CHICAGO – As he turned over on his left shoulder while being stretched out on Monday before the Washington Wizards played the Brooklyn Nets, John Wall glanced down at Bradley Beal, who was getting treatment on his right leg while watching film.
The Wizards’ season will end tonight in Chicago, very much the way it began, with half of their backcourt of the future playing (Wall) while the other half recovers from stress injury in his leg (Beal).
“We’re basically back to where we were, full circle, with injuries to our main guys,” Coach Randy Wittman said, “but I think we saw enough of this group to be excited about.”
Wall is eligible to sign a five-year contract worth roughly $78 million, which wouldn’t kick in until the start of the 2014-15 season, but he admitted this week that he would consider taking less if the team could surround him with quality talent to field a contender.
“You want to get all you can, make your money and that’s what I’m going to do, make as much as I can,” said Wall, the 2010 No. 1 overall pick, who is averaging a career-high 18.4 points and has led the team to a 24-24 record since returning from a knee injury. “But I also want to make sure that everything with my teammates is getting better, that my team is getting better. If it’s me making the money I’m making and we’re still losing, it’s not fun. You get paid, but you’re paid to lose. I want to get paid to win, paid more for being in the playoffs. I just love the game and want to win. That’s the main thing.”
Wall and Beal played together for only25 games , leading the Wizards to 16 wins in those contests and giving the team hope for a future that truly begins once the franchise concludes a fifth consecutive lottery season on Wednesday against the Bulls at United Center.
The Wizards (29-52) will enter another offseason with limited financial flexibility, three draft picks, some trade assets and a need to stay healthy to end a prolonged postseason drought. Wall will wait to see if the organization rewards him with the maximum salary contract extension that he believes he has earned in three seasons in Washington.
The Wizards will have about $57 million committed to nine players next season. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza — the duo acquired from New Orleans last June to give the Wizards a veteran presence and helped them become a vastly improved defensive team — are expected back. Starting small forward Martell Webster will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and bringing him back will be one the Wizards’ priorities, according to sources with knowledge of the Wizards’ plans.
Garrett Temple,A.J. Price and Cartier Martinwill also be free agents. Trevor Bookerand Kevin Seraphinare both eligible for extensions, like Wall, but unlikely to receive them before becoming restricted free agents in 2014. The Wizards will have access to the midlevel exception and the bi-annual exception, which should allow them some roster flexibility.
Wittman said the Wizards will need greater depth going forward. “What we went through with injuries and certain guys out, we struggled to win games. We have to fortify more our bench. You can’t do anything about injuries. You hope for the best but you want to always maybe stay afloat through injuries.”
The Wizards were only able to have Wall, Beal and Nene for 22 games, and that trio led the team to a 10-2 record at home and a 5-5 record on the road. The desired starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Nene, Okafor and Webster only shared the floor in 18 games, which made it difficult to establishconsistency.
“We can compete and play with everybody in the league. We showed that. We had our fair share of ups and downs and adversity, but I think we did a good job of sticking with it,” said Beal, who shot 46.6 percent from beyond the three-point line while playing with Wall. “Our record, we would have a winning record, for sure, if we have everybody healthy. We can’t use it as an excuse without having everybody, but it definitely would be a different story.”
Tied with Detroit for the seventh-worst record, the Wizards won’t know their draft position until the May 21 lottery at ESPN/ABC studios in New York’s Times Square. No immediate impact players are expected to be available from a draft that many scouts and executives consider to be weak.
The Wizards also have two second-round picks — their own, and one acquired from the New York Knicks in a three-team deal that yielded Ronny Turiaf last season.
“I really don’t want to worry about the draft. We’re going the right way with winning, so we need to keep going with veterans and not keep going to the draft and get younger,” Wall said, “but that’s how I feel. It’s not my decision. It’s upstairs and I think they’ll do a great job.”
Wall and Beal would both like to see the Wizards add a forward who can stretch the defense with his shot. Wall would also like to see the team acquire a scorer/go-to guy off the bench.
“I feel like we got all of the other pieces,” Wall said.