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How would a Bradley Beal trade work for the Phoenix Suns?

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
June 17, 2023

After a second-round playoff run accentuated by a top-heavy roster, the Phoenix Suns may be doubling down on star power. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Suns have emerged as one of two finalists for Bradley Beal on the trade market:

This is a fairly stunning turn of events — not because owner Mat Ishbia continues to be aggressive, and certainly not because Beal is some player unworthy of pursuing. In a lot of ways, it tracks, since Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, is the father of new Suns CEO Josh Bartelstein.

But rather, it’s surprising because of the state of the Suns’ salary cap books, how their recent playoff failures highlighted the need for depth, how little it might cost to acquire a three-time All-Star like Beal if they’re somehow able to pull this trade off…and how much it’ll cost to bring Beal’s gargantuan contract into the fold.

The question is, how would all of this work? Is it realistic to expect to see Bradley Beal in a Suns uniform sometime in the next few weeks? What trades might actually work for the Washington Wizards, and how would Beal affect the Suns on the court and on the cap sheet? Let’s take a quick look at how Beal heading to Phoenix might actually work.

Bradley Beal on the court

Beal turns 30 years old in a few weeks, but he’s still one of the most versatile scorers in the NBA who could theoretically mesh with any team. Because he’s used to playing on or off the ball, he’d be a dynamic fit alongside other stars who can score and pass like Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.

Last season, Beal averaged 23.2 points, 5.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. Though it was a far cry from the career-best 31.3 points per game he averaged two seasons prior, he did shoot a career-high 50.6 percent from the field last season, including 36.5 percent from 3.

It’s easy to see how he, Book and KD would form the most unholy of bucket-getting trios in the league:

Beal’s growth as a playmaker would help alleviate concerns over who the Suns’ actual point guard is. Even if Chris Paul is traded or waived, Phoenix would have enough ball-handling, passing and scoring between its star trio that it could survive without a traditional 1-guard.

Beal and Booker could alternate those duties, leaning more fully into “Point Book” lineups if the Suns were unable to land another starting-caliber point guard in the offseason. That would feel like the more likely outcome if the Suns traded for Beal, since starting a point guard, Book and Beal together would lead to a fairly undersized starting lineup.

The biggest question would revolve around depth. Before we even dive into the numbers or what trade packages might make sense, it’s fairly obvious a Booker/Durant/Beal trio would leave the Suns with little wiggle room to build out the rest of their roster.

The NBA champion Denver Nuggets, not to mention the Eastern Conference finalist Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, showed that surrounding two stars with capable role players is still a viable path to contending for titles. New changes to the upcoming CBA lean further into the notion that the “Big 3” era is dying. The Suns would be zigging while the rest of the league zags in that regard.

There are two ways to look at that dilemma in an NBA that will soon punish teams for trying to build their rosters around three max-level players. There’s the glass half-empty approach:

Or glass half-full:

Assuming the Suns are embracing the chaos, what are the salary cap consequences of doing so?

Salary cap ramifications

Thanks to a few new changes to the upcoming CBA, extra punishments will be aimed at teams spending extravagant amounts. The implementation of a second luxury tax apron at $179.5 million threatens to remove the mid-level exception, eliminate the amount of extra salary teams can take back in trades, prohibit those teams from adding players on the buyout market, and even freeze their first-round draft picks seven years down the line for repeat offenders.

The salaries of their three stars wouldn’t leave much wiggle room over the next few years:

The NBA salary cap is at $134 million for next season, and while the Suns were always going to be an over-the-cap team, they’re going to be pushing well past the luxury tax ($162 million) with a Beal trade too.

Ditto for the first tax apron ($169 million) and second tax apron ($179.5 million) as they try to build out the rest of their roster with veteran minimums and possibly their taxpayer MLE ($5 million).

Last season already felt like the Suns surrounded Book and KD with a bunch of veteran minimum guys. Beal obviously adds a third star, which might be better than any depth plays they could make this offseason thanks to the current trade value of CP3 and DA, the barren free-agency pool at the point guard position, and the Suns’ lack of flexibility.

Booker, Durant, Ayton, Paul (non-guaranteed), Landry Shamet and Cam Payne (non-guaranteed) are the only contracts on the books heading into next season, as well as Ish Wainright’s $1.9 million team option. They need to get to 15 players somehow, but trading for Beal would further limit the amount of money they could disperse among those remaining roster spots.

Bearing that in mind, let’s examine what a Bradley Beal trade package might look like.

Bradley Beal trades

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like the Suns would have much to satisfy the Wizards’ trade demands for one of the best shooting guards in the league. Beal’s value has taken a hit thanks to the $208 million left on his contract over the next four years, the Wizards’ perpetual mediocrity, and the fact that Beal has missed 32, 42, 22 and 15 games over the last four seasons, but he’s still a highly coveted player.

However, the Wizards’ monumentally bad decision to include a true no-trade clause in his contract could be the final feather in Washington’s cap of perhaps the most botched handling of a star over the last decade:

If the Wizards are intent on blowing it up, trading Beal and starting over, they may not have much say in extracting a proper return for their superstar. His no-trade clause allows him to veto any proposed deal, limiting Washington’s options to wherever he would like to play.

