The fear of loss, when channeled correctly, can provide a sense of urgency to get things accomplished. It’s often the key differentiator between a thriving, loving relationship and one where a moldy, leftover muffin eventually becomes more attractive than a longtime partner. Fear of loss is at the root of the former, while complacency plagues the latter. If you know the person is going to stick around for as long as you please, what’s the point in exerting the energy necessary to improve?
The Washington Wizards are among 30 teams vying for the same goal, but aren’t a part of the small group that consistently operate like time is finite. The transactions Ernie Grunfeld has made since landing John Wall with the first pick in 2010 don’t scream “we need to act quickly,” and Wall hasn’t done much to change the team’s approach. Signing the likes of Eric Maynor and Jodie Meeks, and players of that ilk, has become an annual occurrence for Washington.
Wall, 27, is in the prime of his career – and just signed a $207 million mega-extension that will keep him in Washington for the foreseeable future. He’s no longer the 19-year-old raw talent from Raleigh that needed time to be molded – he’s at a point that will define his legacy as a player.
Before this past season, Wall had never played with an All-Star and, with the exception of Paul George, had only flirted with the idea of recruiting top talent, even suggesting that the team doesn’t need to help convince players to join him in Washington. In his nine seasons with the team, Wall has only seen the team land one sit-down meeting with a top free agent, which, of course, resulted in the signing of Ian Mahinmi. Wild finish.
Success in the NBA is dependent on talent. There’s not a single coaching staff or scheme that’s enough to single-handedly eclipse a contending team in the NBA (see: Brad Stevens and his skeleton crew vs. LeBron James, 2018).
Washington lacks talent – and Wall’s inaction indicates that he’s somewhat OK with it.
The Wizards and Wall have become codependent on each other’s complacency. Neither one has taken the initiative to do something about the trajectory of the team, and unless it changes soon, Wall will find himself at 30 years old, again glued to a couch in mid-April wondering where the time went, and the Wizards will be stuck paying his massive contract having never gotten the most out of their franchise player.
Players value their time spent with a franchise more than ever, but Wall’s loyalty to the Wizards has become a hindrance to both sides. Other players – like Damian Lillard, whose career has been comparable to Wall’s – have met with ownership to discuss the direction of the franchise when their respective teams have gotten stagnant. Other than a meeting last summer before Wall signed his extension, we haven’t seen a meeting between Wall and the Wizards’ front office.
Wall’s name has never been mentioned in legitimate trade rumors and the Wizards haven’t shown any desire in moving on from him. But if Wall made it clear that he wants to win a championship – and that he’s willing to do it at any cost – the Wizards might be more inclined to actually put together an elite team, rather than signing washed up veterans every off-season that are incapable of producing without being spoon-fed by Wall.
Thus far, Wall’s unwavering loyalty to the Wizards hasn’t earned him anything but a few second-round exits. Star players come and go – and if the Wizards want to compete for a championship, they’ll have to start getting involved in acquiring game-changing players. It’s on Wall – the franchise – to put the pressure on his team. Otherwise, Wall and the Wizards can expect more of the same painful mediocrity year after year, until it’s finally time to hang up the sneakers for good.