Even in the middle of a pandemic, when nobody is playing, Bradley Beal’s name still emerged in trade rumors.
The New York Daily News last week reported that the Brooklyn Nets have had “internal discussions” about pursuing the 26-year-old Wizards guard, who signed a two-year, $72 million extension in October.
“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk,” Beal told ESPN. “It’s interesting. 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.
“That’s an unbelievable feeling. When you hear that Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant] want you, s—, that’s amazing. 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.”
Beal knows the formula. He watched Anthony Davis express his loyalty to the New Orleans Pelicans — until Davis finally determined he needed a bigger market that would produce more wins. Some of the game’s brightest stars — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, for example — forced the hand of their teams to land in a more desirable environment. But Beal says he’s not ready to do that.
“My biggest thing right now is that I want to play with John [Wall] again,” Beal said. “I want 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? I’m so happy he’s healthy, working his tail off.”
Wall hasn’t played in an NBA game since December 2018 because of surgeries for bone spurs and a torn Achilles tendon. Beal said Wall had returned to practicing with the team shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit, engaging in drills and even some light scrimmaging.
“He looked great,” Beal said. “I was super encouraged. We went from seeing John motoring around every day on a wheeler to watching him dunk the ball. I saw that just before we stopped playing, and I was thinking, ‘Wow! He’s back. We’ve missed that.’ The few practices he participated in with us changed the whole outlook of our team.”
When the NBA abruptly paused its season on March 11, after Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 just before tipoff for a game, Beal was in the midst of the most prolific season of his young career. Beal’s scoring average of 30.5 points per game is second only to Houston’s James Harden.
With Wall sidelined, Beal blossomed into an elite scorer, the only redeeming constant for a young Wizards team that has a 24-40 record, just outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
On Feb. 23, Beal dropped 53 points on the Chicago Bulls. One night later, he racked up 55 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the league’s best defensive team. He was the first to score 50-plus on back-to-back nights since Kobe Bryant, but the milestone was not widely trumpeted because the Wizards lost both games.
His team’s futility cost Beal an All-Star spot in February (even though his NBA peers voted him as the second guard on their East ballot), and contributed to his omission from the All-NBA team last June. During this long layoff, Beal has tried not to dwell on the purgatory of being a great player on a bad team.
“I just have to tell myself, ‘Don’t stress over what you can’t control,'” Beal said. “I was having a good run, and then it came to a halt. You find yourself thinking, ‘Dang, how am I going to pick up where I left off?'”
If the league decides to continue its season with just the top 16 teams, the Wizards will be on the outside looking in. It’s no wonder that Beal favors the play-in scenario, which would keep the Wizards’ hopes afloat. Managing the mental gymnastics of what’s next, he said, has often been almost as daunting as the actual physical commitment to staying in shape.
“It’s difficult because everything has been so up in the air,” Beal said. “The only thing you can do is prepare for the best, and prepare for the worst, all at the same time.
“You have to stay ready, and assume our team is gonna be in the playoffs. But then you start thinking, ‘What if I put in all this work, and don’t get the opportunity?’ That will definitely suck. It’s just a weird year.”
As Beal awaits word regarding his team’s fate, he embraces the extra time the layoff has given him with his two young boys — Bradley, who is nearly 2, and Braylen, who is not yet 10 months old.
“They are growing so fast,” Beal said, “and it’s awesome to be here to see it. We miss so much when we are in season.”
His sons have been weighing on his mind since George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died while in Minneapolis police custody. Video shows an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Beal said he wants to believe the world is getting better for minorities in this country, but he added, “When I see things like that, it scares me.”
“I start asking myself, ‘How do I raise my two sons in this environment?’ I have to figure out a way to teach them, how to talk to the police in a proper way when they are pulled over, even if they’ve done nothing wrong,” he said. “I have to teach them how to manage the prejudice of others. I have to teach them about racism, and I wish I didn’t. It’s sickening, the abuse of power, but no one is willing to talk about it. No one is willing to sit down and have uncomfortable conversations about why things like this are still happening.
“I’m sure our union will become involved. One of the great things about NBA players is we’ve always made our voices be heard.”
With regard to the potential resumption of the NBA season, Beal saw the comments from Damian Lillard about his unwillingness to play meaningless games if his Portland Trail Blazers weren’t given a shot at the postseason.
“I looked at it,” Beal said, “and said, ‘That’s me. I’m in the same situation.’
“Hell yeah, I support Dame. I wasn’t mad at all about what he said. 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.”
So, Beal was pressed, if all 30 teams return, and the Wizards are required to play out the string without the postseason as a reward, is he committed to suiting up every night?
“That’s tough,” he said. “I always want to play, especially when, with the young team we have, our thing is getting better and putting the work in to accomplish that. I want to set an example for my team. And I’m competitive.
“But this whole situation is not to be taken lightly. Nobody should go back until we 100% examine every logistic with regards to our health. I don’t blame Joe Ingles at all for [thinking about] leaving the game to protect his family.
“I don’t want to say we are guinea pigs, but we will be one of the first [sports leagues] coming back all together. There are so many unknown variables. I’m all about keeping everyone safe.”