Jason Reid
Jason Reid
Columnist

Wizards face challenge keeping John Wall over the long haul

John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST - “You can have all the points . . . all the steals . . . all the dunks. But if you’re not winning games, then it doesn’t mean anything,” John Wall said.”

Without a doubt, the Washington Wizards nailed it on point guard John Wall. They made a good move in building around him. The Wizards got that much right.

Wall needs to be correct about them, too. The optimism he expresses regarding the franchise’s future? That must continue. The confidence he has in team President Ernie Grunfeld? It had better not waver.

Superstars still wield power in the NBA, and the Wizards are auditioning daily for their top player. Wall seems determined to lead a Wizards revival, and by acquiring other correct pieces, management could encourage him to stick with his plan. But as we’ve seen repeatedly, the NBA’s best of the best often leave behind teams that fail to build quickly enough.

The Wizards are in no danger of losing Wall soon. They control his rights for at least another three seasons beyond this one, which they begin Monday night against the New Jersey Nets at Verizon Center. It’s just that everyone’s window eventually closes, and Wall takes losing poorly.

Fortunately for the Wizards, Wall, as he begins his second season, is all-in on Grunfeld’s plan.

“He’s trying to add what we need,” Wall said after practice Thursday at Verizon. “He’s drafting the right guys . . . and keeping [cap] space open to add the right people to help us.”

Washington’s on-court leader is spreading Grunfeld’s message of patience.

“We’re committed to doing it the right way,” Wall said. “We just want to be all about winning games here for a long time.”

Whenever I speak with Wall, I leave our conversations convinced that he means what he says about the franchise. He’s really all about getting the Wizards out of the NBA draft lottery and back into the playoffs. That’s clearly his focus.

“It’s a building process,” Wall said. “You’ve got to understand that.”

Wall is smart. He’s also highly competitive. He possesses the drive and work ethic any team would want in its most talented player.

That’s why the Wizards face such a team-building challenge. Wall is pushing himself to be considered among the best who have ever played his position. He needs the Wizards to cooperate.

“The main thing is always winning. That’s what it has to be,” Wall said. “To be a great point guard, to be one of the best point guards in this league, you’ve got to win.

“You can have all the points. You can have all the steals. You can have all the dunks. But if you’re not winning games then it doesn’t mean anything.”

In today’s NBA, from the moment elite-caliber players are drafted, teams face pressure to assemble championship-caliber rosters. The clock continues to tick even if players sign multiyear extensions.

LeBron James. Chris Bosh. Carmelo Anthony. Chris Paul. They all signed contract extensions with the teams that drafted them — and all moved on, at least in part, because management failed to produce as they envisioned.

Anthony’s decision last season to force a trade from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks was among the moves that prompted the lockout.

Frustrated owners sought to limit player movement in the collective bargaining agreement. But Paul’s recent escape from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Clippers reaffirmed that the league’s top players will always have exit options.

Wall isn’t a follower. He only does what makes sense for him, and he insists he hasn’t thought about playing elsewhere someday.

As a student of the game, though, Wall understands why “some people, after trying to stick with the team [that drafted them], would then try to go to another team and collaborate with another all-star if it doesn’t work out.

“It’s tough to win in this league when you only have one all-star. You’ve got to have a second guy with you or even a third guy. But I like it where I am. I like it here in D.C. Instead of going somewhere else, I would love to [help attract] people here.”

The District is not an NBA destination hot spot such as New York. Obviously, it’s definitely not Los Angeles or Miami.

Then again, there weren’t any elite players raising their hands to join the Clippers previously. Things can change.

The opportunity to play alongside sensational power forward Blake Griffin helped to lure Paul to the Clippers.

Granted, Commissioner David Stern should be credited with an assist for his embarrassing decision to block the Lakers from acquiring Paul with an offer that would have given the Hornets a better chance to win this season than the package he approved. Paul’s willingness to also join L.A.’s other team, however, proves even the most depressing team history doesn’t determine the future.

“That’s a great situation,” Wall said of the Clippers’ big move. “I love my team that I have now — but it’s a business process. Sometimes you might have to get somebody like that.

“They did a great job of going to get Chris Paul, [guard] Chauncey Billups and re-signing [center] DeAndre [Jordan]. And that’s a great marketing place. That’s what most guys look for. They want to go to a great team but also to have a great marketing place.”

It’s not all on management to improve the Wizards’ profile. Their best player should do more as well.

For Wall, it starts with his on-court demeanor. As a rookie, his emotions showed too often. He has to stay cool outwardly even if he is fuming inwardly.

“I’m learning on the fly,” he said. “It’s something I’ve taken a lot of time with, studying film and watching myself and watching other guys. Coming into this year, yeah, I’m more relaxed.”

Wall seems to be in a good place. The Wizards are hoping he stays there.

 
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