Let’s not beat around the bush. Trouble is brewing in D.C.
The Washington Wizards have a lot on the line this upcoming season. They need to move past a negative 2015-16 and have a positive and eventful 2016-17. In simple terms: They can’t afford another bad season.
A VERY LONG LIST OF VERY BAD THINGS
Follow the bouncing bullets of events since May of 2015:
That is a long list of entirely bad things over the past 15 months.
The Wizards still have Wall, and Beal (if he gets healthy). They still have Marcin Gortat (who is brutally underrated at this point), Mahinimi, Kelly Oubre Jr., Otto Porter and Markieff Morris (who they surrendered a first-round pick for in a desperate attempt to make the playoffs — AKA the “Wizards special”). There’s still talent here, and Scott Brooks could be a home run hire.
But whereas 18 months ago this looked like a franchise on the rise that had a real shot at signing Durant, and a team set to contend in the East for years, there are real concerns now over where all this is going.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BRADLEY
Much of the Wizards’ future will be determined by Beal. He posted career marks for 3-point rate despite still stubbornly opting for the pump-fake-two-dribble-mid-range-pull-up shot so often. He posted a career-high mark in true shooting percentage. He has more capability than he’s shown as a rebounder and playmaker, and if he gets in a rhythm, is the kind of scorer who can take over a game; that’s an elite skill that can change contests on its own. But he again played just 55 games due to injury, and the combination of that and his personality conflict with Wall presents major concerns.
On the bright side, the Wizards didn’t just throw money away desperately trying to augment the team by signing veterans to monster contracts this summer. (As the great Wizards blog Truth About It described their summer: It could have been worse.) But the Mahinmi signing still makes you wonder about where the Wizards are at with 32-year-old Gortat, who has been one of the only consistent performers defensively for this team through the years.
Throughout all of this is Wall, who signed his deal coming off his rookie contract like everyone does. You take the most money you can for the most years, and you get that lifetime security. Except that no one could have forecasted the kind of insane cap jump and contracts that would be handed out. Wall signed his extension in the fall of 2013, a good two years before the NBA negotiated this ludicrous new media deal. Should his agent have foreseen that deal was coming? Maybe. But extensions are complicated in the NBA and on that rookie deal, you look for the best deal you can long-term.
The problem is that Wall’s got another two years on this deal, for $37 million remaining after this upcoming season. He’s not eligible for a new deal until 2019. But no biggie, right? The Wizards can just do what the Houston Rockets did and extend him. Except, as Bullets Forever pointed out … they can’t because they don’t have cap room due to their spending spree, and restricts them next year too, unless they dump salary. And if they dump salary to get Wall more money … that’s going to limit how good the team can be.
Do you want to not extend Wall and continue to have him mad about being underpaid relative to inferior star guards at his position? Or do you want to extend Wall and have him mad about the team not being able to contend?
You see where this is going?
DEFENDING THE WALL
This all paints Wall in a very unfair light. It makes it seem like he’s selfish and self-focused, that he’s wanting it both ways and a bad teammate. That isn’t the case.
If you know you’re good at your job, and you see that someone else is being rewarded despite not being as essential to their team success as you are — in one case with it actually being someone on your same team — don’t you want to be rewarded for what you’ve accomplished? Reggie Jackson ‘s a good point guard. He’s not John Wall. Bradley Beal is a really good on-the-up guard if he can get healthy. He’s not John Wall. Wall has been in the top three in assists each of the past three seasons. He’s a terror on defense and a dynamic scorer on offense.
You can make the argument that in today’s NBA, a point guard that can’t shoot at a high level isn’t as valuable, and maybe that’s the case. But what Wall does everywhere else still makes him more valuable than a lot of the people who have gotten bigger deals the past two years.
It also needs to be noted how much Wall does for his community. He’s also never been involved in an off-court incident since joining the NBA that gained major notoriety, and you understand his background a lot more if you actually do your research on it. His annual backpack giveaway event almost never gets much publicity and yet is something he gives considerable time and resources toward, which can make a huge impact on childrens’ lives.
If Wall’s angry about the fans, he should be. The crowds in D.C. have been comatose despite how good and talented the team has been the past three years. If he’s frustrated by the fact there aren’t billboards of him in D.C., he should be. He’s a superstar who took his team to the second round in a sports town that isn’t exactly known for its sports excellence.
But Wall, like his Kentucky friend and teammate DeMarcus Cousins , has never demanded out. He continues to project an air of confidence and resolve about bringing his team forward to success. It’s certainly possible — maybe even probable — that his locker room attitude creates frustration with teammates, but his talent and success has to accommodate for some of that.
WHERE IS THIS GOING?
The Wizards need Oubre and Porter to really develop, or for some unforeseen weapon to emerge from the shadows as a legitimate third option. They also need Beal and Wall to grow together, which isn’t promising given they’ve spent three years together. How many times have you known someone for three years, worked with them every day, and gotten to really like them more after if you didn’t get along initially?
Otherwise there’s going to be an issue. Wall may never demand out of Washington, but it’s hard to blame him if he does. The team made a series of calculated gambles through the years. They traded picks for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza . That combo turned into Gortat, who continues to be really great for them. They traded another pick for Morris. They’ve used the powder instead of keeping it dry, but haven’t hit enough home runs to secure their future.
If a team isn’t great, but the star feels loved and adequately paid, he can live with that. If the star isn’t paid the way he feels he should be and the fans aren’t great, but the team is excellent, it gets tougher. Look at Al Horford ‘s decision to leave the Hawks for the Boston Celtics . Players, like anyone else, want to feel appreciated by their employer. If they don’t, they may start looking elsewhere to work. Wall has no real outs considering his contract, but bear in mind that in the history of “NBA player wants out of city” vs. “NBA player is under contract long-term,” a trade happens more often than not.
The Wizards should have been pretty good last year and were disappointing. There’s a good chance that the Wizards are better this year — these things aren’t always logical extensions and there is good talent on this team.
The vultures are circling. Just read the exec and agent comments here designed to sow seeds of discontent. Things can turn from “a little worrisome” to “this is fine” in a short amount of time. Wall’s proven what kind of star he is, and even if you think he’s not on that top level, he’s definitely good enough to be a key player on a contender. You wonder if it may be time to start wondering how much longer this Wizards core built around Wall has to turn it around.
Source: CBS Sports / Storm clouds gathering over D.C. as the Wizards face a John Wall precipice