In John Wall, Wizards ultimately will trust

In John Wall, Wizards ultimately will trust
July 25, 2013, 3:30 am
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John Wall, Wizards closing in on new contract

The Wizards showed their hand early. They wanted to keep John Wall for "a long, long time."

That was according to their owner Ted Leonsis, who said that to CSN Washington in April.

After talking with several people with knowledge of the situation, CSN first reported a deal for the maximum appeared inevitable just before those remarks and that talks were underway between Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld and Dan Fegan, Wall's agent, in Las Vegas last week. ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski first confirmed these details: 5 years, $80 million, or somewhere in that ballpark.

That means Wall, who has yet to join these negotiations, isn't just a "max" player but would be the Wizards' designated player by securing the fifth year. Each team can have only one.

So the chatter over the next few days, culminating when the Wizards make it official with a press conference as early as next week, will be inevitable: Is Wall worth it?

It all depends on your starting point. If history is a guide, meaning what Wall has accomplished so far, the answer would be undeniably no. He has never been an All-Star, never led his team to the playoffs and until the second half of last season lacked a jump shot.

If you're projecting on how good he can be, that answer likely is yes. That's what the Wizards are doing here. They're playing the futures market, betting that Wall, who had career highs of 18.5 points and 44.1% shooting, is beginning to make an earnest climb to new heights now that the franchise is no longer in turmoil, has an identity and solid pieces surround him.

Glass is half-empty: He's a 42.3% career shooter, the Wizards won just 29 games last season which was good for only 11th place in the East. And that's the most they've won in Wall's three-year tenure. 

Glass is half-full: The Wizards were 15-7 when Wall, who missed the first 33 games because of a knee injury, Bradley Beal and Nene were in the lineup together last season and Martell Webster had a career-best season with 50%-plus shooting when sharing the floor with him.  

Most will say Wall isn't as good as Deron Williams, the three-time All-Star point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, but that didn't exactly hold true last season. Their numbers were similar across the board with Williams posting 18.9 points (+.4), 44% shooting (-.1)and 7.7 assists (+.1). Williams, who signed a five-year, $100 million extension last year, averaged 18.8 points, 10.5 assists and shot a career-best 50.5% in his third season. 

The Wizards not only believe in Wall as a player but they trust him as their leader. Despite having a fast-paced, open-court style, Wall is a no-frills type who represents an image that the franchise readily embraces.

Usually, Wall will say the right things. Unless there have been some new developments in his life, there is no dirty laundry about him being aired on “reality” TV or social media. There aren't any fistfights with teammates in nightclubs. No weapons charges. No paternity suits. No reckless attitude.

It's fair game to criticize Wall for not getting the Wizards close to sniffing the playoffs since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2010. It's absurd to blast the 22-year-old for having the audacity to change his mind and get tattoos this summer.

So far, he has represented the qualities that most people who watch sports claim to appreciate. He refuses to go on an appeasement tour to get his friends to come play with him.

“I’m not a recruiter. … If they want to play with me they’ll come down,” Wall said the end of the season. “I’m not going to go beg anybody. They see how I play and how my team plays.”

He hasn't pouted or begged to get out of D.C. just because things haven't exactly gone his way. 

"I like it here. This is the city where my dad was born and raised. I want to give something back and start it here," Wall said in the same interview. "I don’t like to follow. I like to lead my own way."

When he scored a career-high 47 points against the Memphis Grizzlies, a crowd of almost 18,000 at Verizon Center encouraged him to shoot for 50 with the game out of reach and the clock winding down. Wall refused, and he didn't need to be told by coach Randy Wittman not to do it. 

He also didn't pull rank by going to management to undercut then-interim coach Wittman when the Wizards only won 20 games in 2011-12 In fact, Wall lobbied that despite the Wizards’ record they were on the right path when Wittman took over for Flip Saunders who was fired during that season.

Does any of this add up to $80 million? Many will say no. But the Wizards believe they're investing in a sure thing, taking on the identity of a blue-collar team that avoids shortcuts and moves quickly to secure the bird in the hand even if it costs extra. That's why they locked up three free agents, Eric Maynor, Martell Webster and Garrett Temple, in the first three days of the free-agent signing period. That's why Otto Porter, taken No. 3 overall in this year's draft, was the obvious choice because they consider him a "glue" player. And trading for Glen Rice in the second round gives Wall yet another shooter who spreads the floor on a team that had the lowest scoring offense but a top 10 defense.

The Wizards are certain that they're on the right track. When a healthy Wall went on a tear to end last season, that sealed this outcome. For a deal of this nature to be a success, however, Wall has to do more than get the Wizards back in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. They can't just be a No. 8 seed that squeaks in only to used as cannon fodder in the first round like the Milwaukee Bucks. They have to return to legitimate playoff contention.

That --  not whether or not he's better than Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose -- will determine if he's worthy of this royal treatment. The individual accolades will follow suit because ultimately being branded a winner, much like Tony Parker who didn't become an All-Star until his fifth season or the now-retired Jason Kidd who went to three NBA Finals and won a championship ring, trumps all.