LAS VEGAS — John Wall blazed up the court and drew two defenders before looking over his left shoulder to see Rashard Lewis trailing him. Wall stopped, tossed the ball skyward and Lewis soared to the rim to catch it and dunk with two hands.
Wall probably wouldn’t have made such a pass to Lewis last season with the Washington Wizards, when Lewis dealt with nagging knee problems that kept his game closer to the ground and stapled mostly to the perimeter. But after spending a few days training and playing with Lewis in Las Vegas, Wall realized that there was more to the former all-star forward’s game than simply camping out and waiting for opportunities to shoot three-pointers.
“I’m really excited to see Rashard back healthy,” Wall said recently, while leaving out the obvious — that it was great to simply play with any of his teammates at a time when the NBA lockout threatens to delay, or perhaps eliminate completely, the upcoming season.
But Wizards didn’t wait for the NBA to postpone training camps and cancel the first week of preseason games to understand that negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement were going to force them to find alternate means to work out with each other. Training camps were supposed to start on Monday, but the players remain uncertain about when the lockout will end and allow them to enter Verizon Center for something other than a Chris Brown concert.
Andray Blatche took the initiative to organize some players-only workouts in Clarksville earlier this month. But when the time came, he was able to attract only two of his teammates because Wall, Lewis and four other Wizards decided to head to Las Vegas for Joe Abunassar’s Competitive Training Series, otherwise known as the “lockout league.”
More than 60 NBA players participated in the games, with most of the teams assembled based on which players were available from day to day.
The so-called G team, however, was consistently stocked with mostly Wizards, giving Wall, Lewis, Jordan Crawford, JaVale McGee, Shelvin Mack and Larry Owens an opportunity to gain some familiarity with one another on the court, work out together in the morning with trainers and also connect away from basketball.
“If anything, just to get the chemistry down. I didn’t play many games with them last year because of the injury and the trade obviously,” said Lewis, who joined the Wizards in a December trade with the Orlando Magic for Gilbert Arenas. “It’s good for them to get a feel for me and for me to get a feel for them. Chemistry goes a long way when you play an 82-game season, because you’re going to have ups and downs. When you got good chemistry, you try to lift each other up and help each other.”
The players didn’t exactly run sets from Coach Flip Saunders’s playbook, but they did attempt some plays that they might utilize during the regular season. Wall had no problem shouting for Crawford to bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense. They let Lewis get back to diversifying his game after spending his short stint with the team mostly as a spot-up shooter.
And, they consistently fed the ball inside to McGee to let him work on his low post moves. The team finished with a 2-5 record, but Wall was encouraged that the players continually battled and fought.
“That’s one thing we got to learn as a young team, when you’re down 20, 15, there is always a way to come back. You get a couple of stops here and there, a couple of points. We’ve got to not get our heads down,” Wall said. “I think we can have a good year whenever it starts and everybody is fully healthy.” Aside from the games, the players spent considerable time after games, laughing and joking, discussing the lockout, plays that worked and didn’t. The day after the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight, Crawford hung out in Lewis’s hotel room and the two talked about life, and Lewis’s experience as a newlywed.
“The Wizards, they knew me as a basketball player, but they didn’t how I was off the court, how I act,” said Crawford, who joined the Wizards in February after the team made a deadline deal with Atlanta. “That camaraderie off the court is going to help and I think that’s why the [NBA champion Dallas] Mavericks worked so well. If you look at all their interviews, they always said Dirk [Nowitzki] was the best player, without no controversy. They didn’t try to take no shine, so, I think that’s the main thing we’ve got to overcome.”
Blatche said that he would try to organize another players-only workout session next month with more players if the lockout continues. Lewis said Blatche’s last training session didn’t pan out because of “a little bit of bad communication,” and added that players tried to convince Blatche to come to Las Vegas. Abunassar plans to set up another training series in Las Vegas if the lockout continues, but Lewis felt the Wizards would also do something on their own. “Most definitely, we will get together and do something in D.C.,” said Lewis, whose family is already in Washington and alternates back and forth from Houston.
Wall has suggested that the Wizards organize a session in Los Angeles, since Wall, Crawford, McGee and Nick Young train there in the offseason. First-round draft pick Jan Vesely is expected to arrive in Los Angeles next week to work out during the lockout as well.
Crawford doesn’t care where the Wizards train, so long as they get together more often. “I think it needs to happen,” Crawford said. “To me, it just seems like the owners got us by our — I can’t really use the word, but they got us. It’s complicated really. With how serious the owners are about taking it to the players [with the lockout], we have to start now, so they can take us serious. I just want to be taken serious. That’s the only thing.”