- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2020

In 2012, nothing in the sports world triggered an avalanche of criticism and debate quite like Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith called the Nationals‘ decision to not let Strasburg pitch in the postseason “disgraceful.” Rudy Giuliani wasn’t a fan of the move, nor was Donald Trump. “When Strasburg leaves @Nationals for another team for more money, will Washington still like the decision to shut him down for his good?” Trump tweeted.

That was then.

Eight years later, the shutdown of a major D.C. sports star barely registers on the radar.

With the NBA set to return later this summer from the coronavirus shutdown, Wizards guard John Wall almost certainly won’t be rejoining his teammates on the court — despite the guard declaring himself “110% healthy” and Washington suddenly having a better chance at making the playoffs. Wall, though, has told reporters he won’t return until next year.

As the Nationals did with Strasburg, the Wizards are taking the long-term approach with Wall. With Wall coming off a torn Achilles, Washington doesn’t want to rush Wall back and risk him getting hurt again. The Nationals, by comparison, didn’t want to ride Strasburg further than the 160 innings limit they determined for the young phenom coming off reconstructive elbow surgery — even if it meant costing them wins in the short term.

Wall has embraced the take-it-slow strategy.

“It’s no rush,” Wall told The Athletic’s “Hoop Adjacent” podcast last week. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. So I don’t have to force myself back. One thing I pride myself on this time is I said, ‘Don’t come back unless you’re all the way healthy.’ ‘Cause me, in the past, I would come back and play through things, and make other things worse. That’s one thing I’ve figured out.”

Despite Wall saying last month he was “110%” healthy, the Wizards point guard would still need to get into basketball shape. When the season halted in March, Wall was scrimmaging against the Wizards’ G-League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go as a way to work through rust. But those practices were in a controlled environment on limited minutes. Wall wants to be able to handle a full workload when he returns to the NBA.

The circumstances between Wall and Strasburg aren’t identical, of course.

When the Nationals ended Strasburg’s season, fans were upset because the Nationals were leading their division and many felt they had a realistic chance of winning the World Series. “Who knows if we’ll ever get this chance again?” a fan told The New York Times in 2012.

The Wizards? There’s a reason oddsmakers peg them at 1,000-1 to win the NBA’s title. They’re 24-40 and even if they were to sneak in as the eighth seed, they’d have to face reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks — a juggernaut whose 11.29 point-differential per game ranks as the fifth-best in NBA history, according to the advanced analytics website Stat Muse. Realistically, what would Wall’s return really do? Make Washington’s odds 999-1?

Washington can play meaningful games when the NBA relaunches, but they still face a difficult path to the playoffs. Based on the league’s plan, Washington would have to be four games back of the eighth seed with eight regular-season games left to play. The Wizards currently face a 5½ game deficit, which means to force a play-in game they would have to win at least two games more than the Brooklyn Nets (30-34) or the Orlando Magic (30-35).

“To me, unless there’s a really fantastic, obvious reason to do something, I don’t wanna see any setbacks (for Wall),” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said in February.

Wall isn’t the only injured superstar being cautious. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, who tore his Achilles last year, told ESPN that his season is over. Nets point guard Kyrie Irving is also not expected to return from his season-ending shoulder surgery in early March.

So when Wall finally steps on the court again, it could very well be two years from his last NBA game. Wall, who turns 30 in September, had season-ending heel surgery in December 2018 and tore his Achilles weeks later. The NBA, meanwhile, is reportedly targeting a December start for the 2020-21 season.

As for Strasburg, the 31-year-old became the first pitcher to go 5-0 in the postseason as he was named the World Series MVP. The Nationals, of course, got their World Series championship even with shutting Strasburg down in 2012.

When Strasburg re-signed with the Nationals in December, Strasburg’s agent Scott Boras said the shutdown helped build “trust” between the two sides.

Stephen Strasburg has rewarded the Nationals with a championship … because of the position that this organization took to take the medical advice and protect the player long term, even though the immediate effect caused a great deal of angst among the club and the fans,” Boras said.

The Wizards can only hope Wall provides a similar payoff.

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