- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2017

John Wall strode to the stage among the three men he’s interlocked with more than ever. Wall was wearing a plaid three-piece suit. Wizards coach Scott Brooks had his boyish hair gelled. Owner Ted Leonsis‘ goatee was manicured. Team president Ernie Grunfeld passed by with the shoulders of a former player.

They sat at a folding table on the Wizards’ practice court Friday. The foursome was assembled to talk about Wall’s new “supermax” contract extension, the one that will extract $207 million from Leonsis‘ pockets when piled on top of Wall’s existing deal.

Washington gladly paid Wall. It met his trade kicker demands in the contract. It took care of other pieces on top of the hefty sum. It knew that without Wall, the last four years and future would be undone. Shooting guard Bradley Beal signed a long-term contract in the summer of 2016. Brooks did, too. Otto Porter signed one in July. They would all be marooned without Wall.

The premise the Wizards are working under does not work without Wall. Leonsis touts drafting, developing and signing players. Washington is the lone team in the suddenly transient NBA with three homegrown players signed to maximum contracts. It has continuity in a fluctuating league. Wall’s abilities make that a viable solution for progress.

Last season’s 49 wins were the most for Washington since 1979. Yet, the Wizards still have not been to the conference finals since that disco-drenched time, still have not figured out how to fill an arena on a nightly basis. They are the laggard of the District sports landscape, known more for a failing long-term history than making the playoffs three of the last four seasons. The responsibility to change that rests with Brooks, Wall, Beal and Porter. Their contracts and talents leave no other options.

“We want to have consistent, sustainable success,” Brooks said. “We don’t want to ride the roller-coaster of an NBA team going up and down, up and down, each and every other year.”

Tumult across the Eastern Conference makes the Wizards an outlier. The core of their team is locked in until Beal can become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in 2021. They are in the large lot which is hoping age influences LeBron James’ legs at some point. Washington, more so than any other upper-tier team in the conference, has established its long-term foundation. Beal, Porter and Wall alone will cost Leonsis more than $400 million, for better or worse.

“That’s a pretty big investment,” Leonsis said.

Wall said Friday that his commitment as the core’s anchor was not in doubt. He needed to wait for his representation to work out the contract details with the Wizards before signing. He heard back from his agent July 20 that Washington had agreed to everything. That gave Wall a day to decide. July 21 he agreed. It was a Friday.

“I just surprised people with a good Friday night,” Wall said. “I know some people probably went out and had some drinks after.”

Those were cocktails of relief and celebration. They eased any tension Wall had created by not signing the contract as soon as it was offered. He contended Friday there was no malice in the pause.

“We knew the money was going to be there,” Wall said.

He did not want to go anywhere else. The extension was Wall’s second with the organization since being selected No. 1 overall by Washington in 2010. He won the NBA’s Community Assist Award two years ago for his community work around the District. Four times he has been named an All-Star. Last season, he was named third-team All-NBA, an achievement that unlocked Washington’s ability to offer him such a rich extension. Friday, Wall slid in a mention of how his father, John Wall Sr., who died in 1999, was born and raised in the District.

“There’s no point in testing free agency if I know where I want to be,” Wall said.

The fatigue he felt in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics is still on his mind. He admitted Friday that he was tired before the fourth quarter began. Wall missed his final 11 shots of the game. He took just four shots in the fourth quarter. None were in the lane. He played 44 minutes that night. Washington lost, 115-105, again leaving it short of the conference finals.

“In the third quarter, with like three minutes to go, I asked coach for a sub,” Wall said. “He was like, ‘No, you’ve got to play.’ I was like, ‘Oh, [expletive]. It’s going to be a long night for me.’”

Wall has spent the summer receiving treatment in the morning, then lifting weights, playing basketball, and going on a bike ride, the latter of which often becomes a social media post, afterward. The work is his path to being in better shape. This, he said, is his first summer since entering the league that he can spend working out instead of rehabilitating a body part. He hopes it carries him through a future Game 7.

When he was done Friday, Wall went from tailored suit to track suit, then headed for his car. The back entrance to the Wizards’ lockerroom is steps from the practice court that housed his press conference. Inside, there are four large banners signifying the organization’s lone group of retired jerseys: Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson and Elvin Hayes. An hour earlier, Wall mentioned the chance of having his jersey among them. His new contract keeps him in Washington until he is 32 years old. He will have his shot.


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