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How I’ll remember John Wall’s tenure with the Wizards

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It’s amazing to see that Wall was able to take the Washington Wizards as far as he did despite many challenges.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been a fan of the Bullets/Wizards since I can remember. Well, when I was young and the Dominique Wilkins-led Atlanta Hawks would play on TBS (only OGs will remember this!), I loved both teams. Dominque was called The Human Highlight Film for a reason! The Bullets were the home team and I always rock with the home team, but they weren’t good. So every season would be about disappointment, followed by lottery hope, followed by more disappointment.

In the middle were moments when this team looked to finally be on its way to something special. Drafting Juwan Howard and trading for Chris Webber was one. Michael Jordan becoming a part owner and then a player was another. Then there was the all-too-short Gilbert Arenas era.

After dismantling the “Big-3” of Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, the team found itself in the 2010 NBA lottery. The buzz surrounding that lottery was that if Brooklyn won the lottery and got Wall, Lebron James might follow him in free agency. But the Nets didn’t win the lottery, Washington did. And so the Wizards went from hopeless to having a potential franchise player. Hope returned.

That hope didn’t immediately translate to wins. Instead of immediately investing around Wall, the Wizards first had to figure out what do with Arenas, who was coming off his suspension. From there they played the long game, taking on salary for picks (Kirk Hinrich and a first that turned into Kevin Seraphin), and adding high lottery picks through the draft.

The plan in theory could have worked, but the execution was hit and miss. Instead of drafting Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson in 2011, they chose Jan Vesely. With their second first rounder that year, they took Chris Singleton instead of Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Mirotic, Reggie Jackson or Jimmy Butler.

The team did select Bradley Beal and Otto Porter in subsequent drafts, but the whiffs in 2011 elongated the timeline to becoming a good team. Over that period Wall teammates cycled in and out — a mix of young guys who didn’t know how to play, older players nearing the end of their career, players in contract years, etc.

I don’t need to rehash the history we all know but even though the Wizards eventually became a playoff team, it does make you wonder how much damage was done to his career along the way. Would some of the bad basketball habits he formed have been avoided with different coaches, better teammates, and more continuity? Were the injuries a result of him having to do too much to carry a roster that lacked other playmakers?

I don’t know the answer to any of this. But when I look back to Wall’s career in D.C. I’ll think about it in several lights. I’ll admire how much he overcame early in his career amidst the carping of critics. Every time any point guard looked half decent the pundits would ask, “Is Rubio better?” “...is Lin better?” to the point of absurdity. Agents took shots at him as did ex-coaches. It was strange how much criticism someone he took from so many outside voices given his circumstances.

A lot of players would have thrown in the towel and given in to their bad circumstances but Wall didn’t. When he came back after a knee injury in his third season (2012-13), he balled out. The team that started 5-28 without him and played .500 ball the rest of the season. That half season didn’t end in a playoff appearance but laid the groundwork for the team’s run to the postseason and multiple playoff appearances in the following seasons.

I’ll think about how difficult it was for him after the team evolved around him. The “Everybody Eats” and “Team Win” were silly, but I understand where Wall was coming from. He played hurt and overcame so much to get the team where it was, and when other players came along and he was recovering from an injury, he was blamed for holding them back. The unfortunate thing to me was a positive development with the team became a source of acrimony.

I’ll also think about it from a basketball point of view as potential realized, but not maximized. Wall to me had MVP talent. Player of the month Wall was special. I wrote this a few months ago when contemplating what Wall second act with the Wizards could look like.

I’ll wonder if he would have reached those levels if the organization had paired him with a point guard centric coach like Mike D’Antoni or if he had had more time to improve over the offseason without needing to rehab from injuries.

Mainly I’ll think about how much he was loved in D.C. Washington traded for a nine-time All-NBA player and former MVP that most analysts are calling a win for the Wizards, but the focus was on who was leaving, not who was coming in. Wall’s work in the community speaks for itself and as such the DMV felt the loss. I’ve been a ticket-holder since the year Wall was drafted. My oldest son met Wall and my favorite basketball memory is watching my son’s reaction to Wall’s game six winner against the Celtics.

After seeing the Webber era end before his prime, and the Arenas era cut short during his prime, I’ll look back at the Wall era fondly. But just like the other eras I’ve witnessed, I realize there will always be a next one. As a tormented fan of this franchise for decades, I will find hope in it.