John Wall gets choked up talking about his family
John Wall's emotions bubbled over Thursday. It wasn't the news conference to announce his $80 million, five-year extension with the Wizards that got to him.
It was looking at his mother in the front row at Verizon Center.
Wizards CEO and majority owner Ted Leonsis, who Wall is joining forces with to donate $1 million of his newly earned riches to D.C.-area charities, put his hand on Wall's back as he struggled to continue speaking. When Wall looked up again, his eyes were still red.
He's going to have to play like he's seeing red when his fourth season tips off in October as the official franchise player of the Wizards, a team that hasn't won more than 29 games since he was picked No. 1 overall in 2010 and hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 2008.
Whether he's able to play an 82-game season for the first time or not, all the credit or blame will rest on the 6-4 point guard’s shoulders. Wall, who had career-high averages of 18.5 points and 44.1% shooting last season, missed the first 33 games because of a stress injury to his left knee. He also posted 7.6 assists.
"I'm already motivated. This is motivation to another level," said Wall, who has a fully guaranteed deal that will keep him here through 2019 and has no opt-outs or buyouts for either side, CSN Washington confirmed. "The only thing you can do is win now. If you're not winning what's the point of getting the contract? You're still going to get your money but you're not going to have (any) fun. It's no fun having it and not being happy."
Coach Randy Wittman lauded Wall for his maturity and pace last season when it finally appeared everything clicked for him as he rounded into game shape. He showed good vision and know-how of when to push and when to lay back. He spearheaded a top 10 defense, the only non-playoff team among the group that included the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Wall had four games of 33 points or more in the season’s last month-and-a-half, capped by a career-high 47 vs. the Grizzlies. From March 1 to the end of the season, he averaged 22.7 points, 7.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
"It was shocking," Wall admitted about actually looking at the contract. "What really helped me really get it done was the spark I had last year, at the end of the season."
The deal puts Wall in elite company, along with the likes of Deron Williams (Brooklyn Nets) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder).
When Westbrook earned his extension which also was for five years and $80 million in 2012, he already was an All-Star averaging 20.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Williams signed a five-year, $100 million deal the same year. He was coming off a season averaging 21 points, 8.7 assists and just 40.7% shooting.
But Wall has to take the Wizards to the next level to get NBA-wide respect, and make them a player in an Eastern Conference that has grown weaker with the Boston Celtics in rebuilding mode and the Milwaukee Bucks losing their starting backcourt to free agency. Both were playoff teams a season ago.
"You never write a team off no matter what they did in the off-season," Wall said. "We beat the good teams last year but we never did good with the teams that were mediocre just like us."