LAS VEGAS — Over the years, Washington Wizards all-star guard John Wall and center Dwight Howard have shared quick conversations and private well wishes. As Wall established himself as one of the best point guards in the league, generating open shots for teammates, especially his big men, Howard noticed this on-court creativity and wanted in.
“Before, when we used to play, he was always like: ‘I want to play with you,’ ” Wall recalled. “I’m like … ‘One day maybe it can happen. You never know in this league.’ ”
This pipe dream will soon become a reality with Howard joining the Wizards on a two-year contract following his buyout from the Brooklyn Nets.
On Friday, Wall, who attended the Wizards’ Summer League game in Las Vegas along with several teammates, offered his first public comments about the Howard acquisition, how he made pitches to Howard as well as free agent Jeff Green and his hopes that his new center is ready to change the negative narrative engulfing him.
“I think it’s great,” Wall said, sharing his initial thoughts about the Wizards landing Howard. “I think it’s an opportunity to see how it pans out, to have an athletic big and somebody who’s going to re-correct their career. I think it should be fun and exciting for us.
“Hopefully he comes in with a serious focus and mind-set [that] he wants to get better and help our team,” Wall said. “We’re about to sit back and see what happens, but I think having him and Austin [Rivers] – giving us another scorer off the bench – those guys and Kelly [Oubre Jr.] getting better can definitely help us out.”
Wall has spent most of the summer training in Miami. When he showed up courtside in Vegas, Wall looked visibly leaner and more sculpted at 205 pounds while making a fashion statement in a gray tank top and colorful Bathing Ape shorts. Though busy working out and preparing for his upcoming ninth season, Wall carved out time to play part-time recruiter for the Wizards. Wall said he contacted Green, the former Georgetown Hoya star, before he agreed to come to Washington on a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract.
“I tried to get him the year before because he’s always wanted to come back and play in D.C.,” Wall said. “I just think having a guy who can play in between the three, four, [who’s] athletic, can run the floor and guard people and switch, that helps us out a lot.”
Also, Wall spoke with Howard. Remembering those past talks, Wall said he didn’t have to sell the Wizards too hard. After the Charlotte Hornets traded Howard to the Nets, and Howard publicly stated his desire for a buyout, Wall’s proposal was simple.
“I knew he was trying to ask for a buyout, I’m like, ‘Why not want to play for us?’ ” Wall said.
Wall had already started the offseason by campaigning to bring in “an athletic big.” For the money the Wizards had available, the 32-year-old Howard fit that bill. Though Howard has declined over the years following his prime as an eight-time all-star, Wall highlighted several facts: Howard averaged a double-double last season and still can pose defensive problems for opponents.
“It’s a perfect opportunity. I mean, LeBron [James] left the East. I think he makes our team even more deeper and better and gives us somebody that’s hard to switch,” Wall said. “If you’re trying to switch one through five, you got to worry about him catching lobs, getting offensive rebounds. I think he’s trying to have an opportunity to change the perception people have of him: He’s always joking around, [people say] he has a negative image in the league after he left Orlando.”
Wall did not skirt around the rumblings about Howard as a teammate. While viewing the move as largely positive for Washington, Wall also added the caveat: Howard must author a new chapter in his career.
“I can’t force him. He has to want to be able to change on his own,” Wall said. “But I think he just helps our team, and that’s why he was probably the best center we could probably get at the time for our team.”
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