When the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement becomes official, benefits should abound for both players and teams. Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, however, might feel blocked from his full share from the honey pot.
“I feel like it’s amazing and crazy because I had my best year, like, two years ago, my second year [as an] all-star, I averaged 20 and 10 and was a starter but couldn’t make all-NBA team,” Wall said. “So I mean, you want those individual accolades but it’s to the point that [if] you get your recognition, then you get it. You only get those [individual honors] by winning. When I did and had an opportunity to win, I still didn’t make it.”
Those accolades could end up affecting Wall’s eligibility for the designated veteran exception, a new measure in the CBA, which must still be ratified. Players who qualify for the exception — up to two per team — will be able to sign longer contract extensions than under the previous CBA. This gives superstars more financial motivation to re-sign with their original teams, and gives franchises — whether a small-market organization or one that cannot draw big-name free agents — a greater chance of keeping homegrown talent.
Here’s where Wall’s trophy shelf comes into play. According to a person with knowledge of the CBA discussions between the league and the National Basketball Players Association, the designated veteran rule extends to those who have achieved all-NBA status or won high individual honors such as league MVP or defensive player of the year. Wall, in his seventh season, is a three-time all-star but has not made the all-NBA team nor contended for MVP or defensive player of the year.
Hypothetically, if Wall makes the 2016-17 all-NBA team, next summer he would be eligible for a four-year contract extension at 35 percent of the Wizards’ total salary cap amount, the maximum allowed under the salary cap. Without any of those honors, Wall, 26, would still be in line for a three-year extension at 30 percent of the cap. A hefty raise, for sure, but one that would leave Wall behind many of his superstar peers.
Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, has spoken publicly before about feeling undervalued. He signed a maximum contract extension in 2013, a five-year, $80 million deal that runs until the end of the 2018-19 season, and has become a bargain as subsequent broadcast agreements have expanded the salary cap and inflated contracts league-wide. He is the second-highest-paid player on the Wizards’ roster behind Bradley Beal.
In 2015, Wall noted the disparity of his max contract compared with Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson: “People talk about me getting $80 million, now you got people getting $85 million that haven’t made the all-star or anything like that. . . . I guess they came in at the right time. That new CBA kicked in, and they’re good now. Reggie Jackson gets five years, $80 million. I’m getting the same as Reggie Jackson.”
Earlier this year, Wall told The Vertical: “The type of player I am, and person I am, character I have, I should be seen on commercials, in the nation’s eyes and the people’s eyes. And I haven’t.”
Therein lies Wall’s conundrum: As a perennial all-star who ranks among the NBA’s top guards this season in terms of scoring (24.0 points per game), assists (9.5), steals (2.3) and minutes played (36.2), he has proven to be an elite player. On Wednesday, Wall became the franchise leader in steals (764), passing Greg Ballard. Earlier this season, he broke the team’s assists record previously owned by Wes Unseld. But he has dazzled in relative anonymity for a team that hasn’t won enough.
Last year, the Wizards missed the playoffs for the fourth time in Wall’s six seasons. So far this season, they sit at 10-14. The Wizards have only five games on TNT and ESPN and none on ABC. The lack of exposure could be an impediment when it comes to starting in the All-Star Game (decided by fan vote) and the highest individual regular season honors, all-NBA, MVP and defensive player of the year (selected by members of the media).
“We don’t play on TV a lot so a lot of people don’t get to see us play. If you don’t have NBA League Pass and stuff like that, you don’t see the things that I’m doing in the game or what we’re doing trying to win,” Wall said Thursday. “So if you ain’t checking on Twitter and stuff like that, you don’t know. All these other teams get a lot of TV games, that’s why they get these accolades from the media and fan votes. Until we get an opportunity to be on TV more, it would be tough for people to realize and see what I do.”
All of which sets up another question going forward: Even if Wall becomes eligible to re-sign for a maximum contract under the designated veteran rule, would he opt to spend the prime of his career on a below-the-radar team that has peaked with second-round playoff exits?
In January, Wall signed with agent Rich Paul, who under the old CBA had negotiated hefty deals for clients who have not reached Wall’s status, among them Eric Bledsoe (five years, $70 million with the Phoenix Suns) and Tristan Thompson (five years, $82 million with the Cleveland Cavaliers). When his time comes, Wall will merit a sizable contract — and if an NBA honor activates the option of a designated veteran extension, then all the better.
“I just look past it and try to play the game,” Wall said. “Be the best I can and help my team and try to make the playoffs. If it happens, it happens. But it would be a great honor to be able to get a bigger extension with those things involved into it.”
Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Wall is the Wizards’ third-highest-paid player.