Bradley Beal’s reported link to Phoenix Suns is both bizarre, logical

Jun 17, 2023, 3:31 PM | Updated: 3:36 pm

Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Chicago Bulls during the first half ...

Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Chicago Bulls during the first half at United Center on February 26, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns trading for Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal would be one of the most bizarre and unorthodox deals in league history.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania reporting the Suns have “emerged as a serious threat” for Beal is also logical based on how both teams got to to this point.

That’s really what we have to focus on first.

Beal is one season into a five-year, $251 million supermax extension, a device that was implemented by the NBA so organizations had a better chance at retaining their franchise player with far more money than other potential suitors.

The issue is, well, it’s far more money. While it made sense for the Wizards to do whatever they could to keep Beal, under a new front office a year later, Washington is potentially looking to rebuild. And Beal would want out if that’s the case, per Charania.

So now, the Wizards have to find a trade partner for the sixth-highest salary next season. While Beal is one of the best scorers in the league, he turns 30 later this month and had his last two seasons affected by season-ending injuries, playing 90 total games. He’s an excellent basketball player still but is more of a second banana on a contending team, and evaluators lower on him would even dispute that. Bringing in Beal on an average salary of $52 million the next four years for that is why his trade value is shaky.

Even worse, Washington gave Beal a no-trade clause, meaning he is going to be able to dictate where he wants to go.

That is how the Suns could possibly get a top-30 player in the league for one of Deandre Ayton or Chris Paul, plus Landry Shamet. More on the possibilities there in a bit.

From the Suns’ perspective, the immediate reaction is why Phoenix would position itself to have a Big 3 with virtually no reliable supporting cast. More so, relying entirely on getting lucky with veteran’s minimum signings in free agency to fill out the rest of the roster.

But the Suns are already in a compromised position.

As covered in Empire of the Suns’ mock offseason exercises, what Phoenix does with Ayton and Paul will determine how it can add depth to its roster. If the Suns do nothing leading up to the start of July, they can only sign players on the veteran’s minimum. That’s not going to happen.

The best route for roster balance is waiving and stretching Paul, opening up the non-taxpayer midlevel exception ($12.2 million) and biannual exception ($4.5 million), while also trading Ayton for two-to-three players that could factor into the rotation. But that’s a lot better in theory than the actual end product. The four final rosters in the mock offseasons showed that.

As is always the case this time of year after the NBA Finals, team-building examples are plucked from the two squads in it. Yes, it would make a ton of sense for Phoenix to find its own versions of the Denver Nuggets’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon to complement Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. But it is highly unlikely for the Suns to fetch role players as good as Denver’s pair for what they have at their disposal.

So would Beal really be their best option? He very well could be, especially if Ayton’s trade value is low.

Beal, Booker and Durant would have to develop chemistry as a ball-handling hydra to facilitate an offense. Booker and Beal are both two-guards but Booker as Point Book has also grown into one of the best point guards on the planet. Durant has spent a fair amount of time over the years initiating as well, as has Beal. Again, it would depend on the feel the trio found for both what each other and the offense requires at a given time to avoid the problem of too many cooks in the kitchen. That’s the often overlooked value a point guard brings.

But if they could get that far, and there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic about that, it would be an unstoppable offense. They are all tremendous three-level scorers and shooters. Remember the open looks we saw Durant setting up for Booker? Multiply that tenfold with Beal alongside them.

Defensively, it would be contingent on Booker accepting the challenge he more or less did when Durant arrived. He became Phoenix’s second-best defender in the starting lineup and was defending in more high-leverage situations against fellow stars. He passed the test with flying colors. Beal would have to take steps forward in his own regard as well.

The Suns would also have to pull a 3-and-D wing out of their hat somehow. The options are limited, and after going through how we got here, it’s now about how we get there.

Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported the package Washington would want if Beal forces his way to Phoenix would be Paul and Shamet as opposed to Ayton and Shamet.

Paul’s partially guaranteed $30.8 million for next season means the Wizards would have to take on nearly all of that in order for the trade to work when it comes to Phoenix’s outgoing salaries.

Beyond that, surely Paul does not want to play in Washington next season. Would the Wizards really be OK with waiving Paul, taking all that salary in dead money for this season? That would make the trade strictly a long-term salary dump to get off Beal’s money. There’s no way a waive-and-stretch of Paul makes sense for a rebuilding team like Washington, since it would be over $6 million a season for the next five years.

Ayton as the outgoing piece lines up much more. As Haynes suggests, perhaps Washington doesn’t even value a good yet inconsistent soon-to-be 25-year-old center in its long-term rebuild picture. Maybe it really would rather have the cap space. But it might not have a choice.

In that case, the Suns could still waive and stretch Paul to open up the mechanisms in free agency, surely prioritizing a wing stopper to defend lead ball-handlers. Dillon Brooks? It’s a struggle to find a fit beyond him. Would Bruce Brown take a discount ahead of the biggest payday of his career?

Let’s say all of that happens. As Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo has described it, the needle in the haystack is found. Then they thread it.

There’s still an unknown of serious handicaps in the long term.

Beal, Booker and Durant for the next three seasons would combine to make $130.4 million, $151.4 million and $162.4 million, respectively. The Suns would almost assuredly be locking themselves into the second tax apron, a part of the new collective bargaining agreement that all teams are anticipating to be factored in starting next season that includes restrictions for the NBA’s highest spenders.

The Athletic’s John Hollinger reported in April the NBA plans to phase it in over the next two seasons. Some of the punishments include no taxpayer midlevel exception, an inability to use cash in trades, aggregate contracts in trades, trade more money than it is taking back and paying an even more extreme fee for the tax. Perhaps the most severe is teams in the second apron two out of four years or more would have its first-round pick pushed to the end of the first round.

It is, quite honestly, hard to believe it got approved. But it did. So now nearly every franchise is going to avoid that second apron, while there could be one that says “screw it” to look past the risk in favor of the reward, taking advantage of getting a terrific player on a bloated salary for pennies.

Given all we know about him, which one of those sounds like new Suns owner Mat Ishbia to you?

By all accounts and reporting, he was the guy to get the Durant deal across the finish line, easily breezing past how incredibly bold it was in favor of his simple philosophy on how it made the Suns better and increased their chances at a championship.

This sure feels like that too. And maybe it really is just as simple as that.

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