Bradley Beal could’ve asked out, could’ve been the latest star to force his way to a better team, to a better situation where he could be playing for a title instead of drawing triple teams like he did Friday night.
Instead, he stayed. He signed an extension. He won’t hit free agency until at least 2022. In a perfect world, he’s said, he’ll stay with the Washington Wizards for his career.
It’s made Beal a beacon for people who don’t like seeing players leave in free agency or ones who force their way out of town.
“It’s easy for people in all walks of life to see the grass as greener on the other side and not to see and appreciate your current environment,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “And I do admire that in Bradley.”
But loyalty isn’t winning — especially in the NBA as we head into 2020.
Just look at the Lakers (17-2), the team that steamrolled Washington 125-103. It’s impossible, this week of all weeks, to not think about finding greener grass.
There’s LeBron James, who took his talents to Miami to win, who went home to be a legend by winning in Cleveland and who is now trying to restore the Lakers to their historical standard.
And then there’s Anthony Davis, who arose from the boos in New Orleans to dominate for a second straight game, brutalizing whoever was unlucky enough to try to stop him on Friday. He’s here because he knew New Orleans wouldn’t give him a chance as good as the one he’s got in Los Angeles.
There’s a financial incentive to stay. If Beal does, he could actually become the highest-paid player in NBA history. And the Wizards (6-11) are unquestionably Beal’s team. John Wall’s hurt, and Beal’s coming off back-to-back All-Star game appearances and averaging a career-best 28.9 points before being held to 18 on Friday night.
And while an All-Star might get a team into the playoffs, he’s not by himself going to win a team a championship or push a team into title consideration. The rest of the league, full of players who have traded loyalty for better teammates, is too good.
It’s not a lock that it’ll work even if Beal eventually decides it’s time for him to leave. Chris Paul forced a trade to Houston, and within two years, he was gone. But if Beal had foregone the extension, he’d have been the best player available on the trade market, the kind of talent that could’ve turned a team like Denver into a favorite on the level of the Lakers and the Clippers.
And maybe, alongside the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, he’d have found the perfect playing partner, a big-man with hawk-eye vision and octopus arms, a generational passer who would’ve found him every time he was open.
Maybe, it could’ve been the kind of partnership that Davis and James are building together 19 games into their first season as Lakers teammates.
On the court, they’re lethal. Just ask New Orleans guard Jrue Holiday who had the misfortune of guarding both during the Lakers’ win against the Pelicans on Wednesday.
“Yeah,” Holiday deadpanned, “that’s probably why they put that together.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks, after his team trailed by as many as 39, said the Lakers essentially have two MVPs in Davis and James, players who wonderfully complement each other.
“That’s hard to beat,” Brooks said.
Maybe Beal could’ve strong-armed himself into a situation that would’ve made his team harder to beat. You’d think he’d wonder about it after seeing James and Davis on Friday and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on Sunday. But Beal said he won’t.
“I’m good. They made their own decisions,” Beal said. “At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee you’ll win a championship by jumping ship. Only one team wins.
“When it came down to my decision making, I really factored that in. It looks great, but the grass isn’t always greener.”
There are four stars in Los Angeles, though, who would certainly disagree.