The Milwaukee Bucks were rumored to be in the running for the potential services of Bradley Beal, an All Star-level guard whose time with the Washington Wizards had run its course...but only after signing a contract worth more than $250 million over 5 years and the league’s only active full-fledged “no trade clause.” Now, they are not in the running, because the Phoenix Suns delivered a return to the Wizards that satisfies the league’s transaction requirements, if not the Washington fanbase.
BREAKING: The Washington Wizards are trading three-time All-Star Bradley Beal to the Phoenix Suns for Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, a handful of second-round picks, and multiple pick swaps, league sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 18, 2023
Oh well. The case to be made for Beal was one that required considering more than his impressive basketball talents, and it’s now classified as “not our problem” as Beal teams up with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. But the case was made to Beal on Saturday, directly, per Shams Charania:
Ultimately, Beal picked the Suns over multiple other trade scenarios, including Miami, Milwaukee and Sacramento, sources said. The Wizards entered serious negotiations with the Suns and Heat on Saturday, as The Athletic reported, and that’s when the Bucks re-entered the picture. Milwaukee officials spoke with Beal on Saturday to pitch him on the Bucks, league sources said.
So, say what you want about the Milwaukee front office, but they engaged directly and made a good-faith effort to convince Bradley Beal to choose the Bucks. He didn’t. C’est la vie.
But there were some rumblings about what the Bucks would do this offseason, just not new, exciting rumblings. Per Michael Scotto at HoopsHype – which is technically a basketball-centric publication – the Bucks are expected to prioritize retaining both Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez in free agency.
NBA executives across the league who spoke with HoopsHype expect the Milwaukee Bucks to retain Khris Middleton this summer. Those executives project Middleton to command a four-year, $130 million contract from Milwaukee should he decline his $40.4 million player option for the upcoming season and enter unrestricted free agency.
The Bucks have a strong desire to retain both Middleton and free-agent center Brook Lopez this summer, league sources told HoopsHype. Milwaukee is expected to compete with the Houston Rockets for Lopez’s services. Previously, Lopez told HoopsHype in January that he wanted to re-sign with Milwaukee.
Whatever the numbers end up being, the fact is that the Bucks were generally assumed to be going this route with Middleton and Lopez all along. Brook Lopez (35) is coming off a career year that came off of a major back surgery, and has been a fixture with the Bucks, while the even longer-tenured Middleton was invited to the famous “interview dinner” with incoming head coach Adrian Griffin. Middleton has a player option to decide on by June 29 and has multiple paths to return to the team – either he takes the option and has one year left on his deal, or he declines the option and negotiates a new contract in free agency, or he and the team agree on an extension before the player option comes due.
How does any of this relate back to the Bradley Beal deal? Well, because of their circumstances, the Bucks really couldn’t have included Lopez or Middleton in any trade talks with the Wizards. Only players under contract can be traded (barring the complicated scenarios that permit sign-and-trades or extend-and-trades), meaning that the Bucks would most likely had to have given up Jrue Holiday and one of Pat Connaughton, Bobby Portis, or Grayson Allen to make the money work. Is Holiday + Pat/Bobby/Grayson a better return than Chris Paul and Landry Shamet? Definitely in terms of talent, but considering both Shamet (non-guaranteed) and Paul (partially non-guaranteed, and already rumored to be re-routed in another transaction) are not guaranteed money past this season, the Phoenix deal gives Washington massive salary savings in the near future.
So the Bucks were in the running for Beal, but...not really, based on the options. After all, a “no trade clause” is not the same as a “must trade clause;” the Wizards could have just not traded Beal if the package wasn’t satisfactory in at least some way. Clearly the Phoenix deal worked for them somehow, but the two teams had conversations about what a trade package between them would look like to send Beal to the Bucks...and it is difficult to assume that the package didn’t involve Jrue Holiday.
This means that the Bucks are, for all intents and purposes, willing to move on from Holiday. That’s significant. It’s technically possible that the discussions involved Khris Middleton as well; had Khris taken his player option, he could instead be the centerpiece of a trade to bring in Beal. But given the previous reports and Khris’ status with the organization – once again, he was a part of the dinner with Coach Griffin and he went to the fabled Coach Bud breakfast preceding his hire – it’s difficult to see the front office working so hard to find a way to send Middleton to Washington.
This is, of course, all conjecture. There’s no report to point to that backs up this guesswork...but the pieces all fit, at least in theory. What do you think? Would the Bucks move Jrue Holiday? Where to, and for whom?