“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
This cynical truism may originally have been uttered about DC comic book characters, but it just as easily applies to Washington Wizards superstars. From Gilbert to John Wall, every Wizards icon since the turn of the century has seen their name go from worshipped by city fans to cursed by the same group quicker than an Ish Smith crossover.
Injuries and poor decisions certainly hastened the fall of the aforementioned franchise cornerstones, but in each case, the ember that sparked the wildfire burning down their hallowed reputations was the signing of an exorbitant contract. And now history repeats itself, as Bradley Beal by all accounts prepares to sign a deal that will simultaneously upgrade his earnings and degrade his standing.
I can begrudge no man for agreeing to a deal that will pay him over $40 a year guaranteed – much less a man who I’ve cheered on over the past decade and whose name I’ve sported on my back. I was happy for John when he took his supermax to the bank, and if I was Brad, I’d just as quickly tell Ernie to “F*** you, pay me!” (Ray Liotta voice, RIP)
Still, as a fan, its hard to get pumped for a transaction that will instantaneously transform your team’s captain from one of the most underrated players in the game to perhaps its most overpaid. And the déjà vu hits especially hard when the last hometown hero to go through these exact circumstances was literally just bought out of the last year on his NBA-worse deal two days ago!
Biggie said it best: money and blood don’t mix (I’ll extract the rest of that bar in honor of Pride Month). The consequence of these supermaxes is that they complicate how you support the players that otherwise represent your team’s lifeblood. You’ll feel very different bragging about the 30-piece a game Brad’s averaging when you do the math and realize it’s coming at the cost of more than $1.5M for each PPG. Likewise, try resolving the contradiction of arguing for Beal as a top-15 player over the acknowledgement that he’s on a top-5 most untradeable contract. Money is indeed the root of all evil.
On the other hand, the devil’s advocate in me demands to know what would I want the Wizards front office to do differently. Should they play hardball at the negotiating table and risk alienating our local heroes? Should they just let them walk for nothing? Should they trade them for pennies on the dollar and push for a total rebuild?
That last option is the most appealing, especially given the returns other All-Stars have fetched over recent seasons, and represents a path forward some fans have been clamoring for since the House of Guards hit their ceiling back in 2017. However, this alternative doesn’t seem to be in the cards with an owner vocally against tanking and a general management team that has shown the willingness to incrementally improve the roster through trades and free-agent signings. The refreshing competence of the front office’s recent transactions notwithstanding, the fact remains that absent a franchise-altering free agency coup or generational draft pick, the highest ambitions for this team is an early-round (first round or earlier) playoff exit. And Brad’s signature on the supermax extension means it will be at least a few more years until we get the franchise reset that we ultimately need.
So, while I’ll applaud Bradley Beal when he signs the well-deserved supermax in the coming days for committing to the city and securing financial security for his growing family, it’ll be with the understanding that we’ll almost certainly be using the same piece of paper to crucify him in the coming years.