Washington Wizards’ John Wall: ‘I need to be in the playoffs’


These high-fives would be so much better in the playoffs. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

An hour before the Washington Wizards’ summer league team played the Golden State Warriors on Saturday at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, John Wall and Bradley Beal were on one of side of the main court at the nearby Thomas & Mack Center, building up a lather and working on their jump shots and ballhandling with assistant coach Ryan Saunders and developmental coach Joe Connelly.

Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman were off to the side, observing and chatting as Wall and Beal ran around screens, sprinted to designated spots and took shots from both foul line elbows, the corners and the top of the key. They took breathers, with one taking free throws and the other doing dribbling drills.

“I need to be in the playoffs,” Wall said in a brief interview after the Wizards’ loss to Golden State. “Leaving the season early every year is not fun, it’s no excitement, just going home and watching basketball.”

Grunfeld has repeated that the Wizards plan to keep Wall within the organization for a long time and has until October to lock up the former No. 1 overall pick with an extension. According to a league source with knowledge of the situation, the Wizards have already engaged in discussions with Wall’s agent, Dan Fegan, about getting a deal done. Wall is eligible for a five-year deal worth about $79.5 million.

The Wizards added Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. in last month’s NBA draft, signed Eric Maynor as Wall’s primary backup and brought back Martell Webster this offseason. Wall, the longest-tenured player on the roster, has been encouraged by the moves and the roster overall since he arrived in 2010.

“The organization, the owner, the GM, everybody upstairs, the coaching staff did a great job of finding a way to build a team into the way we want it to and make it fit. I like all the moves they made and what we’re doing moving forward,” Wall said. “I feel like we got a good enough team. What we had last year was good. I just feel if the organization feel like they want to make more moves, that’s up to them.”

But Wall also understands that he plays an important role in making the team a playoff contender, which explains why he and Beal were committed to maintaining their offseason workouts in Las Vegas. “For us, it’s just getting better on the court and improving ourselves and do what we’re supposed to on the court,” Wall said.

The two primary building blocks of the Wizards’ efforts to get back to the postseason aren’t participating in summer league, but they sat in the front row for the first two games and also used their time in Las Vegas to focus on improving and pushing each other. They worked out together Saturday and Sunday, and Webster joined them for the shooting drills on the second day.

Wall planned to leave on Monday, but the duo will be back in Las Vegas next week for Team USA minicamp. Beal is making progress with his health, but his slow recovery from a stress injury in his right leg will limit his participation.

Wall will have a chance to measure his skills against some of the best young point guards in the league, such as Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson and Kemba Walker.

“I’ve matured,” Wall, 22, said. “Matured of being a better point guard. Matured of being a better leader. Just improving my all-around game. Coming in as a rookie, I was pretty raw. I think I’m getting better and developing things slowly.”

Wall is coming off a season in which he averaged career highs of 18.5 points and 44.1 percent shooting and added 7.6 assists in 49 games. But he is still motivated to do more after believing that his season was stunted by an unexpected stress injury in his left knee that forced him to miss his first 33 games and eliminated the Wizards from playoff contention before his arrival.

“All my hard work and dedication kind of went down the drain when I had to miss those first 33 games, so it kind of took me time to rebuild myself back to what everything I installed and worked in last summer,” Wall said. “I wish [the season] would start tomorrow, but you’ve got to go through these processes to get better and take your time.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · July 14, 2013