John Wall was present at Friday’s shootaround, but the Wizards will have to be without their leading assist man for the first time since Dec. 22 after the league suspended him for one game following an altercation with Miami Heat reserve center Zydrunas Ilguaskas.
Coach Flip Saunders initially said he didn’t think the incident would warrant a suspension since Wall connected with an elbow, and repeated his belief that the three-man officiating crew of Monty McCutchen, Brent Barnaky and Tom Washington could’ve handled the situation better.
“You always hate that. Any time you have a confrontation like that, you’re never surprised, totally surprised, with things,” Saunders said. “Looking at it, Z kind of took three swings at him, and he’s got the ball. You’d hope someone would call a foul on the first one. Unfortunately, they didn’t.”
Saunders also defended Wall for defending himself. “I’ve played, and say what you want, when you’re out there and you’ve got a big guy taking swings at your face, you react,” Saunders said. “Will he learn now to push instead of maybe throwing a punch? You would hope so. But the one thing it does to, is people know John, he’s not going to back down, either. He’s not going to stand there and let people do those types of things.”
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis also weighed in on the suspension, letting Wall know that he has the full support of the organization. “We have his back,” Leonsis wrote on his personal blog, Ted’s Take. “We are in this together. He learned a lesson here and we support him 110” percent.
Leonsis added that he is “proud” of the way that Wall has responded in his first season with the Wizards. “He is being tested in many ways in this his rookie year and year one of our rebuild. He is remorseful about this incident but he is not a rough and tumble player. He is a talent; a leader; and a great and upstanding young man.”
With Wall gone, the Wizards will move Jordan Crawford over to point guard but Saunders said that he wasn’t sure who would start at shooting guard. Nick Young will definitely be out for the sixth time in the past eight games with a bone bruise in his left knee.
In order to get more offense early, Saunders will put Andray Blatche back in at starting power forward, with Yi Jianlian moving to the bench. Yi had been playing well in place of Blatche, but has been struggling some since getting popped in the eye by Denver’s Danilo Gallinari last week. The Wizards will have to take a different approach with Wall absent.
“The tough thing is, we actually started getting into a rhythm, with Jordan and John playing together. It’s disappointing,” Saunders said. “With Dray coming back, hopefully, we can get him back in the mix. Get him playing more extended minutes at a higher level. We’ll have to change how we play, because we haven’t had Dray, haven’t had those guys, we’re very perimeter oriented, and now we have to change probably to become inside oriented without having those perimeter players.”
Speculation has run rampant about the futures of both Saunders and Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld beyond this season, with Grunfeld having one more year remaining on his contract and Saunders with two years left on his. New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey added some fuel to the fire on Friday by speculating that Leonsis intends to dismiss both after this season. Most of the people that I’ve spoken with today have laughed off the report. Saunders greeted it with a shrug.
“From the standpoint of where we’ve been and our how Ted’s been from Day One. His communication. He’s been on board with everything, where we’re at and what we’ve done,” Saunders said.