John Wall started feeling discomfort in his left knee about a month ago but continued to train as usual until the pain forced him to have an MRI exam, which came back negative. Three weeks later, with training camp approaching, Wall continued to notice something was wrong with his leg. And with the encouragement of Washington Wizards team President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman, he traveled to New York on Thursday to have his knee examined by noted orthopedic specialist David Altchek.
“Everybody decided we should check it out,” Wall said, “because I’m the type of person that would try to play through an injury.”
After initially thinking the soreness was simply bursitis, Wall received a more troubling diagnosis — which meant an important season for both Wall and the Wizards would begin with the 2010 No. 1 overall pick sidelined for eight weeks with the early stages of a stress injury in his left patella.
The Wizards announced the news on Friday afternoon, extinguishing enthusiasm for a new-look team with training camp set to begin on Tuesday at George Mason. Wall is not expected to need surgery to repair what he labeled, “a minor setback,” and Wall, Grunfeld and Wittman all expressed relief that the problem was detected before it developed into a stress fracture.
“It’s very tough for me,” Wall said in a conference call on Friday with reporters. “I’m going to go into the training room and try to get stronger, take my time and make sure I don’t rush back and force myself to come back anytime soon. Just prepare myself for whenever I get ready for the season.”
Thus the Wizards will open camp without their two best players, since Nene will be limited for most of the two-a-day practices sessions recovering from a left plantar fasciitis injury that the 6-foot-10 center aggravated while playing for Brazil during the Olympics.
Grunfeld said the Wizards would consider signing another player to help fill Wall’s void.
Wall has averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons in Washington.
The Wizards open the season on Oct. 30 in Cleveland, but Wall isn’t expected to return until close to December.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed for John because he has so much pride and he worked so hard this offseason. But this is a little bump in the road for him,” Grunfeld said. “Everybody heals at their own pace, but we feel good about what we have. . . . We have plenty of guys on our roster right now that can play that spot. It’s got to be a team effort to pick up the slack until we get John back.”
Wall played all 66 games during the lockout-shortened campaign last season, but he missed 13 games as a rookie, dealing with problems in his left foot and a bone bruise under his right knee cap.
He may miss about 14 games by sitting the first month of this season.
During an appearance at Simon Elementary School in the District on Friday morning, Wall discussed the benefits of having a normal offseason.
He attributed his inability to make significant improvements in his second season to the uncertainty of the lockout.
Wall worked out last summer in Los Angeles with famed trainer Rob McClanaghan and also gained close to 10 pounds of muscle through a new weight program. He explained how he wants to make the playoffs after the Wizards remodeled the roster with veterans Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster and drafted Bradley Beal with the third overall pick.
“I think the pieces we have is great, but I think for us to take that next step, it’s going to be keyed on me,” said Wall, who is eligible for an extension after the season. “Your third year is a key year. It makes or breaks you, what you’re going to be in this league. This is a big year for me.
“I’m not here to just play basketball and be satisfied being in the NBA,” Wall said. “I came here to achieve things and reach my goals with the team and with my own self. I haven’t achieved none of them, so I’m still going.”
Wall said the injury was caused by “just something that happens while working out very hard and that’s all I can say.” His rehabilitation will include rest, pool work and light, non-contact conditioning. Wall said he would remain around the team and “be like a coach and mentor some of the younger guys.”
Wittman said he still plans for the Wizards to have a decent season despite Wall’s early absence. “This gives us a chance down the line, if you’re looking at the long road, of us becoming a better team,” Wittman said. “If we can come out and establish ourselves early and have different guys step up, and then when John comes back, John being John, those expectations aren’t going to change. . . . I anticipate the hunger that this team has shown me thus far, we’re going to have guys to step up and if we can get that, that will definitely help us to keep fighting through until John gets back.”