Mike Wise
Mike Wise
Columnist

John Wall and his contract hopes with Wizards illustrate the NBA’s costs and benefits

Video: The Post Sports Live crew debates whether the Wizards can play .500 basketball for the remainder of the season with a healthy John Wall back in the lineup.

Let’s make this easy: The questions aren’t, “Should the Washington Wizards open the vault for John Wall?” or “Is he worth it?” It’s much simpler, and the main reason why Ted Leonsis and the team will ante up when they have to in July:

Can they afford to lose the catalyst of their team and their face of the organization, perhaps for nothing if he hits the open market in the summer of 2014?

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No.

You can’t lose John Wall. Not now. Not if the Wizards want the continuity and growth in the organization they continue to espouse.

Not if the Wizards plan on making Washington a genuine destination for primo free agents in two summers, when the team has enough money to lure a significant player.

Not if they plan on decreasing the overall value of their current roster, which began the season 5-28 before their gazelle of a point guard rehabilitated a balky knee and got them running and winning again.

I’m not saying this 18-15 run since Wall has been back — which represents the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference during that time, through Tuesday night — and a measly player of the week award change the fact that the team is headed to the NBA lottery for the fifth straight year.

But I am saying John Wall and Bradley Beal are the biggest parts of the solution toward returning to the postseason and genuinely mattering again as a franchise. And if there is an opportunity to ensure one stays four months from now, well, the team needs to seize it.

I know. When the good basketball fans of the District hear a Wizards point guard with a creaky knee could be re-signed to a maximum contract extension, many break out in hives and mentally go straight to 2008: “Gilbert Arenas, $111 million over six years.”

And that’s just not fair to Wall, who expressed his desire to The Post’s Michael Lee for the Wizards to re-sign him this summer to a deal that could total $85 million over five years.

First, Wall is a mere 22 years old, four years younger than Arenas was at the same time he signed a deal that team president Ernie Grunfeld came to rue within a year.

Also, if Wall’s body holds up the final month of this season, he would have shown a physical durability that Arenas hadn’t before multiple knee surgeries (and a criminal prank that became a felony conviction en route to his departure.)

Bottom line: They were different players at different junctures of their careers before the organization thought about committing long-term.

Besides, exorbitant amounts of money camouflage a player’s real value to his particular team.

The old, “Is he worth a max deal?” is such a subjective question. Given a season or so of hindsight, were Roy Hibbert, Deron Williams, Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire worth max contracts? No. But in each case the team that either kept them or acquired them was forced to offer that kind of deal for their services at the time.

Hardly anything economically is relative in these debates except whether the Wizards believe John Wall is worth that to them. And they do, according to numerous people in the organization.

One of the smartest people I know in the league, who has no Wizards affiliation and spoke on condition of anonymity, put it best. Asked whether Wall was worth a max deal, he replied, “Not yet,” and added that the four-year, $41 million extension the 76ers paid Jrue Holiday last November was probably more in line with Wall’s real value.

But he said the chances of Wall signing a four- or five-year max extension are excellent simply because the Wizards need him. “While he may not be worth it [right now], the value of the rest of their roster declines significantly if they lose him. They can’t get equal value anywhere else, and he makes guys on the team better.”

Also, from a monetary standpoint, he pointed out the extension would be Wall’s first non-rookie contract. His outlying number — $14 million — is still a tradable contract.

This also isn’t a choice between Wall and Beal, who doesn’t come up for an extension until the summer of 2015. And while it’s true you can’t sign two of your rookies to the max, five-year deal, the four-year max contract is available to Beal. Heck, you could sign both Wall and Beal to four-year maximum deals.

Another irrelevant question: “Is a career 42-percent shooter through two-plus seasons worth that kind of investment?” Jason Kidd has shot roughly 40 percent for his career, but eventually began to make big shots when they mattered. Wall’s effect on a game isn’t exactly that of Kidd, one of the great assist men ever. But it’s fair to say it goes way beyond merely Wall’s jump shot.

If the Wizards don’t attempt to re-sign Wall this offseason, he is as good as gone. They shouldn’t run the risk of upsetting Wall and losing him for nothing, simply on principle that he might be worth less.

There is enough of a sample size the past couple of months to show how valuable Wall is to the roster and his ability to keep fans interested. When he’s got decent, healthy players around him, the Wizards have real potential.

Also, what’s the occasional knock on Leonsis? That he doesn’t want to spend enough to get significantly better. I don’t wholeheartedly buy that. But either way, advising him not to pay Wall and keep a very good asset would be hypocritical.

If I’m Grunfeld, the offseason should work like this: re-sign Wall and Martell Webster (for much less), possibly tender offers to Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker if they don’t cost too much. If not, let them play out their contract year and go to restricted free agency.

Trade the coming lottery pick, probably somewhere between No. 7 and No. 10, for a proven scorer who can help immediately. Try and trade either Emeka Okafor or Trevor Ariza in the offseason. If that doesn’t work, try next year’s trade deadline. If that doesn’t work, they both come off the cap in 2014.

Then, because LeBron and Carmelo are free-agent pipe dreams, focus on someone like Danny Granger or Kenneth Faried. You put one of those players in the mix, that’s a bona fide playoff team.

You lose John Wall, forget it. They won’t even think of coming.

For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

 
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