It has been no secret around the league that the Wizards have been looking forward to the summer of 2016 for quite some time. At this point, things are all supposed to be coming together. Kevin Durant, the prodigal son of Seat Pleasant, Md., has the opportunity to return home and propel the Wizards into the NBA's elite class.
The Wizards longing for Durant's company is obvious and they've really done nothing to hide it. Look no further than the hiring of assistant coach David Adkins, signing players to short-term deals to keep money off of the books for 2016, the lack of commitment to the current roster at hand.
Wizards fandom has really been a miserable experience for the last four to five decades. Despite having early success as an NBA franchise, the Wizards haven't sniffed true relevancy since the late 70's. Since that time, the team's presence in the city has eroded into what has really become a cult existence. To root for the Washington Wizards is essentially to commit oneself to the lifestyle of a masochist. Pain, loss, sorrow and anger have awaited around every single corner.
But this summer, all of that is supposed to change. Just as many fans have always done, the organization has hedged their bets on one thing: Hope.
That is, the hope that Durant, out of all the other suitors with an exponential amount of cap space, good coaching, organization, and talent, would choose to play for the Washington Wizards. The hope that the Wizards, despite having a team filled with players on one-year contracts this season, would muster up a third playoff appearance in a row to convince the NBA that they really are relevant and here to stay this time. The hope that, despite his shortcomings and flawed philosophies, Randy Wittman would be able to transform this team into a small-ball machine that he's never coached before.
The fact of the matter is that the Wizards are 26-30 and are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference right now. Hope looks
sort of awfully bleak right now and, really, the organization has put itself in this situation.
And it's silly of them to have done so, because here's the thing: Hope is already in Washington.
Hope has been sitting in the Wizards' face since the summer of 2010. Hope's name is John Wall, and hope still has three years left under contract with the Washington Wizards.
Wall has been through the ups and downs with the organization and has fought his way into the upper echelon of point guards in the NBA -- the deepest position in the league. He's led this team to the playoffs for two straight seasons and, had he been healthy in the 2012-13 campaign, it could potentially be a third.
Wall has improved each and every year in the NBA at the toughest position to play at night in and night out. He's taken every flaw and criticism he's had in the league and turned it upside down.
He plays at one speed. That's dead. Just ask Reggie Jackson how Wall's hesitation move looks. He can't shoot. Try again. Wall is shooting 34 percent from three this year despite having to create a majority of the team's shots. He has dropped from shooting nearly 40 percent from the midrange last season to shooting 35 percent this season, but again, he's had to create a majority of the team's offense while having players cycle in and out of the lineup.
No, he is not a perfect player. He is not an efficient player night in and night out. There are moments when watching him can become frustrating because of these qualities. He is flawed, just like every other player in the league.
However, his qualities are strong enough to build around. He's one of the league's best defenders at his position, is one of the league's leading assist men and is nearly averaging a 20 point, 10 assist double-double on the year. Wall has been here and has always had this potential in him, but the Wizards have failed to capitalize on it.
And Wall doesn't just suffer from this on the court, it comes off of the court as well. Washington hasn't had a major franchise win a championship in decades. The football team has not been good since the early 90's; the hockey team has enjoyed some success, particularly this season, but has never held the weight it should among casual fans; the baseball team is still relatively new and, while they are up and coming, basketball has always come before baseball in Washington.
Wall should be a star in this market. This is the capital of the United States, after all. Part of this is the reason why he fired agent Dan Fegan, but part of it, too, is the team's lack of commitment to him as a star player and as the face of their franchise.
Wall sees this, and he's made it clear that it is frustrating to not be as recognized as he should be among the masses.
"The type of player I am, and person I am, character I have, I should be seen on commercials, in the nation’s eyes and the people’s eyes. And I haven’t," Wall told The Vertical. "I want to leave a legacy and you can’t leave a legacy hiding behind the doors, and I think that’s what I did my first six years really. It ain’t like I want to be bigger and better than anybody, I just think it’s an opportunity to be seen. Where’s my little share?"
Despite Wall's off-court donations to multiple charities in the city, the time he's put in for the organization and the effort he's given on the court, the Wizards are still waiting on their savior that may not even come. Even when that savior, himself, believes the Wizards should appreciate what they already have.
Wall's message to the Wizards is as clear as day. He's trying to build a legacy for himself and he wants to be a special player. But it's the Wizards who must respond to Wall's call and they must do so before it is too late.
Regardless of what happens with Durant this summer, or any other free agent, the Wizards must focus on what they already have before it's gone.