The Suns and Miami Heat are sensible choices for Beal, and his desire to play there could persuade him to strong-arm the Wizards into sending him to one of those two destinations. If that’s the case, Washington would either have to change course and keep him just to send an unfavorable message, or they’d need to relent and accept pennies on the (half-)dollar for him.

It’s worth noting that if the Wizards understandably value draft capital as compensation for Beal, the Heat make a lot more sense as a trade partner, since they own all their first-rounders except the 2025 pick they owe the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Suns, meanwhile, owe their 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 first-rounders to the Brooklyn Nets from the Kevin Durant deal, as well as the rights to swap picks in 2028.

In any case, the Wizards badly fumbled the situation by not trading him four or five years earlier, and now his value is as low as it’s been because of his contract, age and injury history. They may have to take what they can get at this point. Assuming they’re committing to accepting a subpar return so they can turn the page, a few Suns trade packages might make sense.

Bradley Beal

As we’ve already discussed when it comes to Chris Paul trades, this deal would depend on the Wizards’ willingness to either increase Paul’s guaranteed salary enough to make the trade math work, or wait until after June 28 and fully guarantee his $30.8 million salary.

The math doesn’t work otherwise, since Paul’s salary only counts for the guaranteed amount ($15.8 million) in the Suns’ outgoing salary but counts for the full amount ($30.8 million) in the Wizards’ incoming salary.

We’re also operating under the premise these trades happen before July 1 in order to make the math easier to navigate:

In this scenario, maybe Washington can talk Phoenix into surrendering one of their remaining first-round pick swaps for 2026. Otherwise, all they’re getting is future cap flexibility.

Even if the Wizards fully guaranteed Paul’s contract, they could waive and stretch that $30.8 million over five years, taking a cap hit of approximately $6.2 million each season. After making $10.3 million this season, Landry Shamet’s $11 million salary for the following season is fully non-guaranteed, and his $11.8 million salary for 2025-26 is a team option. They could waive and stretch that $10.3 million over seven years, if they felt compelled to do so.

Even if the Wizards kept Paul and Shamet and didn’t immediately waive and stretch them for salary cap relief, Paul’s $30 million for 2024-25 is fully non-guaranteed. That means the Wizards would have zero guaranteed money for either one beyond the upcoming season.

Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes mentioned this first trade as a possibility if Beal strong-arms the Wizards into moving him to Phoenix. It would leave the Suns with $171.1 million on the books between Booker, Durant, Beal, Ayton, Payne and Wainright, at which point they could explore Ayton trades elsewhere to add extra bodies on more manageable salaries.

But for the sake of being thorough, let’s take a look at two other possibilities:

Bradley Beal

In this example, the Wizards are either insistent on getting more in return, or the Suns feel compelled to beat Miami’s offer for him. That would almost certainly require Deandre Ayton to be included, since he’s one of the few players Phoenix has under contract who actually has trade value.

In this scenario, the Wizards get Paul to waive and stretch him at his $15.8 million amount, plus Ayton to rebuild around. DA is still only 24 years old, and while his trade market is reportedly “lean,” he might be the best player Washington can reasonably expect in return if Beal limits their trade partners to Phoenix and Miami.

In return, the Suns get Beal, plus a young center with plenty of upside in Daniel Gafford. He only averaged 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season, but he also shot a staggering 73.2 percent from the field, he’s 24 years old and he makes an average of $13.4 million over the next three years, which is perfectly manageable.

However, going from Ayton to Gafford as their starting center would be a downgrade, even with the flashes Gafford has shown when he’s been given an opportunity to play bigger minutes. Washington may also resist including Gafford, since he’s a young player on a team-friendly salary who’d fit their rebuild agenda.

Bradley Beal

If that’s the case, this highway robbery might make more sense. Kyle Kuzma is obviously a more valuable player than Gafford, but the Wizards don’t have much leverage over his situation. Kuzma has a $13 million player option and could be due for a nice payday in free agency after averaging a career-high 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. If he tells the Wizards he’s leaving in free agency and that he wants to play for the Suns, perhaps he could convince them to include him in the trade by opting into that $13 million player option.

This would take some careful maneuvering, and it’d also require Kuzma to be willing to take a one-year pay cut compared what he’d make on the open market. In other words, Kuzma would have to really want to join Beal, Durant and Booker in Phoenix, in a “wink wink” deal where the Suns would pledge to take care of him as a free agent next summer.

Like our last deal, the Wizards don’t have to fully guarantee Paul’s contract, waiving and stretching his $15.8 million in guaranteed money instead of the full $30.8 million. They get Ayton to build around, while the Suns land their third star and another dynamic weapon on offense they’d need to find a way to pay next summer.

The Suns could also pursue the first trade option listed above, then try and work out an Ayton-for-Kuzma sign-and-trade, but the math gets a lot more complicated there, and the Suns would hard-cap themselves at $169 million in a sign-and-trade scenario. Between Booker, Durant, Beal, Payne and Wainright, they’d already be at $138.7 million in salary, plus whatever Kuzma agrees to sign for…leaving minimal room for round out the remaining nine roster spots.

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