- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In a season headed nowhere fast, the Washington Wizards‘ star is unlikely to play any time soon. With one-quarter of the campaign in the books, John Wall says his chances of returning are “50-50.”

We’re not there yet, but we’re approaching the juncture where it must be asked: What’s the point of Wall suiting up this season?

The future looked much brighter Friday when Washington released an encouraging statement about Wall’s troublesome left knee. But three days after an orthopedic specialist talked about Wall “ramping up his activity level,” the point guard took the raised expectations and tamped them back down.

“You never know how it’s going to go,” Wall told reporters Monday. “You just hope it heals the right way. You don’t want to miss a whole season, but if it comes to it, you have to. I’m not trying to think that far ahead.”

Then, please, allow me: If Wall isn’t ready about a month from now, midway through the schedule, the Wizards probably should keep him sidelined.

By then, it will be too late for Wall to have a meaningful impact this season. By then, it will be time to start thinking about next season. Also, by then, the Wizards will be that much closer to having the most pingpong balls and the No. 1 pick.

Owner Ted Leonsis said he didn’t want to be in the draft lottery anymore after the Wizards were awarded the No. 3 pick in May. But that was prior to Wall being diagnosed with a stress injury to his left knee cap and prior to center Nene missing training camp and the first nine games. Nene’s minutes remain limited as he plays his way into shape, a fate that awaits Wall if/when he returns.

The Wizards were built around Wall, so it’s no wonder they’ve fallen apart without him.

Some teams, such as Chicago (Derrick Rose), Dallas (Dirk Nowitzki) and Indiana (Danny Granger), have hovered around .500 without their best player. Other teams, such as Minnesota (Ricky Rubio), Philadelphia (Andrew Bynum) and the Los Angeles Lakers (Steve Nash), have reached double figures in wins without key components. But few teams, and definitely not Washington, could withstand the early loss of their two most valuable players.

This was to be a crucial year for Wall. With a better supporting cast, he was supposed to morph into a superstar talent, as opposed to a talented star. But the Wizards had much at stake this season, too. Having picked up Wall’s option for the 2013-14 season, Washington has to convince him that sticking around much longer is in his best interest.

Strides toward respectability, if not a postseason berth, would have gone far. That seemed like a reasonable expectation before the medical reports rolled in. Wall was to demonstrate an improved jumper while taking advantage of Nene’s presence down low with shooters on the wings and runners on the break. That would set the stage for a more competitive scenario as Wall moved a year closer to unrestricted free agency.

Keeping Wall on the shelf would allow ample time for a full recovery, without risking further problems and potentially long-term consequences. In September, team president Ernie Grunfeld called the injury “a bump in the road,” and Wall called it “a minor setback.”

But it’s been more like a gigantic crater, swallowing the season whole.

Dr. David Altchek, who Friday gave Wall a third Synvisc injection to alleviate discomfort, sounded optimistic in the “ramping up” statement. “John’s examination today showed improvement in his stress injury,” Altchek said. “He will continue to be evaluated on an ongoing basis.”

However, Wall sounded more fearful than when he addressed the media for the first time in a month.

He talked about trying to heal “without injuring myself and hurting myself for the rest of my career.” He expressed concern that a premature return could result in “probably breaking my knee cap.” He said he wants to join his teammates and play, “but I just want to make sure I’m fully healthy.”

As if those comments aren’t gloomy enough, Wall dropped something that hadn’t been mentioned before: “I had a little bit of cartilage problem underneath my knee cap,” he said. “That’s kind of rough.”

I’m no doctor, and I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express recently, but it’s not unusual when cartilage + rough = arthroscopic surgery. If that’s going to be the case eventually, bringing Wall back this season only postpones the inevitable and delays his rehabilitation.

We’ll see how Wall responds to his latest injection and more intense workouts. But barring major improvement over the next several weeks, the Wizards don’t have much to gain from putting Wall on the court.