John Wall will get his maximum contract, although he doesn’t really deserve it

The Washington Post’s LaVar Arrington, Mike Wise, Liz Clarke, and Jonathan Forsythe discuss whether the Wizards’ John Wall deserves a max contract. (Post Sports Live)
Jason Reid
Columnist April 18, 2013

Any way you add it up, John Wall doesn’t deserve a maximum contract. In his first three seasons, Wall didn’t lead the Wizards to as much as a .500 record, let alone a playoff berth. Wall’s next appearance in an all-star game will be his first. He’s just not an elite player.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why the Wizards probably will give Wall what he wants, which is the biggest contract extension permitted under NBA rules.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

For NBA owners, a player’s production often isn’t the biggest factor in figuring out how much he should be paid. His standing on his team is what really matters. And if management determines a player is indispensable — ca-ching!

Time after time, we’ve seen owners give huge paydays to players who haven’t earned them. New Orleans shooting guard Eric Gordon and Indiana center Roy Hibbert are two great examples of non-superstars recently handed eight-figure contracts. Shortly after last season’s lockout ended, the two restricted free agents received maximum four-year, $58 million offers from Phoenix and Portland, respectively. Fearful of losing young, emerging players with no replacements on their rosters, New Orleans and Indiana matched the offers.

What did the Hornets and Pacers receive for paying Gordon and Hibbert an average of $14.5 million each per season? Gordon scored 17 points per game (his career average is 18) for the Hornets, who are headed back to the NBA draft lottery. Last season, Hibbert posted career highs in points and rebounds and was selected as a reserve for the Eastern Conference all-star team. This season, the former Georgetown standout’s production dropped slightly, though he did help the Pacers finish first in the Central Division.

Wall is much more talented that Gordon or Hibbert. From the moment Wall entered the league, he was one of the game’s fastest and most athletic point guards. This season, Wall displayed an improved jump shot and, at times, the ability to take over late in games.

Wall is a good, improving player. It’s still too early to say he’ll never be great. And when Wall’s numbers are crunched, here are the two most important: 5 and 28.

The Wizards went 5-28 to start the season while Wall was sidelined because of a knee injury. They were substantially better (24-25) with Wall in the lineup, though they closed the season with six straight losses. For the fifth consecutive year, Washington will be in the draft lottery. The Wizards’ long history of failure works in Wall’s favor.

Fans like to root for winners. If their favorite teams aren’t winning, fans cling to the hope that turnarounds are possible. If Wall eventually left the Wizards as an unrestricted free agent, much of that hope would leave with him. The Wizards anointed Wall as their savior before he played his first game. They were at such a low point when Wall joined the franchise, they literally rolled out a red carpet for him on his first day in the District.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has praised Wall so much, how could Leonsis low-ball Wall now?

If the salary cap remains at its current level, Wall would be eligible for a five-year, $79 million contract extension in July. That’s an average salary of $15.8 million. And if the cap increases 3 percent based on revenue, Wall could receive $81 million — or $16.2 million a year — over five years.

Only three point guards currently have maximum deals: Derrick Rose of Chicago, Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City and Deron Williams of Brooklyn. Los Angeles Clippers superstar Chris Paul is expected to join the club this summer. Paul, Rose, Westbrook and Williams all have been all-stars and all-NBA selections.

Although Wall doesn’t belong in that group of point guards, there is one he fits into well. Rising stars Stephen Curry of Golden State, Jrue Holiday of Philadelphia and Ty Lawson of Denver all signed multiyear extensions for less than the maximum. Curry, Holiday and Lawson provided salary-cap flexibility for their teams, which, in theory, should help management bolster the rosters around them.

Wall recently told The Post’s Michael Lee he’d consider taking less to help. The Wizards still need a lot of it, especially in outside shooting and scoring off the bench. Whether or not Wall gives the Wizards a slight hometown discount, they’ll be tied to him, for better or worse.

It’s risky to give any player a long, big deal. Leonsis knows that. But it would be a shocker if Leonsis didn’t pay what it takes to make Wall happy. And time will tell if it will be money well spent.

For more columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid

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