The Wizards don’t exactly attract a ton of envy these days, especially after posting the second-worst record in the NBA last season.
But before Washington snagged Bradley Beal with the third overall pick in Thursday’s draft, even the Thunder front office was scratching its collective chin at the possibility of shaving the man with the gigantic beard in a trade for the smooth-shooting Beal.
Sources said at least five teams had a green eye on Washington as it snagged Florida’s shooting guard: Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. But it was the Thunder’s persistent interest in Beal that gave the strongest indication of just how sought after Beal was.
Oklahoma City was the only one of those five teams that didn’t go on to draft a shooting guard, but that’s because the team already had the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, at that position. But it’s clear that the Thunder still wanted Beal enough to consider trading Harden since there was a very slim chance the Thunder could avoid major luxury tax payments if they doled out big deals to all four of their star players: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Harden.
The only thing that may have prevented that potential trade could be the fact that Harden only had one more year left on his contract, and there would be no guarantee that he’d sign a long-term deal with his new team. And for the Thunder, they’d be parting ways with a key member of a team that was three wins away from an NBA title.
Thus, Oklahoma City simply took the best player on the board, power forward Perry Jones out of Baylor.
On Wednesday, Beal confirmed sources that said Thunder general manager Sam Presti spent three days in Gainesville during the NBA lockout watching the Gators practice. A source also said that Presti and Florida coach Billy Donovan met in Dallas during the Thunder-Mavericks first-round playoff series in May, and that they had spoken on the phone specifically about Beal more than once.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation told ESPN, “Oklahoma City exhausted every opportunity on campus to find out everything they could find out about Beal. They’ve done everything they can.”
Meanwhile, the other four teams also had to move on to their plan Bs.
Cleveland — whose talks with Charlotte to leapfrog Washington and take Beal at No. 2 fell apart — felt the need to load up at the position by taking Syracuse’s Dion Waiters at No. 4 and Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham at No. 24.
Beal said the Nuggets, a promising young team that is desperately in need of an all-around scorer, told him they’d try to move up from No. 20 to get him. Instead, Denver settled for 6-foot-7 shooting guard Evan Fournier, a 19-year-old who will have to adjust to the NBA after playing overseas in France.
The Hawks (No. 23) and Spurs (No. 59) also made multiple calls to Donovan and UF, exhibiting the mindset of moving up from their respective positions to draft Beal. Atlanta wound up with another standout SEC two-guard in Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, who is every bit the shooter that Beal is but lacks his ball-handling, rebounding and defense. San Antonio went with second-team All-America Marcus Denmon out of Missouri, whose questionable size at barely 6-foot-3 with shoes caused his draft stock to fall short of his accolades.
As for Washington, the team that did land Beal, it may finally have something to look forward to. Washington hasn’t made the playoffs since the four straight postseason trips that it made from 2004-2007. Now with Beal and standout point guard John Wall, the Wizards may have one of the best backcourts in the league. Wall managed eight assists a game on a team that finished in the bottom third in every major offensive category. He should get some much-needed help from Beal.
“That’s what we need,” Wall told The Washington Post. “Especially with me bringing the ball up quick and getting it into the paint, I need guys that can knock down shots. I think he’s a consistent knock down shooter.”
It’s too early to say the Wizards will be gunning for the playoffs, let alone establish an identity after a name change in 1997 and a logo/uniform change in 2011. But one thing is for sure. The team is headed in the right direction. The team has added promising young talent to the roster in recent years while adding veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza on June 20.
On Thursday, Wall and Washington owner Ted Leonsis both agreed that a fourth straight trip to the NBA lottery would be unacceptable. If Beal becomes the prize that the Wizards and a handful of other teams believe he’ll be, this trip was sure to prevent that.