Wizards remain uncertain about John Wall’s return

December 7, 2012

How long is this going to take? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Ten weeks after the Wizards announced that John Wall would miss “approximately” eight weeks because of a stress injury in his left patella, the injured point guard is still unable to practice, scrimmage or even elevate to shoot.

Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Wall both referred to the injury as a “bump in the road” that wouldn’t keep him down for long, but the team now has no timetable for his return. His extended absence has raised concerns, but Coach Randy Wittman acknowledged Thursday that the original estimate was actually eight-to-12 weeks. Wittman began to panic when a reporter asked if Wall would return this season.

“I hope so. What the heck is that? You’re scaring me,” Wittman said before cursing a few times. “I just talked to my mother again today. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not looking at it like that”

He added, “We’re not hiding anything here.”

Grunfeld said that the team is following orders from the medical staff and will put Wall on the court when he receives clearance, and not a minute sooner. “We have to do what’s best for him long term. It’s frustrating for him, because he’s such a competitor. He worked so hard in the offseason and he wants to be out there with his teammates.”

The Wizards (2-13) continue to bring Wall along on road trips and he has been a constant presence on the bench, often looking flustered by his team’s struggles. Wall invested a lot of time into improving his game this summer, working on his shooting form with former Wizards and current New York Knicks assistant Dave Hopla, training with Rob McClanaghan and practicing with Team USA for a week in Las Vegas.

After a franchise-worst 0-12 start, the Wizards have won two of three games, including a 105-101 upset of the defending champion Miami Heat. Wittman tweaked the offense to be more uptempo and says he doesn’t expect the former No. 1 overall pick to have to make any adjustments when he returns. “John’s not going to miss a beat on anything that we’re doing or trying to do without him because we’re going to use him a lot like I did last year when he comes back. Obviously, [he has] the ability to quicken the pace all by himself.”

Wall has averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons. A.J. Price and Shaun Livingston, the point guards who have been asked to run the team in his absence, have combined to average 14.7 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds but the Wizards rank last in scoring (90.4 points) and field goal percentage (40.8).

The Wizards have constructed the team to complement Wall’s speed and playmaking ability, and several players have struggled in his absence, possibly putting considerable pressure on him to perform at an even higher level to propel the team to respectability.

“The pressure, he has to be John Wall, that’s it,” Wittman said. “Being John Wall will make us a better team. He can feel the pressure of ‘I’m back, now I have to turn this around.’ I think he can help turn it around obviously because of his talents. Like I tell him, you just have to be John Wall and let the chips fall where they may after that. What you can bring and what we’re missing from you would be beneficial for our team. That’s all he has to worry about.”

Wittman will have to find a way to collect some wins until Wall can navigate this current bump in the road. “The only thing I can do is plan with what I’ve got,” Wittman said. “That’s what we’re doing. Obviously, we need John. We want John. I want John yesterday, but you’ve got to keep moving forward. That’s what we’re doing here and trying to do here.”

Michael Lee has covered the Wizards and the NBA at the Washington Post since October 2004.
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Michael Lee | December 6, 2012