Oh, how Leonsis loved that thing.
That gave him, CEO and chairman of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, such influence among his billionaire peers. It represented his despair- I mean, his desire to attract top-shelf free agents to DC To Leonsis, the bargaining chip that favored an all-star who has never been mistaken for a superstar, was a symbol of loyalty and partnership. Almost like a promise ring, but with the full understanding that the love of your life could choose a new partner whenever he wanted, leaving you with Landry Shamet and several second-round draft picks.
Analysis: The Wizards gave away Bradley Beal. It was the right call.
On Sunday, when the Washington Wizards agreed to a Beal trade three years late, they began in earnest what will be a long and arduous rebuild. The Wizards can now look to the future without dragging their franchise cornerstone’s supermax contract with them deeper into misery. But simply freeing himself from paying Beal $207 million over the next four seasons should have accounted for half of the team’s recovery plan. The other half should have acquired young prospects and high draft picks to develop as they lay the new foundation or become tradable assets.
But that didn’t happen, because last summer the man with all the trophies in the room outsmarted himself.
Leonsis committed too much to Beal, a player who leaves owning a host of individual franchise records, but one without the lasting mark of a winner. Not that I entirely blame Beal for this. Together, John Wall and Beal needed more talent around them. Their window of contention opened up a bit from 2014 to 2017, but after last season, and a strong and fun matchup with the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the wedge snapped. Wall’s injuries mounted and Beal emerged as that guy, but it’s not him. So it’s hard to totally blame Beal for not single-handedly lifting the Wizards to the playoffs more than once. And even when it happened in 2021, Beal wasn’t the solo act. Russell Westbrook was to guy.
Players of that caliber – capital letters The guy – are the ones who get a full no-trade clause written into their contracts. Buy. LeBron. Dirk. KG. D- Wade. Hall of Famers with instant name recognition. All but two of the nine players have won championships. Still, Leonsis Bradley Emmanuel Beal Sr. becoming the 10th player in league history with such a clause, giving him the power to control not only his own destiny, but that of the franchise as well.
Last June, when Beal’s contract details emerged, the clause seemed unnecessarily burdensome — why give away your team’s ability to secure a mutually beneficial deal if it were ever necessary to trade him? But back then the wizards didn’t think about the future. They clearly had no plan, other than a misguided prediction that by strengthening one player it would signal the kind of loyalty that could attract bigger stars.
So, of course, let’s put this one on the scapegoat that is no longer here.
Tommy Sheppard was the one smiling and sitting next to Beal during the press conference that was an attempt to celebrate his five-year, $251 million extension. Beal had stuck around long enough to be eligible for that kind of money, and because it happened on Sheppard’s watch, he’ll always be the general manager who overpaid. Still, it’s not like Sheppard took a quick one on Leonsis and distracted him with the old one Hey, look over there! trick, and while Leonsis was busy watching Alex Ovechkin chase 800 or buy a baseball team or expand his sports empire, Sheppard threw in that no-trade clause.
Nix. This one is on Leonsis. He agreed to the clause. He celebrated it. He highlighted that as what made the Wizards the envy of the league.
“You have to trust me. I’ve come back from many league meetings,” Leonsis said while in his office, live-streamed into the team’s press conference last summer. “And several other NBA owners have said, ‘I wish we had a relationship like you have with your players.’ There’s a lot of movement, a lot of non-partnership that you see around the league and for there to be a public statement that basically says we have a player [who] wants to be here and serve out his contract, so do we, which gives your manager the opportunity to plan and trust that your best player, your starting player, is part of the process.”
As Leonsis continued to speak, his championship laurels sparkling behind him, he shared how he interpreted the no-trade clause. While 29 other team owners might have seen this as a transparent power move by the player and his agent, Leonsis saw it as a shining example of his commitment.
“When the player brings it to you, we’re not naive,” Leonsis said. “I didn’t take it as a leverage point. I took it more as a partnership point. All we can do is show you … we’re in this together.”
They were in this together until Leonsis fired Sheppard after the 2022-23 season, then hired Michael Winger as president and gave him the green light to do what should have been done years ago.
Earlier this month, I wrote that I expected Beal to stay in DC for a while. After all, Winger said he could close his eyes and “imagine” having Beal here for training camp as he explained his rebuilding theory.
“One of my biggest fears is being overreactive to unmet expectations before I get here,” Winger said. “I just don’t believe in taking a flamethrower to things until you know exactly what you’re burning. I don’t know the guys yet. I’d really like to meet them face to face over a meal.”
Well then. It must have been an eye-opening dinner. It took Winger no time at all to do what he did when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers — use his flamethrower and start over. In their 2018 trade for Blake Griffin, the Clippers received three decent role players as well as first and second round picks. Fortunately for the Clippers, their star player did not have a no-trade clause.
The wizards have many cooks in the kitchen. Here’s how it will work.
Winger has experience shaking up a franchise with a massive trade, but that shouldn’t have been his first order of business here. The Wizards should have cleaned house after Westbrook bailed out of his one-year lease and before he tied himself to a contract for Beal that was too uncomfortable for many teams to accept.
Because of the extension, Winger couldn’t land a lottery pick for Beal — and not even a first-rounder. Instead, the best Winger could do was give away the Wizards’ so-called “bedrock” player for a 38-year-old point guard (Chris Paul, who probably isn’t playing here), a little-used role player and some second-round picks. There are bad trades and then there is this – complete and utter surrender.
Beal wins because he lands with a team where he becomes the third star for a new billionaire owner who doesn’t mind throwing money around to chase a championship. Back here, however, is only the wreckage of the most foolish provision ever written into a modern NBA contract. Leonsis wanted to show his commitment to a player, but he ended up crippling his own franchise.