John Wall is one of the few things the Wizards have gotten right as a franchise, even if he was hand-delivered to them with the first overall pick.
For eight seasons, Wall was the light in an otherwise dark tunnel. He endured failed coach after failed coach, abysmal teammate after abysmal teammate, disappointing summer after disappointing summer, and almost never complained. He made the most of what was given to him - he salvaged his teammates’ careers, made his coaches appear competent and gave fans reason to show up to the arena.
As his career progressed and he matured from a teen to a man in the prime of his career, Wall’s game remained youthful, full of life and passion.
This year, things changed.
On paper, the Wizards looked ready to challenge any team in the Eastern Conference, especially with LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers. Wall finally seemed to have an adequate group around him - a team he would be capable of carrying, but not have to do all of the major lifting alone.
Bradley Beal finally cracked the next level and became an All-Star, Otto Porter was destined to increase his production, and Dwight Howard was inspired to rejuvenate his career. The additions of Austin Rivers and Jeff Green were supposed to take some of the scoring pressure off Wall, too. Finally, he could look up the court and see teammates that didn’t need to be spoon fed — teammates that didn’t need Wall to make an impact on the court.
Right now, the Wizards are sitting in 11th place with a 12-20 record. They’ve compiled 20 losses roughly a month earlier than they did the season prior.
Perhaps most disappointingly, Wall hasn’t done anything to counteract the losing - and really, he’s been a part of the problem. The team is practically last in defensive rating, yet the Wizards somehow give up more points when he’s on the court. If the game isn’t against a marquee opponent, Wall has been caught snoozing virtually every time up the court and has become a meme as a result. The shot selection, too, has been concerning. Against the Atlanta Hawks, arguably the worst team in the NBA, Wall took an eye-opening 11 threes. Prior to that game, Wall had scored 40 points against the Lakers — a team reportedly looking at Wall as a possible trade acquisition.
And @JohnWall can be this bad, again, against an inferior opponent. Which is why he and the Wizards drive you insane.— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) December 19, 2018
“Lack of effort” has been a common theme mentioned after losses this season, but it’s something Wall has never been criticized for. If anything, Wall played too hard. He played injured, he put himself in front of harm’s way and sacrificed his well-being for the team.
Maybe it’s because he’s feeling burned out. Maybe personal issues have taken a toll on him. Maybe he’s starting to realize that he’s spent the last eight seasons of his professional basketball career playing for an organization that’s largely done nothing to indicate they’re serious about winning a championship.
Whatever it is, something is up — that much is clear. The effort, the passion, the hustle: it’s gone.
A change of scenery is desperately needed — and that should be apparent to anyone who’s watched the Wizards play this season. There is absolutely no way an objective person can watch Wall’s mannerisms on the court — the way he simply allows his assignment to stroll right past him, every single time up the court — and believe that things are okay.
Because they’re not. Things are not okay — and there’s not much the two sides can do to reconcile.
Instead of being stubborn and continuing this relationship, someone needs to step up, whether it’s Rich Paul, Scott Brooks, Ernie Grunfeld, Ted Leonsis, or Wall himself, and end it.
Wall is 28 years old. He’s not a young player with time to spare. He’s likely signed the last major deal of his career and it’s set to kick in. He’s spent the better part of the last decade with the Wizards. He knows exactly what the team has to offer — and it hasn’t been enough to build a contender.
The time has come for the sides to sever before it’s too late.
For the Wizards, Wall’s trade value is at an all-time low. Teams will be reluctant to take on his supermax contract and it doesn’t help that Wall hasn’t consistently proved worthy of the deal this season. Still, there are always going to be teams desperate for talent, some in small markets without a chance of landing big-time free agents and others dealing with significant injuries needing replacements.
For Wall, it’s now or never. He’s been loyal and will refrain from verbally requesting his trade, but his body language and play on the court have done all the talking. The player who once had not an ounce of quit in him has rarely displayed anything but quit this season. It’s a sign that things need to change — that he needs, and deserves, a change of scenery after spending eight years with the same mediocre team.
Seeing Wall play without effort has been demoralizing, but the Wizards, coaching staff and teammates included, will stop short of calling him out directly. It’s become toxic. Wall is not getting the most out of his finite career in Washington and the Wizards are not pushing their star to earn the massive contract he was given.
Reality hurts, particularly when such a seismic shift occurs seemingly overnight. It hurts even more when it’s unexpected. The agony becomes that much more unbearable when the person facilitating the pain seemed incapable of doing so.
When someone like Wall begins waving the white flag, it’s time for a change. The Wizards can no longer ignore the signs and must quit lying to themselves before the tunnel becomes deeper and with less light at the end of it, because the player who once provided that light is no longer shining in Washington.