John Wall’s DC exit was a painful necessity

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I’ve always had this unique, albeit slightly irrational love for Thursdays; I know the weekend is right around the corner, so much so that I can trick my mind to simmer in that weekend-feeling bliss. Friday Jr., as my friends and I would call it.

So on the day I wrote this article, Thursday, December 3, I went about my daily routine. As I was having breakfast while listening to an NBA-related podcast, I found myself incrementally happier than I would have been on most other days of the week. I usually head back to my room at about 9AM to get my day started, but at 8:56AM on this particular Thursday, I got a message notification from a group chat.

Thursday ruined? More like Thursday obliterated into a billion pieces. 

Because how I feel about Thursdays is the same way I feel about the Washington Wizards, except that I don’t think about Thursdays every two hours. And any loss of that Thursday near-weekend feeling would have never left me teary-eyed at the breakfast table.

John Wall was the most important Washington Wizards player since their moniker changed from Bullets to Wizards. To many of you Lakers and Warriors fans, that may sound absurd or farcical; Wall never made it past the second round, never won 50 games in a season, and his most iconic D.C. moment was a mere prelude to a fatigue-induced Game 7 collapse.

But the years that preceded the Wizards 2010 No. 1 Overall Selection of Wall — and even in the few years after — the Wizards were a mockery that Wall’s talents did not deserve. The decade before Wall’s arrival consisted of a forgettable Michael Jordan farewell tour, a Gilbert Arenas-era marred by a gun controversy, and a JaVale McGee-Andray Blatche-Nick Young core.

Once Wall arrived, the Wizards were never able to put a championship-caliber roster around him. They missed on crucial draft picks (see: Jan Vesely, 2011) unless they were in the top three (Bradley Beal, Otto Porter), and resorted to band-aid, future-crippling solutions like trading a first-rounder for a Bojan Bogdonavic rental in 2017. But even as management floundered around him, Wall was busy adding five all-star appearances, an All-NBA Third Team selection, and an All-Defensive Second Team selection to his resume.

Off the court, Wall established himself as one of the most beloved members of the D.C. community. In 2013, when Wall signed his first contract extension with the Wizards, he immediately donated $1M to D.C. charities. In 2016, he won the NBA’s community assist award. And last week, just days after trade rumors about him surfaced, Wall and his foundation were giving out thanksgiving meals in the D.C. community.

Even as the player empowerment area boomed and pushed stars to pursue trade demands, Wall stayed loyal to the Wizards. He only explicitly asked out once the trade rumors surfaced and it was made clear to him that he was no longer wanted by the franchise. It’s a shame that it was Wall’s loyalty that led us to this unfortunate breaking point: After the aforementioned Game 7 letdown to the Celtics in 2017, he signed a 4-year, $170 million-dollar contract that would keep him on the books until 2023.

From a purely technical standpoint, it is, frankly, the worst contract in the league. But at the time, Wizards fans (including myself) rejoiced at giving their point guard the supermax. The Wizards were surging, Wall was peaking, and his sidekick in Beal seemed to have a higher level to reach. Add to that the fact the Wizards were not a free agent destination, and this contract seemed to assure the team would be relevant for the foreseeable future.

Since then, Wall has played just 73 games, and 0 since the extension kicked in. Playing through multiple injuries had finally caught up with Wall. Then while he was on the shelf, he tore his achilles. In those two years, the Wizards struggled, but also saw Beal upend Wall as the Wizards’ star of choice.

But despite the red flags on Wall, trading him was unimaginable; His contract was considered untradeable. Keeping Wall around and gambling on his return to normalcy was the only option the Wizards had, and a return of the star guard would at least have fans hopeful and engaged. He was perceived as a franchise savior whose image in the community wasn’t far off from that of DeMar DeRozan’s in Toronto. 

Wall’s Wizards career just so happened to end the same way DeRozan’s did with the Raptors: A trade for a theoretically more talented star.

Taking all emotions aside, I believe this trade should be at worst a net neutral for Washington. The Wizards’ two main objectives are clearly to make the Playoffs and keep Beal long term. Westbrook should nearly assure the former, and the odds on the latter may have improved slightly. Even if Westbrook struggles in the Playoffs as per usual, the opportunity loss versus the Wizards with Wall instead wouldn’t be massive, unlike where it was for Houston in comparing Westbrook with Chris Paul last year. Plus, Westbrook and Wall’s contracts are of the same price and length, and the former is at least a more known quantity. In any other Wall trade scenario, the Wizards would have likely needed to give up more assets than the protected 2023 pick they shipped to Houston.

Trading the loyal star worked out for the Toronto Raptors in 2018 with DeRozan. It ironically even worked out for the Oklahoma City Thunder last offseason with Russell Westbrook. The Wizards could continue that trend this year.

But while this trade may have been a necessary one for the Wizards — it may have likely been the only trade on the table for Wall — it doesn’t relieve the pain in the moment for Wizards fans, like myself.

I hope to have happy Thursdays back again. But for now, Thursdays will be the day John Wall was traded by the Wizards.