The Sixers aren’t the only NBA team facing a monumental decision this offseason. The Washington Wizards need to choose whether to continue building around Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma or if it’s finally time to embrace a rebuild.
Rival executives expect them to go the latter route under new team president Michael Winger, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic.
Winger told Robbins that he still hasn’t “crafted the immediate vision for the franchise,” but he conceded that the Wizards likely aren’t “going to be an overnight title contender.” He said if Beal, Porzingis and/or Kuzma “would rather pursue immediate winning, then they probably do have to pursue that somewhere else.”
Porzingis and Kuzma can become unrestricted free agents this offseason by declining their respective $36.0 million and $13.0 million player options for the 2023-24 campaign. Meanwhile, Beal is entering the second year of the five-year, $251.0 million max contract that he signed last offseason—one which notably contains a no-trade clause.
That begs the question: If James Harden leaves the Sixers in free agency, should they place a call to the Wizards to see whether Beal would be interested in heading to Philly? After all, Beal and Joel Embiid share the same trainer in Drew Hanlen, and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons said last February that Embiid “was pushing really hard” for the Sixers to acquire Beal instead of Harden ahead of the 2022 NBA trade deadline.
“Part of the reason the trade stuff took so long was because there was the Sixers side that wanted Harden—obviously Daryl [Morey], because Harden is his guy,” Simmons said. “But Embiid really wanted Beal because he felt like he was a better fit and was pushing, pushing, pushing.”
Much like Damian Lillard, Beal has pledged his loyalty to the Wizards over the year. He described himself as “loyal to a fault” in an interview with Andscape’s Marc J. Spears in 2020, and he said last summer that he had a “huge desire to want to make it work” in Washington. But with his 30th birthday coming up at the end of June and the futures of Porzingis and Kuzma up in the air, it’s unclear how long he’ll remain patient.
If Beal is willing to waive his no-trade clause, the Sixers should at least inquire about the Wizards’ asking price. It would likely start with Tyrese Maxey as the centerpiece and Tobias Harris as the primary salary filler, which would leave the Sixers top-heavy outside of Beal and Embiid. They’d effectively be replacing all three of Harden, Maxey and Harris with Beal, which hardly suggests they’d be better next year than they were this past season. That should be a non-starter.
If the Sixers aren’t willing to offer Maxey in a package for Beal, other teams could easily outbid them. That’s where Beal’s no-trade clause could come into play, though. If he refuses to greenlight a trade to any other team aside from the Sixers, Winger would have to choose between continuing to build around him or taking the best non-Maxey package that the Sixers were willing to offer.
Unless Harden signed a max contract somewhere and the Sixers received an equivalent trade exception in a sign-and-trade, they’d have to include Harris in a Beal trade for salary-matching purposes. Teams can take back no more than 125 percent of the salary they send out (plus $100,000) in a trade of this size, and Beal is set to earn $46.7 million next year. The Sixers would thus need to send out at least $37.3 million in salary, which Harris alone covers ($39.3 million).
The new collective bargaining agreement contains additional salary restrictions regarding trades, though. If a team takes back more than 110 percent of the salary it sends out in a trade next season, it can’t cross the first salary-cap apron (roughly $7 million over the luxury-tax line), according to Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus. That means the Sixers might prefer to send out at least $42.4 million in a Beal deal to avoid being hard-capped, so they’d have to find an additional $3.1 million to include. (Hello, Furkan Korkmaz?)
The Sixers already owe their protected 2025 and 2027 first-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Brooklyn Nets, respectively, which means they can’t trade a first-round pick until 2029 at the earliest. (The Stepien Rule prevents teams from being without a first-round pick in back-to-back drafts.) They also have only one second-round pick to offer between now and 2026 (the New York Knicks’ 2024 pick), although they do have four second-rounders to offer from 2027 through 2029 (all three of their own and the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2029 pick).
The new second-round exception in the upcoming CBA could increase the value of second-round picks, which should make a non-Maxey package slightly more enticing. Still, the Sixers’ offer without Maxey would likely top out at Harris, De’Anthony Melton and/or the few remaining first- and second-round picks that they’re able to trade. Unless the Wizards are desperate to get off Beal’s long-term contract and start fresh, that still might not be enough to get them to bite.
Had the Wizards not given Beal a no-trade clause, the Sixers likely wouldn’t be a serious contender to acquire him unless they’re willing to give up Maxey for him. (They shouldn’t be.) But if Beal refuses to waive his no-trade clause for any team but the Sixers, Winger might have to consider taking a less-than-optimal package in return.
On paper, flipping Harris, Melton and draft picks for Beal might seem like a no-brainer for the Sixers. He’s two years removed from back-to-back 30-point campaigns, and he averaged 23.2 points on a career-high 50.6 percent shooting this past season. He isn’t a particularly high-volume three-point shooter—he attempted only 4.4 triples per game this past season—but he’s a career 37.2 percent shooter from deep, too.
Beal isn’t as adept of a playmaker as Harden, but he’s averaged at least five assists per game in four of the past five seasons. He also proved earlier in his career that he can thrive in more of an off-ball role, which could make him and Maxey more interchangeable than Maxey and Harden were this past season. He’s probably the best approximation of Harden who might be realistically obtainable this offseason.
However, the Big Three model is likely to be far less sustainable under the new CBA, which contains harsh penalties for the league’s highest-spending teams. For a team as asset-starved as the Sixers already are, it’s fair to wonder whether they’d be able to round out their supporting cast around an Embiid-Beal-Maxey triumvirate.
Morey’s modus operandi is typically to acquire stars first and worry about the supporting cast later. Seeing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals with nine undrafted players on their roster might only further embolden him in that regard. Still, trading for Beal would require the Sixers to hit several moves on the margins in the coming years, as they might be largely devoid of draft picks over the rest of the decade.
If more teams zig toward a Big Two model under the new CBA, Morey might see value in zagging toward a Big Three. Unless Beal is willing to weaponize his no-trade clause as a means to leverage his way to Philly, though, it’s hard to see the Sixers getting the deal done unless they offer Maxey to the Wizards.