Warning: this is an entirely speculative conspiracy theory based on few facts and loosely connected assumptions. It is also tainted by years of dark, cynical fandom that only a Wizards fan can understand. Having said that, this theory explains John Wall’s abrupt departure from Washington in a way that actually makes sense.
Let’s go back to the year just before John Wall signed his ridiculous-max four year $171.1 million contract. For those of you doing the math at home, that’s $42.7 million per year or $521,000 per 48-minute game. But let’s not get ahead ourselves with silly assumptions like people who sign contracts to play professional basketball for the Washington Wizards actually play basketball for the Washington Wizards (see Dwight Howard, Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi, Martell Webster, Mark Price (though technically he didn’t sign with the Wizards), Lorenzo Williams, John Williams...okay I’ll stop.
The 2016-17 season was the last time any Wizards fan felt something other than despair. Wall was coming off double-knee surgery, but looked like he was back. He surpassed franchise records in assists and steals held by Wes Unseld and Greg Ballard respectively. The spritely 27-year old started 78 games, averaging 28 points, 10 assists and 2 steals per game. The Wizards ultimately fell to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semfinals, but for once, there was hope.
The Wizards then awarded one of the most lucrative contracts in the history of basketball to their blossoming superstar only to watch him wilt. He missed half of the 2017-18 season with a knee injury. Then in 2018-19 he was already sidelined with a heel injury when he had an Achilles rupture sustained “after slipping and falling in his home.” This is where things just don’t add up.
Let me write that again, one of the most gifted athletes on the face of this earth in the prime of his athletic career slipped in his mansion and sustained one of the most devastating basketball injuries — one that would sideline him for at least twelve months. That’s like saying Albert Einstein took the most important test of his life and misspelled “relativity.” It just doesn’t happen.
The Wizards’ press release announcing Wall’s Achilles injury is dated Feb 5, 2019. Five months later, longtime front office soldier Tommy Sheppard was promoted to GM by King Leonsis. While a bit unfair, many fans saw Sheppard, a 17-year Wizards vet, as an uninspiring Grunfeld 2.0. Fans wanted a new organizational direction with names like Masai Ujiri, Danny Ferry or Troy Weaver. Sheppard wasn’t the splashy pick everyone was hoping for.
Fellow Bullets Forever writer, Kevin Broom, recently wrote that Sheppard is of the attitude that “if you want out, we’ll help you go.” See relatively recent examples of Tomáš Satoranský, Trevor Ariza, Jared Jeffries, and Larry Hughes. Ultimately, this conspiracy centers around the idea that Sheppard artificially helped Wall find a way out of Washington as a way for everyone to save face.
When Sheppard took the reins, the pragmatic front office veteran saw the writing on his Wall. The supermax deal didn’t fit this injured shoe anymore and Wall was not going to be the focal point of the organization’s future.
Prior to Bradley Beal having breaking out in Wall’s absence, it was clear the Wizards had overextended themselves with the contact they gave Wall. This was exacerbated by injury after taxing injury to their now-aging point guard. Sheppard identified this imbalance early and told Wall something to the effect that Washington was no longer his team to lead and that he would help him find a new place to play. In essence, Wall would need to accept playing second fiddle in the Beal Band or go along with the plot to get him out of Washington.
But, there were major problems with moving Wall. His astronomical contract along with his injury made him untradeable. Thus, Wall needed a “catastrophic” injury that would allow Sheppard to bargain with teams on his behalf.
Enter: Slipgate, a completely made up event that left a magnificent athlete incapable of playing basketball for two seasons. According to this plan, Wall would mysteriously “slip” in his home, sustain a major Achilles injury and then pursue a trade following the extended hiatus.
In the end, that series of events is exactly what happened. Following his injury, Wall sat out for what seems like an eternity. Prior to his return, he suddenly become unhappy with not being The Guy in the Wizards organization and made it known to the media. Shortly thereafter, Sheppard negotiated a trade with the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook’s nearly identical $40-plus million per year contract plus a protected first rounder as injury insurance (aka slip protection).
It is important to note, there is a competing theory that Wall’s mysterious fall may have happened during a club incident. Of course this would be a damning story for the entire Washington organization and a “home slip” coverup would be realistic if he did injure himself after a few too many vodka Red Bulls at Rosebar Lounge. Regardless of the location, the conspiracy still holds water. The fact of the matter is Wall did not fall in his home and the Wizards fanbase — and the entire NBA world — has had the wool pulled over their eyes. This my friends is wrong, and the truth must be told.
Now, is it even legal to fake an injury to deceive other organizations in the league? The answer to that is no. It’s fraud. However, how many people get paid $521,000 to dribble a basketball for 48 minutes? Rules of engagement are different. Achilles “accidents” can make things right. With Wall’s departure, Sheppard has officially knighted Bradley Beal and taken control of his empire.
The future is bright. Hopefully the floors are less slippery.