Who's Gonna Take Wall's Weight?
Two weeks ago, John Wall and the Wizards jointly announced that the third-year point guard would miss around eight weeks with a stress injury to his left patella. The resulting “sky is falling” sentiment divided into two groups. There was the “Curse of Lez Boulez” camp who fully expect the Wizards to start the season with a 9-20 record, followed by season-ending injuries, bad trades and a missed playoff berth, because that’s basically been the norm the past 30 or so years (the Eddie Jordan years and 1997′s ‘we-beat-the-Chicago-Bulls-in-the-first-round’ year being the only exception). The other group of disappointed people are still feeling the effects of the Gilbert Arenas injury (those effects range from contract extensions while hurt, to the criticisms of the Wizards’ training staff, to the eventual blowing up of that playoff roster) which was the catalyst for a slide from playoff relevance to lottery dependence.
Fortunately for Ted Leonsis and Randy Wittman, this current Wizards roster is neither burdened nor bogged down by the franchise’s previous chapters/history. With Wall’s injury, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are the longest tenured Wizards on the roster (Cartier Martin played for the Wizards during the 2009-10 season, but has not been on the team consistently). The Wizards have players like Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, who just arrived to the team via trade over the summer, and Martell Webster, who witnessed career-threatening injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy while in Portland. Then there are players like Bradley Beal, Jordan Crawford and Shelvin Mack, who will have the opportunity to shine in Wall’s absence and aim to enhance the Wizards’ offense upon Wall’s eventual return. And finally there’s Nene, who is currently battling plantar faciities, but, according to Nene himself and Ernie Grunfeld, will be ready on opening night against the Cavaliers. That’s important, as Nene led a mini-Wizards resurgence toward the end of last season. This Wizards roster can actually claim the “New Beginnings” mantra without drawing the cynical ire of bloggers and writers alike.
Wall’s injury and extended absence come at a crucial time in the development of this young Wizards franchise. The Wizards finished the season on a six-game winning streak, which was part of the reason Coach Randy Wittman was brought back for a full season. Ted Leonsis is on record as saying the playoffs should be on the radar, and that the lottery is not acceptable. (Leonsis recently tempered those expectations by saying it would be “unacceptable” to finish the season with one of the four worst records in the NBA.) And with maturity-challenged players like Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee no longer around to serve as go-to scapegoats, this was supposed to be the year the Wizards took the proverbial next step—a step that was predicated upon a full, healthy season of John Wall.
If the young players like Beal and Crawford fail to step up; if veteran players like Nene, Ariza and Okafor fail to lead; and if second-year players like Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely fail to improve, the grandiose hopes and plans of this team will disappear, and the lottery could very well be the Wizards’ destiny yet again. Not to mention, there could be more ugly losses like the Wizards’ first preseason loss against the Charlotte Bobcats. (As Kyle Weidie points out, there were plenty of injured Wizards unable to play, but plenty of disturbing trends, too.)
So what do the Wizards have to say about Wall’s absence, and what happens next?
Bradley Beal, who figured to team with Wall to form a strong, young backcourt, is seemingly not at all flummoxed about a Wall-less beginning to his NBA career:
Steven Gray who is a long shot to make this roster, but an injury to Wall—as unfortunate as it may be—gives him a glimmer of hope:
If this were last season, Shelvin Mack would be given serious consideration for the starting point guard position in Wall’s absence. Going into this year, not only was A.J. Price signed to compete for the the backup job, but Jannero Pargo was brought off the street to compete for time as well. Mack welcomes the competition:
Emeka Okafor was brought in to bring veteran leadership to compliment what Wall figured to bring on the court in his third year. But with Wall’s injury, Okafor’s leadership role may be expanded, and he got a little tongue-tied while trying to explain it:
Nene, who was also brought in for his post-play and leadership, got a taste of what he and Wall could do last season during the six-game winning streak. With Wall hurt, he figures to be the go-to guy (if he can overcome his own injuries), but Nene has his own expectations of his other teammates:
And finally there’s Trevor Booker, who is an elder stateman of this team. He’s been the victim of two freak injuries the past couple of seasons himself but is looking to return and have a breakthrough season:
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