, and it could turn off local fans who don’t enjoy seeing their longtime hero treated poorly by the franchise. (Again, I doubt fans would care too much, but it’s a real concern teams have.)
The interesting thing about stars having so much say over their destination is that it should destroy the dealing teams’ leverage. But it hasn’t played out that way. Anthony Davis only wanted to go to Los Angeles to partner with LeBron. Kevin Durant only wanted to be traded to Phoenix (or Miami, but the Heat had almost nothing to send back; that was never going to work, making it a one-horse race). And yet, both the Pelicans and the Nets extracted pretty much everything they wanted from the Lakers and Suns, respectively.
The point is that superstars have almost always had something approaching no-trade clauses anyway, and it hasn’t hurt trade returns. Beal’s explicit one isn’t a major hindrance.
The only sticking point: it’s assumed the no-trade clause will carry over to a new team (although this isn’t spelled out in the league rules and may be open to interpretation). Trading Beal in three or four years, when he may suffer injury- or skill-related decline, could be harder if he doesn’t want to be dumped to a bad team. But we’ve seen gargantuan contracts moved before — nothing is untradeable. And it’s always possible Beal retains enough value that he’s still a great player at 31 or 32, in which case all our previous points still apply.
(An interesting halo effect: if the no-trade clause does lower trade value, that’s even better for Beal. If the team Beal consents to be traded to doesn’t have to give up as much to get him, they’ll be in a stronger position to compete post-acquisition. Fiendishly clever, if purposeful.)
But other concerns are suppressing Beal’s trade value much more.
First, the injuries. Beal is somehow just 29; he turns 30 in under two weeks. But he hasn’t played more than 60 games since 2018-2019, his second consecutive 82-game season. Since then, however, he’s suffered a litany of injuries to basically every body part: thighs, hamstrings, knees, feet, wrists, hips, back. Not great!
That problem is exacerbated by the money he’s owed. Brad’s getting $47 million next year, then $50 million, then $54 million, then $57 million (player option). That becomes an issue as soon as 2024-25, when the punitive new collective bargaining agreement kicks in. At that point, teams with too-high payrolls become severely limited in what they can do to their roster. There will effectively be a hard cap. Brave franchises may pass the “second apron” once; nobody will do it twice.
However, the teams looking to add Beal do not care about three seasons down the road. He is a win-now player, someone you blow the bank account for to maximize championship odds in the next year or two.
Beal’s versatile skill set lets him fit next to any number of stars. He’d be a fantastic fit on the Heat, where he’d essentially be a turbocharged Tyler Herro. A Jaylen Brown/Bradley Beal swap of some sort (Brown holds more value in a vacuum but is about to command his own monster contract) could be intriguing for a Boston team that needed a little extra driving and playmaking juice. Perhaps the Knicks would want to cash some chips in? Maybe the Bucks could find a third team to facilitate some action?
I’m not sure what the price for Beal’s services is, but it’s not nothing. Even at his peak, Beal wouldn’t have returned a Durantian haul (although I would have said the same thing about Rudy Gobert, and we know what happened there). However, efficient scorers, even expensive ones, don’t grow on trees, and it only takes two interested teams to start a bidding war. A trade feels inevitable; we just have to wait and see which team will swallow hard and pony up enough to make it worth the Wizards’ while.
All I know for sure is that the no-trade clause isn’t the problem. Please stop talking about it.