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Coach’s perspective: How the Wizards can work with John Wall

John Wall Thanksgiving Giveaway
Sources: John Wall wants to leave the Wizards, but details are murky.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Washington Wizards have a mess on their hands with John Wall, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. To recap:

  • Wall wants to part ways with the team and play elsewhere. That was reported first by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, independently confirmed by Ava Wallace of the Washington Post, and then re-confirmed by my own league sources.
  • The Wizards front office has discussed a Wall trade with at least two teams — one involving Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets, and the other involving Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons.
  • No one has been able to confirm whether Wall or his representatives made a trade request to the Wizards. Washington general manager Tommy Sheppard denies a request was made to the team, which may or may not be correct.

Wall’s desire to move on creates a sticky situation for the Wizards because it’s unlikely they’ll be able to trade him before the season without attaching significant assets. Reportedly, the Rockets wanted draft picks in a Wall for Westbrook swap. The Pistons may have asked for draft picks or Rui Hachimura.

The challenge, of course, is that Wall hasn’t played an NBA minute for two calendar years. By the time he returns to action, he’ll have missed at least half the Wizards’ regular season games due to injury in three consecutive seasons. And he’s 30-years old, which is often when athletic guards who have been healthy begin to decline. That’s a lot of uncertainty for another team to acquire, especially since he’s due $133 million over the next three seasons.

There is a potential solution, according to a former NBA coach I spoke with. This coach said he has no knowledge of what’s going on with Wall and the Wizards, and he was speaking hypothetically about how a team and a star player could work together in a situation like this where the player wants to leave and the team can’t trade him immediately.

He said the best approach would likely be a meeting involving owner Ted Leonsis, Sheppard, head coach Scott Brooks and Wall. The message from Leonsis and Sheppard would be simple: “If you want to go, you have to show the league you’re John Wall again.”

The former coach said the point needs to be emphasized that the only way the Wizards can trade Wall to a new team is if he proves himself on the court again. Coming off an Achilles injury, it’ll be impossible to trade Wall before the season without crippling the franchise.

He said Brooks “should not get too involved” in the meeting.

“The coach should be a spectator [in the meeting],” said the former coach. “He needs to be able to walk out of the room on Wall’s side and say, ‘let’s show them what you can do.’”

It’s not necessary to address the issue with the full team, said the former coach. “What’s important is being able to work with Wall. With the other guys, you do what you would normally do.”

Wall’s unhappiness with the team doesn’t need to translate to diminished production on the floor. His frustration can be used as motivation to prove he’s still a very good player, convince other teams he’s worth acquiring, and allow Sheppard and the Wizards to find him a new NBA home without decimating the team’s future.