By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 11:54 PM
The Washington Wizards had just concluded practice on the same court where they started the post-Gilbert Arenas era with one of the more disheartening losses of the season. As players headed toward the locker room, Ernie Grunfeld huddled with No. 1 overall pick John Wall in the stands for several minutes.
The Wizards' president wanted to get Wall's thoughts on the trade that shipped away the former face of the franchise for the past seven-plus seasons. The two discussed Wall's increased obligations, and Grunfeld offered encouragement as the 20-year-old deals with the frustrations of being away from basketball for the longest time in his life.
Arenas's trade to Orlando on Saturday removed any doubts about the direction of the franchise: The team belongs to Wall.
"We've always had confidence in John," Grunfeld said. "We said we hoped John would be our point guard for 10, 12 years, maybe longer, and he's a true point guard. He's a leader. That's what we told him from Day 1. Now that we don't have another player in the mix, that gives him even more responsibility that he had early on."
But now Wall and the Wizards are concerned about when he will return to action. Wall visited with a doctor on Friday and discovered that the ailment that has kept him sidelined the past three games is not knee tendinitis, but rather a bone bruise under his right kneecap.
"I had a feeling it wasn't just tendinitis," said Wall, who was distraught when he heard the diagnosis and believes the injury is the result of compensating on earlier foot and knee injuries on the left side of his body. "I was like, 'If it's tendinitis, I would've played through it.' Tendinitis is very painful, but I played through it summer league, I play through it now. I couldn't do no squats or I couldn't really run or I couldn't cut, so I knew it had to be something more than that."
Wall said he failed in his attempts to run on Saturday. He added that he is looking into soon working with a personal trainer to help him overcome his ailments. The pain in his knee might not allow him to play this week. "Not right now. Not the way it's feeling," Wall said. "It's not really a timetable. "It might be day by day and it might end up being a week or two. I really don't know right now.
"It's pretty tough," Wall said. "I've probably missed five, six games out of my whole life playing basketball. This is the most I've missed. So it's frustrating, trying to rehab, and seeing my team out there and can't be out there and can't make plays. I think my team is doing a great job of fighting and doing as much as they can. I just can't wait to get back out there with them."
Wall has already missed 10 of the first 25 games this season, which greatly limited his ability to share the court with Arenas, who was forced to move over to shooting guard when Wall arrived. Wall and Arenas played just 12 games together and started in the back court twice, with Kirk Hinrich forming a three-guard lineup for one of those games.
"Seemed like [Coach Flip Saunders] was trying to do the best he can to get us out there as much as he can," Wall said. "But at times, he'll try to put me in or give me a break or it'll be the other way around, so we never played as much as people probably thought we would. But I think we did all right while we were in there."
Wall said he never had a problem with Arenas but wasn't surprised to see him moved. He also spoke briefly with Arenas after the former all-star guard was dealt to the Magic in exchange for Rashard Lewis. "He just told me to stay up, lead the team and good luck. I told him the same thing when he went to Orlando," Wall said.
"He was a mentor, helped me as much as he can, while he was here. Teaching the ropes and things," Wall said about Arenas. "It was great playing with him while he was here, but it was a business thing, things happen. You've got to move on with the trade. It's good to know it's my team, but at the same time, I think it's a great move for the franchise. I'm happy to have Rashard a part of the team. We're moving on as an organization, as a team, trying to get better. I wish him the best of luck in Orlando."
With Arenas being swapped for a 6-foot-10 power forward in Lewis (who will take his physical and likely play against Charlotte on Monday), Grunfeld said that the Wizards would have to sign another point guard. The team waived Lester Hudson earlier this season to sign Alonzo Gee, but now the team is lacking ball handlers. Hinrich played all but six seconds in the Wizards' 95-94 loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday. "We'll probably look to bring in someone to back him up," Grunfeld said. "Because of John's injury situation and the trade, we'll probably have to bring in somebody else. There's nothing structural [with Wall]. But until the pain subsides, we're not going to rush him back, that's for sure."
Some options include bringing back Hudson, signing free agent Jannero Pargo or Patrick Beverley, or plucking from the NBA Developmental League Mustafa Shakur or Kyle Weaver. But Wall is anxious to get back on the floor and assume his undisputed position within the team. "I've got to be the leader," Wall said. "I've got to get here early, I got to be the last one to leave. I've got to speak up, talk in huddles. They are gong to hold me accountable for more things. I'm going to accept the challenge."