In a conversation with ESPN, Bradley Beal expressed pleasure when acknowledging Brooklyn’s interest. Wizards fans should shudder at this concept.
As a fan of any team – but we’ll say of the Washington Wizards, for our purposes – you’re bound to long for two things: a championship, and for your recently-extended star, Bradley Beal in this example, to express glee at other teams wishing he played for them. Obviously.
So, smile away, Wizards fans, for Beal perfectly fits the mold formed by thing No. 2 on that list. On Friday, following a New York Daily News report that the Brooklyn Nets were discussing ways to acquire the 26-year-old, he told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen that it was “an unbelievable feeling.”
Well, not entirely that. Beal said it’s “amazing,” in particular, “when you hear that Kyrie [Irving] and [Kevin Durant] want you.” He said:
“To me, I look at it as a sign of respect, that I’ve been doing good things and guys want to play with me… At the same time, you don’t know how much there is to it, or how easy it would be to do. And I’ve put down roots in D.C. I’ve dedicated myself to this town, this community. I love it here, and it would feel great to know I could grind out winning here instead of jumping to another team… But I’d be naive to say that I don’t think about it when these stories come up.”
You can’t say he’s wrong. As respect in the NBA goes, Irving and Durant – at least from a talent perspective – sit toward the top of the list. For them to say they’d love to play with Beal is akin to Brad Pitt or Matt Damon saying they’d love to make a movie with Robert Pattinson.
And who wouldn’t want to make a movie with Pitt or Damon? That’s a box office smash waiting to happen, just as a Beal-Irving-Durant core would serve well for fulfilling thing No. 1 on the previously mentioned list of all unflinching fan desires.
The second thing, as I hope you’ve figured out by now, was blatant sarcasm. Wizards fans have had enough to wallow over in recent years, from John Wall’s permanent residence in various DC-area emergency rooms to Ernie Grunfeld… well, doing what Ernie Grunfeld does best. For Beal to even acknowledge Irving and Durant’s praise is as inevitable as it is probably disheartening.
Just as inevitable is Beal’s name showing up in these trade rumors. It’s all-but tradition for stars on bad teams to frequent the proverbial trade block regardless of their public availability or interest in testing the waters. This is precisely what’s curious about Beal’s case: ostensibly, he doesn’t want to leave. Not exactly, that is.
He’s expressed interest in having his number retired in Washington and has made a commitment to make it work with Wall once he’s healthy. That much we know is true. He told MacMullen he wants “to see him get back to that level where I know he can be, especially since my game has grown so much [while he’s been out]. What can we accomplish together?”
It’s a good question. The answer, if we look backward, is well, something. Since 2012 – when Beal was drafted and Wall was entering his third year in the league – the Wizards have made the playoffs rather consistently, but just four times total and have never advanced past the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
While they might have a chance at making the playoffs this year – if the NBA elects to go with a play-in round to decide the final few teams in whatever format the postseason will transpire when play returns – their odds aren’t high. The Wizards were 24-40 before the break, and Beal has expressed hesitance about coming back without a playoff guarantee.
He told MacMullen:
“If our team was asked to come back without any chance of qualifying for the playoffs, I doubt my team would want me out there playing every single game. I’m pretty sure the front office would want to protect me from silly injuries that can happen after a long layoff like this.”
There are silver linings. For one, the east as a whole is a conference chock full of dreadful teams in its bottom tier. Washington sits atop that tier, regardless of it not being one you want to be in. And then, of course, there’s Beal, who was averaging 32.5 points per game in March and had a pair of 50-point outings in late February.
The difference is that the Wizards were 3-3 in March. Despite Beal’s tear, any seeding progress remained stagnant. The air wasn’t entirely out of the balloon, but it was certainly making the dreaded “pfttftt” sound.
All of this and more – recent season trends, the lack of team success despite statistically and individually flourishing, their outlook should a season return – derives a recipe for frustration. To his credit, Beal has remained seemingly loyal, not hinting at an interest in leaving, merely entertaining it ever so slightly.
And that could very well be the product of boredom. We’re dealing with a pandemic where not much is happening. A leaf falling from a tree is cause for contemplation about seasons changing early. When Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving openly express a desire to play with you, you’ll probably tell Jackie Mac that it feels “amazing.”
It’s just not what Wizards fans want to hear. It could be nothing; or it could be the writing on the wall, dictating not an immediate exit, but an eventual one.