The most angst-filled and highly anticipated doctor visit of the Washington Wizards’ season will take place on Friday in New York, where point guard John Wall will have his left knee re-examined by orthopedic specialist David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery.
Wall has been out since Altchek discovered a non-traumatic stress injury in his left patella in late September, but his continued inability to practice, scrimmage or even elevate to shoot after 11 weeks of rest has at least one medical expert concerned about whether more invasive measures — injections or surgical options — are required for Wall to get healthy.
“It’s certainly not normal. Usually you rest these things and the inflammation or stress reaction goes away, but this obviously has not happened,” said Houston-based orthopedic surgeon Mark Adickes, a former guard for the Washington Redskins who repaired quarterback Robert Griffin III’s torn right anterior cruciate ligament in 2009. “Three months out, you have to say, ‘Do I just need to do something definitively to correct this problem?’ And then, the question is, ‘What?’ ”
Adickes, who was speaking in general terms because he has not examined Wall, said he expects the point guard to have those conversations with Altchek to determine the best plan. No matter what the examination finds, Brian Clifton, Wall’s longtime adviser and mentor, said the former No. 1 overall pick can handle the situation.
“I’ve known John for a long time. Regardless of what he hears, he’s going to be fine. He’ll bounce back,” Clifton said. “If it’s good, he’ll be out there. It’ll take him a little bit to get back up to speed and if he doesn’t, it’ll be for a good reason and he’ll come back when he’s healthy, whenever that is, and he’ll be fine still.”
The Wizards built the team to complement Wall’s speed and athleticism and have stumbled to an NBA-worst 3-16 record with him sidelined. They also will be without his backup, A.J. Price, for the next three to five weeks because of Price’s broken right hand and are down to one point guard on the roster in Shaun Livingston. Shooting guard Jordan Crawford has been asked to handle the playmaking duties as the starter in the interim. The Wizards will host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at Verizon Center.
Wall has career averages of 16.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game in his first two seasons with the Wizards.
Wall began to feel discomfort in his knee nearly a month before receiving his diagnosis and an MRI exam that came up negative. The pain didn’t subside for three weeks and he finally met with Altchek. A day later, the Wizards announced that Wall would miss “approximately” eight weeks but the team no longer has a timetable for his return.
“We have to do what’s best for him long-term,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said recently.
Adickes, a former team physician for the Houston Rockets, said Wall’s patella condition is most common among jumping athletes, with the pain developing from repetitive usage in the area of the leg that constantly fires on liftoff.
Wall hasn’t spoken about his condition in nearly a month. When he was asked how he has been dealing with the delayed start to his critical third season he stated, “Just lock myself in my house with some music.”
“He’s never been one for sitting out,” Clifton said. “If it’s not something physically keeping him from being on the floor, like a cast or something like that, it’s a little harder for him to accept that, because he’s got a high level of confidence in his ability and his desire to do what he does. And if at all possible, he’s going to try to get back out there.”
Wall had appeared to be moving closer to returning in late November, when he started warming up before games with assistant Sam Cassell. But that practice recently has stopped, leading to speculation that he may have experienced a setback. “They are difficult things to treat,” Adickes said. “In part, because these athletes want to be working out and when they start to feel a little bit better, then they do things and they are right back where they started.”
Clifton said Wall has to be patient. “He can’t look at himself like a regular guy, because he’s not. The pace that he plays, and the movements that he puts his body through. He could put himself in harms way under those conditions,” Clifton said.
“He’s cut from a different cloth. Physically, he does things and goes places and puts pressures and stresses on his body that most humans don’t. So, guys like him have to be very mindful of that and have to take your time and heal properly and come back when their body, not their mind, says that they should.”