John Wall knew when he arrived at Verizon Center on Wednesday that he needed to sign a lucrative contract extension with the Washington Wizards, but he also didn’t want to lose sight of what it would take to make the franchise’s five-year, $80 million commitment rewarding for both sides.
So before he put pen to paper, Wall worked out with teammates Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. in the practice gym, putting up shots in an effort to get better. Later, with Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld standing next to him, Wall signed a deal that reinforces the Wizards’ rebuilding efforts since selecting the talented point guard with the first overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft.
“He is the cornerstone of our team, and we have clearly expressed our desire to build around him well before making it official by re-signing him,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement released by the team to announce the agreement. “We are extremely confident in his leadership abilities and are excited to see the continued improvement of the team.”
Formal negotiations between the team and Wall’s agent, Dan Fegan, began two weeks ago and intensified while Wall was in Las Vegas last week as part of Team USA’s minicamp for up-and-coming players. The deal will kick in at the start of the 2014-15 season and keep him within the organization through 2019, when Wall will be 28. It also represents the third-largest contract ever doled out in Wizards franchise history, behind previous deals for Gilbert Arenas (six years, $111 million) and Juwan Howard (seven years, $105 million).
Because Wall has never made an all-star team or all-NBA team and has won a total of 72 games in his first three seasons, the Wizards will be paying him mostly for what they hope he’ll become instead of what he already is. But his résumé has already revealed some promise: Wall is one of just four players in NBA history to average at least 16.5 points, 8.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals over his career, joining an exclusive list that includes all-star Chris Paul and Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
Among members of his draft class, Wall has the highest career scoring average (16.9 points) and assist average (eight), and he is also the first of that group to receive an extension.
Wall produced at the level of an elite point guard in the final 26 games last season, when he averaged 22.7 points, 7.8 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals, but has yet to reach the same, consistent plane of the other NBA point guards with maximum deals — Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams.
He has missed a total of 46 games throughout his career because of injuries to his knees and feet, including the first 33 last season, when the team went 5-28 in his absence. Wall returned to lead the Wizards to a 24-25 record, with the team losing the final six games as several players were forced to sit with injuries.
“John’s talent, ability and athleticism are unquestioned, but he is also a special player in terms of his will to win, unselfishness and ability to make his teammates better,” Grunfeld said in the team-issued statement. “The impact he has in all of those areas was evident last season and we look forward to both him and the team reaching new levels of success together.”
The Wizards certainly had the leverage to force Wall to play out the season and become a restricted free agent next summer. Though Wall hasn’t been able to lead a rapid turnaround — Kwame Brown is the last No. 1 pick that failed to reach the postseason in his first three seasons — the organization was encouraged by Wall’s development at age 22.
Grunfeld repeatedly stated that the team had no plans of letting a talent like Wall slip from its grasp. And Wall said in March that he would be “hurt” if he didn’t receive a maximum contract and was forced to hit the open market next summer.
By letting the situation play out during the regular season, the Wizards would’ve risked having either a motivated Wall playing to prove a point or a dejected Wall sulking through the final season in which Grunfeld, Coach Randy Wittman and their respective staffs are under contract. Giving Wall the security that he desires places the burden on him to produce, especially after the organization has finally surrounded Wall with the competent big men (Nene, Emeka Okafor), capable shooters (Beal, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza) and another talented, do-it-all perimeter player (Porter).
“I am both proud and humbled by the belief that the Wizards organization, the fans and my teammates have shown in me since I arrived here three years ago,” Wall said in the statement. “I can promise all of them that I will repay that belief by representing the city of Washington and doing everything I can to get this team back where it belongs.”