A crazy fact that illustrates the NBA’s extreme transience: When the 2017-18 season begins, John Wall will be the only player from the 2010 draft class to have played his entire career with one team. This summer, he became a retention unicorn when three other stalwart classmates left their original teams.
Gordon Hayward, the No. 9 pick in 2010, left Utah for Boston in free agency. Then Boston had to trade Avery Bradley, the No. 19 pick, to Detroit to make room for Hayward’s salary. And Paul George, the No. 10 pick, forced a trade from Indiana and wound up in Oklahoma City.
Seven years ago, Wall was selected No. 1 overall. Now he’s the only one.
In the class before Wall’s, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry and DeMar DeRozan are the only one-team wonders from the 2009 draft. In the class after Wall’s, the numbers are better: Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried are still with the team that chose or acquired them on draft night. But even that group faces retention challenges ranging from Irving’s recent trade demand in Cleveland to Valanciunas and Faried being the subjects of persistent trade rumors.
If you’re still wondering why Wall signing a supermax extension matters, let’s add another dimension of rarity. Since San Antonio drafted David Robinson with the top pick 30 years ago, can you name how many No. 1 picks have played at least their first 10 seasons with their original team? There are just two: Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan.
Because he signed a four-year, $170 million extension recently, Wall has committed to the Wizards for the next five seasons, and he has an option for a sixth year. It’s almost certain he will be in Washington through his 12th NBA season, when he will be 31. Considering that the option year on his new contract is worth $46.9 million, it’s a safe bet that he will be around for Year 13, too.
And beyond, Wall says with conviction.
“This is the team I want to be with for the rest of my career, so hopefully we can get that done,” the four-time all-star said Friday. “And I’m not going to stop until I get a jersey retired in here and a banner here for a championship. So let’s keep it going.”
For all the speculation that Wall would have a wandering eye — that he would do what has become normal, even expected, for an NBA star and look elsewhere — the Wizards point guard is more Dirk Nowitzki than Kevin Durant.
When next season begins, Nowitzki will join Kobe Bryant as the only NBA players to play 20 seasons for the same team. Nowitzki has been through it all with the Dallas Mavericks: establishing credibility, sustaining success, fighting through perceived plateaus, reaching the pinnacle with a 2011 NBA title and turning into the wise old veteran as the team rebuilds.
It takes a special person to have the focus, perspective and desire to see a franchise through so many phases. It also takes a special talent to maintain untradeable status and irreplaceable value to his team for so long.
Even if Wall completes his third contract here, he would have seven more seasons before he could reach Dirk/Kobe territory. As much as he and the Wizards talked loyalty Friday, I’m not sure either side expects their relationship to last that long.
But in the current NBA landscape, Wall already has done something incredible. Stars rarely sign a third contract without at least flirting with free agency. It wasn’t a surprise when Wall jumped to sign a max contract in 2013 because that $80 million pact was his first huge payday. But this time? Even though the offer was more than double his last contract, Wall is still bucking convention.
He couldn’t help but laugh at all the local consternation during the weeks he took to make a decision. The Wizards offered the deal at the start of free agency July 1. Wall wanted to make a thorough decision. As it turned out, he didn’t scrutinize the Wizards nearly as much as I or anyone else thought he would. He didn’t want to apply pressure or play general manager. Throughout the entire process, his intention was to re-sign. He just needed to decide whether to do it now or wait a year and possibly add another season to the contract. He could have done that if he satisfied the terms of the designated player veteran extension clause by making the all-NBA team again. In the end, Wall deemed it too risky to gamble because there are so many great guards vying for all-NBA. He was smart to take the money now.
“This is the only team I wanted to be with,” Wall said. “Everybody was panicking and wondering why I didn’t sign my extension. Y’all didn’t have to worry. This is the city I love. I love playing here.”
Wall, James Harden and Curry are now the poster children for the NBA’s new super max, or designated player veteran extension. The league wanted it in the new collective bargaining agreement to encourage the league’s elite players to stay with their current teams by allowing them to be rewarded with massive deals.
While the money is a game-changer, it’s more personal than that for Wall. He knows the young Wizards are a good basketball situation because he helped create it. It means something to him to be the biggest star on a team that has risen from cellar dweller to contender. He doesn’t want to give that up, and he doesn’t want to leave the city he considers his adopted home.
“I knew that John would want to do this, not because of conversations with John or people around him but simply because I know that’s the kind of person he is,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said. “That he is loyal and living up to commitments has been fantastic.”
Said Coach Scott Brooks: “He has a good heart. He has a caring soul.”
Of course, $170 million does much for the heart and soul, but everything about Wall is authentic. He’s raw and real, and he’s still growing at age 26. He’s so gifted that you should want to see his evolution to the end.
The Wizards can do that now. In an NBA that changes too quickly, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that Wall won’t be just another shooting star.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.
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