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The Wizards haven’t risen to the challenge of putting talent around their top overall pick

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Years are passing by, Wall is getting older, and the Wizards are still in purgatory

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The team had new ownership and a household name joining the franchise to kickstart a rebuild.

The Washington Wizards were the face of optimism around the NBA—John Wall was coming to “clean up the Wizards.”

That was nine years ago. And the Wizards are just as uncertain about their chances as ever—and without time to fix it.

Wall was supposed to be the team’s savior. He had the talent, the confidence and the marketability. He was gracing the covers of magazines, had his own signature shoe before ever stepping onto an NBA court and was often compared to the league’s elite point guards.

Nine years have passed—and so has the optimism.

Nationally, the team remains the butt of a joke—and the hope Wall once carried with him has disappeared. Wall, 28, has shared one season of his career with another All-Star—a season he watched mostly from the sidelines due to injury.

As he’s spent the prime of his career carrying players on the back nine of their careers, he’s watched other teams use avenues to surround their top picks with game-changing talent. Other teams have considered their stars to merely be a part of their organization, rather than the only leg holding up an unsteady table.

A year before Wall was selected, Blake Griffin was viewed in a similar light. He was coming to Los Angeles to finally give the Clippers some legitimacy. DeAndre Jordan was still raw and developing on the bench, but the Clippers knew they had something special to work with—and needed a guard to facilitate their growth. The team acquired Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets, giving the franchise and its fans real reason for excitement. The trio never went on to win a championship and was largely considered a disappointment, but the team’s management gave its players a chance—they simply never took advantage.

Jordan, Griffin and Paul are all on different teams now. But when they’re gray and old, none of them will be able to look back on their time with the Clippers and wonder why the team didn’t do enough to get talent.

At the same time the Clippers were actively seeking stars and improving the roster for a serious playoff push, the Wizards were stockpiling needy veterans and botching top draft picks—players who were completely dependent on Wall and did nothing to relieve the pressure on him, nor propel the team among the league’s best. Ernie Grunfeld traded Rashard Lewis for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza—two competent role players, but woefully falling short of a star.

That same story has continued—the management has remained the same and the team still lacks a true plan. Ted Leonsis finally expressed some impatience, saying the team has no more excuses. He spoke about the money he’s invested in the team—the multi-million dollar practice facility and the fourth highest payroll in the league.

But who’s practicing in that facility—and who is he paying, exactly?

Now more than ever, owners need to invest in big-time, free agent talent - or acquire stars through trade if the team is unable to develop their own. Thus far, Leonsis has failed to do that. Using up all the team’s cap space to sign Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson isn’t the greatest investment—it’s a money pit. Having them practice in the sparkling, state-of-the-art facility won’t change the fact that they are borderline NBA players, either.

Below is a table that details how teams have put talent around top overall picks since 1990. Every top overall pick that played at least four seasons with the team that drafted them and became an All-Star has been a part of at least one 50-win season and gotten at least two All-Star seasons out of their teammates—except Derrick Coleman and Wall.

Supporting top overall picks

Player (Time with team) Best Regular Season Record All-Star appearances by teammates
Player (Time with team) Best Regular Season Record All-Star appearances by teammates
Derrick Coleman (1990-95) 45-37 1
Larry Johnson (1991-96) 50-32 3
Shaquille O'Neal (1992-96) 60-22 2
Glenn Robinson (1994-2002) 52-30 6
Allen Iverson (1996-2006) 56-26 2
Tim Duncan (1997-2016) 67-15 13
Michael Olowokandi (1998-2003) 39-43 1
Kenyon Martin (2000-04) 52-30 4
Kwame Brown (2001-05) 45-37 4
Yao Ming (2002-11) 55-27 5
LeBron James (2003-10) 66-16 2
Dwight Howard (2004-12) 59-23 3
Andrew Bogut (2005-12) 46-36 0
Andrea Bargnani (2006-13) 47-35 3
Derrick Rose (2008-16) 62-20 6
Blake Griffin (2009-18) 57-25 7
John Wall 49-33 1
NOTE: Only players who spent at least four seasons with that drafted them are included. Sorry, Joe Smith.

Going into his ninth season, Wall is still carrying the team—and just as he’s always done, watching other top players get more talent to work with.

Wall’s loyalty has survived a rather mundane career, but his youth has not. Each season, elite players become available—and the Wizards opt not to take a risk. They seem to prefer players past their prime, the Dwight Howards and Paul Pierces of the world, as opposed to chasing players when they’re at their peak. As the Paul Georges and Jimmy Butlers come and go, so do the opportunities—and if the Wizards don’t act with urgency soon, Wall’s prime will be over having never actually gotten the chance to compete.