The smile is somewhat crooked, so at times, John Wall looks like he’s scowling. But the Wizards‘ 20-year-old point guard, team captain and future of the franchise looks forward to the days when he can smile a little more, and he doesn’t think those days are as far away as fans might think.
“It was tough being 20 years old, coming in here for my first year and having a lot of older guys that have played three or four years and me trying to tell them what to do,” Wall said. “It’s kind of tough because I don’t want to come in here like I’m trying to put my foot down and think I’m better than everybody.”
But he is.
Fortunately, Wall seems to have the leadership skills to go along with his talent, and the Wizards will need both in order to make this franchise a championship contender. Wall credits his mother, Frances Pulley, for his natural leadership abilities.
“I think it came from my mom,” he said. “She worked three jobs and I had to be the man of the house. I had to learn how to speak up and take care of my sisters, so that really helped me out.”
Providing guidance and direction for sisters Cierra Wall and Tonya Pulley had to be a pretty good place to start, because John Wall is now doing the same for an NBA franchise. But Wall understands what’s expected of him; Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has already told him.
“I had the same conversation with John Wall that I did with Alex Ovechkin, which starts with, ‘There’s a reason that we were able to draft you. We’re really bad. But the good news is it’s by design, and you’re going to be one of our building blocks who we’ll be building around,’” Leonsis said.
The owner told his young point guard, “You’re going to have pain. And there’s going to be days when you’re miserable. And that pain needs to drive you because it will get better, because we’ll be bad again.”
But if anyone understands the importance of tearing down to rebuild bigger, better and stronger, it’s Leonsis - he used the same plan to remake the Capitals, who are now one of the NHL’s top teams and a Stanley Cup contender.
“Our mantra is picks and prospects,” Leonsis said. “When you get young players to start and they can become your core, you can create a culture and a style and an environment that they feel comfortable in and they grow up in. Then you can make trades to fill in some of the blanks.”
NBA analyst for ESPN Chris Broussard thinks Leonsis‘ approach is right on the money.
“I think their plan to go young is a good one,” he said. “They’re not stuck in mediocre, they’re just bad. They have good young talent in John Wall. Nick Young has played well since [Gilbert] Arenas was traded. You hope JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche will develop. For a team that’s not in contention, they have a lot of [salary cap] money to spend.”
But Broussard believes the last thing the team needs to do is spend money on free agents just because it can.
“There’s nothing in this free-agent class I’m trying to spend money on,” Broussard said. “That would just take you from bad to mediocre, and then you have less flexibility. If I’m the Wizards, I stay young and save my money to go after someone in the 2012 free-agent class, like a Dwight Howard.
“What the Wizards need to do is to put their franchise in a good light and make this a place where free agents want to sign. If I’m them, I spend the next season trying to turn around perception.