At an appearance at Simon Elementary School in Southeast D.C. Friday morning, Wizards point guard John Wall made it clear how important the upcoming season was going to be for him.
"The third year is your key year," Wall said. "It makes or breaks you, what you're going to be in this league. It's a big year for me."
Year three of Wall's career is off to a disappointing start. He'll miss at least the next eight weeks with a stress injury to his left patella, the team announced Friday. Wall will not require surgery and is already undergoing rehabilitation, which will include swimming, running in the pool and bicycling.
He'll miss all of training camp, the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season.
"This is kind of disappointing for me and my teammates, but it's a minor setback," Wall said. "I'm going to go in the training room, try to get stronger take my time and not force myself to come back sooner."
Wall began experiencing some discomfort in his knee last month but kept up his normal workout routines after an initial MRI revealed no damage. But as the discomfort continued, a decision was made for Wall to get a second MRI. He was examined Thursday in New York by orthopedic specialist Dr. David Altchek, and the injury was discovered.
"We're disappointed for John," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. "He has so much pride and worked so hard this offseason. But this is a little bump in the road for him. He's going to rehab, he's going to come back and help us for the majority of the season."
Wall's absence will also slow the development of rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal, but just in the short term, Grunfeld said.
"It will take a little bit longer because [Wall and Beal] haven't played together," Grunfeld said. "But [Wall] won't be out the whole year. When he comes back, he'll get right back into the flow."
Grunfeld said he's open to the possibility of signing another player after seeing who is available, but expressed his confidence in the current Wizards roster.
The Wizards will begin training camp on Tuesday at George Mason University. The regular season begins Oct. 30 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In addition to losing Wall, starting center Nene may also miss some, if not all, of training camp. Nene has been hampered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and his status for the preseason and the start of the regular season is uncertain.
It's not the way Wall hoped to begin this year after working harder than ever this summer. He worked with a new trainer and weightlifting coach, gaining 10 pounds.
"My first year coming into the league I worked out but didn't really know what it took to work out," Wall said. "My second year I worked out hard but then sometimes I took time off because the lockout was coming so I didn't want to overwork myself. This year I did exactly what I wanted to do to prepare myself for the season."
Wall trained this summer with Rob McClanaghan, who has also worked with Bulls guard Derrick Rose, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. Wall said he wanted to change what he called one of his key problems last season: holding onto the ball too long.
"We worked on staying in balance and keeping my head straight in my follow through," Wall said. He also worked on improving his transition game and learning how to stop on a dime.
Coach Randy Wittman is taking an optimistic approach to Wall's injury and said it changes nothing in terms of his long-term expectation for the team to make the playoffs.
"It's not the best-case scenario, but we have to look at this in a positive way," Wittman said. "Obviously we're going to miss John, but this gives us a chance of becoming a better team when you look down the road, if we can come out and establish ourselves early and have different guys step up.
"My expectations of what John can do this year in his third year doesn't change — it's just going to start a little bit later," he said.
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