Jan Vesely stood in the hallway outside the Washington Wizards practice court on Friday afternoon. He was holding a John Wall bobblehead, and waiting for Wall to sign it. Wall was momentarily surprised by Vesely's request, until Vesely explained the bobblehead was for someone else. Wall happily obliged.
Wall and his teammates also had to sign dozens of team posters as they walked the halls of Verizon Center for the last time before embarking on their summer vacations.
Vesely will be returning to the Czech Republic. James Singleton is getting married. Shelvin Mack is off to Kentucky, and Chris Singleton to Florida. Wall will be spending some time in Los Angeles, and plans to take in a few playoff games.
"You want to be in the playoffs," Wall said. "Everybody doesn't have the opportunity to come right out of the gates and go to the playoffs their first or second year, it takes time. But by your third or fourth year, you at least got to be in the playoffs."
There was no mistaking the conviction in his voice or the meaning behind his words. Wall expects the Wizards to compete for a playoff spot next year. Another losing season, or a losing mindset, is unacceptable.
"It was tough to see some guys accept losing," Wall said. "I never accept losing in my life. It was tough, but I just tried to get guys on the same page and show them that losing is not something you should want to have."
Wall also made it clear how much better he liked the team that finished the season than the one that started it.
"We finished the season without the same guys we started with, and ended on a better note," Wall said. "I think we'll be good with a full training camp, with everybody getting together and working out in the summer."
Asked about the addition of Nene at the trading deadline, a broad smile came over Wall's face that he didn't try to conceal.
"He's great. If you're not doing something right, he's going to let you know. He's a great professional. He wants to win, and that's what you need on this team."
Wall was long gone by the time Nene came out, the last of the players to complete end-of-season meetings with team president Ernie Grunfeld and coach Randy Wittman, and to clean out their lockers.
Nene had equal praise for his point guard that Wall had for him.
"He's great. He's tremendous. He's got great potential," Nene said. "In the future, he's going to be a star."
Heading into his first offseason with a different team, Nene took a moment to reflect on the Wizards players and the future of the team as he sees it.
"I'm proud of all the players, because we had tough times here," Nene said.
"Crazy things happen, injuries, trades, 10-day contract guys playing well. But we worked hard. We played like a team and finished like a team. With a full season next year, we should be good."
As the team's leaders — the veteran center and the emerging point guard — left Verizon Center on Friday, neither left any doubt about what they expect when they return next season.
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