The announcement came earlier than expected, but John Wall will be a Washington Wizard for a long, long time to come.
The former No. 1 draft pick has struggled with injuries, missing about a quarter of the games the Wizards have played since he was drafted thus far, but his impact on the team was never clearer than toward the end of last season when the team was .500 for the final 50 games of the season with him in the lineup.
Wall put pen to paper on a five year deal worth around $80 million, making him Washington’s center piece through the 2018/19 season. With the right pieces around him, Wall has the potential to be the type of player that can transform the Wizards from a perpetual loser to a playoff team, a journey that begins this year. He’ll have the No.3 overall pick in this year’s draft, Otto Porter, to work with as well as a healthy Nene and Bradley Beal in the starting lineup.
What this contract extension actually does for the Wizards is allow them to establish a solid foundation on which to rebuild from the last six years of turmoil since the Gilbert Arenas gun fiasco and subsequent failures to sign a player of any consequence. Washington is back in the mix for a playoff spot next season as long as Wall can stay healthy and every one else does their parts, but his new contract means they could be a playoff contender for years to come.
The most important part of all this for the Wizards is maintaining what they have beyond this season. Wall was set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2013/14 campaign and had a contract not been agreed before then, it’s doubtful that the young guard would have opted to re-sign with Washington rather than test the market. Now, the Wizards ensure their future will be built around Wall, something they were able to achieve thanks in part to the young core that comprises this team.
After next season, the team will clear around $22 million from its books thanks to the departures of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and have options on disappointments Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton that will allow them to free themselves from another $7 million. The Wizards could possibly chase a big name free agent to bolster their front court, be it last year’s league leading shot blocker Larry Sanders or a veteran presence to partner Nene like Pau Gasol.
Whatever the Wizards do, their misfortune and poor dealings are finally coming to an end, it is now up to general manager Ernie Grunfeld to prove competent enough to complete the puzzle. What kind of front court player he sets Wall up with next summer could be the most important aspect of the Wizards competing for more than a playoff spot someday, but at least for today, fans in the capitol can raise their expectations and their hopes for a team that has been marginalized over the last five years.