Bradley Beal was very honest about his decision to re-sign with the Washington Wizards on No Chill with the Gilbert Arenas Podcast. “There’s no team on the market, as far as free agency is concerned,” he said. “I’m just being blunt. I have nowhere to go and I can say, ‘Oh, I can go and win.’ Strategically, these teams are not what I want.” Few players will be so candid about contract decisions . According to Beal, he re-signed with the Wizards to a five-year, $251 million deal because there simply was no other viable landing spot that could pay him the cap space Washington did.
Of course, this is an oversimplification. If Beal is strictly talking about teams with cap space, he’s right. No immediate title contender has the money to sign him outright. Most of the teams with cap space last offseason were young teams on the rise like Indiana, Detroit and San Antonio. In theory Portland could have created a ton of cap space, but that would have meant not trading Jerami Grant or keeping their own free agents. Young shooting guard Anfernee Simmons has given them a plausible Bill imitation, and they may lack the incentive to seriously pursue Beal.
But the idea that the Bills have no other possible landing spots based on the fact that there is no cap space on the market suggests that cap space is an important part of the free agency process. Not really, at least as far as stars go. NBA history over the past decade or so has taught us that a player can find a way with almost any team if both sides want it badly.
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Consider the example of Jimmy Butler. When he became a free agent in 2019, the Heat were not only over the salary cap, they were deep in the luxury tax. They can’t just sign him, and a sign-and-trade seems out of the question, since adding a max contract with the specter of a hard cap would mean cutting tens of millions of dollars from their payroll. So, what did the Heat do? They cut tens of millions of dollars off the cap table. They managed to sell Hassan Whiteside to Portland for Meyers Leonard and Mo Harkless, then trade Harkless to the Clippers to get rid of his salary. In the end, they sent Josh Richardson to Philadelphia to sign Butler, barely squeezing into the tarmac hard cap triggered by the sign-and-trade.
This requires sacrifices on both sides. Butler can only get a four-year deal through a sign-and-trade. The Bills managed to secure a five-year commitment by re-signing in Washington. The Heat had to give up players and draft picks to make the Butler acquisition possible. It’s unclear how determined any contender is to give up the kind of assets needed to make Bill a financial possibility. It’s also unclear if he’s willing to sacrifice a fifth year of his contract, or anything below the max, to fit in with a new team.
So technically, Bill is correct. There is no existing contender with cap space for him to join. But if he desperately wants to join a winner, it’s possible. Instead, he’s getting the most money he can possibly make by staying in Washington, and if he does want to be traded to an eventual winner, he can control the process through his no-trade clause. All in all, it’s not the worst consolation prize.