The Wizards were pro-active in shutting down John Wall before his left knee injury got worse and possibly became a stress fracture that required surgery. They are now optimistic that the foundation of their rebuilding efforts will be able to avoid a significant crack and contribute after giving his body about eight weeks to heal.
Wall wore himself down by grinding through his offseason workouts, but his body has now forced him to relax.
“I told him, ‘It’s going to be over with quicker than you think,’ ” Coach Randy Wittman said on Friday during a joint conference call with Wall and President Ernie Grunfeld.
Wall learned from his experience as a rookie not to rush before too soon. But having to sit out the first month – which could likely hamper his goals of being an all-star and make the Wizards’ long-shot odds of making the playoffs even longer – will be difficult for a 22-year-old addicted to basketball.
“You have to look at the big picture and the big picture states that John is going to be with us for the majority of the season and help us get to where we want to go,” Grunfeld said.
But the Wizards could be in a steep hole by the time Wall returns. Of their first 14 games, seven are on the road and nine are against teams that were in the playoffs last season.
Wall appeared in all 66 games of a lockout-shortened season that wiped so many of the NBA’s top players for extended periods. But one of the reasons the Wizards signed A.J. Price last summer was because they understood that they could hope – but not expect – for Wall to survive an 82-game season without missing any time to injury.
They announced four days before training camp that they will need to lean heavier on Price, Shelvin Mack and possibly Jordan Crawford with their best player sidelined through training camp, the preseason and the first month of the regular season
“Obviously, we’re going to miss John,” Wittman said. “There is nobody that we can go out and sign, bring in here that’s going to do the things that John is capable of doing. That doesn’t mean other people aren’t going to have an opportunity to step up.”
If the Wizards take a more orthodox approach with their starting five, Price would appear to be the most likely candidate to replace Wall until he comes back in late November or early December. Mack, Wall’s primary backup last season, didn’t distinguish himself during summer league play, expediting the need to find a more experienced option.
Price started three games in his first three seasons in Indiana, averaging 6.3 points and 4.7 assists in those contests. But has also appeared in 150 games overall and been in a playoff environment for the past two seasons with the Pacers.
Mack struggled making the adjustment from a scorer in college to being a point guard in the NBA and never seemed comfortable knowing how to set up his teammates and take advantage of his own scoring opportunities. He was at his best during summer league when he was in attack mode, but he didn’t always have the team running smoothly.
“It’s great, for those guys to go into training camp and give us more depth at that point guard position, so they can battle it out and see who gets better,” Wall said. “But it’s great to have a player like [Price] who is a veteran kind of and knows what it takes in the playoffs.
“It’s no guarantee that he’s going to be the starter,” Wall said about Price. “He already has playoff experience, but nobody has been given the starting spot anywhere – in the point guard position or any position.”
Crawford had his only career triple double when he started at point guard in place of Wall when both were rookies. Crawford foundered, however, when Flip Saunders tried to use him as a backup point guard last season. Though he is arguably the most talented option in the back court, Crawford showed that he could be an extremely short-term solution but not a long term fix at point guard – and the Wizards will need his scoring more than his play-making, especially with Wall sidelined.
Even with Wall on the court, Crawford will be looked upon to carry the team offensively.
Bradley Beal showed that he can make plays for others during summer league, but the Wizards would prefer to have him develop as a shooting guard and not place too many other responsibilities on a 19-year-old still adjusting to the NBA. Thrusting Beal into the starting lineup with, say, Crawford would also leave the Wizards will little scoring punch off the bench.
“We don’t have to answer that right now,” Wittman said, when asked how he planned to utilize his guards.
Wall’s injury perhaps gives Steven Gray a better chance of making the team on a partially guaranteed deal through the first month of the season. The Wizards will probably look to sign another point guard, primarily for depth, during the grueling practice schedule ahead. Some available free agents include Jannero Pargo, Earl Boykins and Lester Hudson, but they could also wait and see which players get cut from other rosters in the next few weeks.
“We’ll look around see who’s available and who’s out there. If the right player becomes available we would consider somebody else, but we feel good about the players that we currently have on the roster,” Grunfeld said. “We have a deeper roster right now and we have a lot of players at a lot of positions. This isn’t about one player taking for John. It’s going to be a whole team effort.”