John Wall, looking very un-stressed earlier in September (Getty Images)
A "bump in the road," as Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld called it, could have a significant influence on the shape of Washington's season. Yes, Wizards point guard John Wall will only likely miss a month's worth of regular-season games as he recovers from a patella injury in his left knee; but for a Wizards team attempting to make the playoffs by the hair of its chinny-chinny-chin, every game counts. And if the diagnosis and recovery time is correct, and Wall is out for eight weeks, then the third-year pro could miss 13 contests before taking to the court on Nov. 30.
The Wizards are calling it a "stress reaction" injury, which is probably a quick way of telling Wall's fans that his left knee has been overused of late. Wall is notorious for his love of offseason play, but "offseason play" and "offseason workouts" are two different things. And it's very possible that the former No. 1 pick's endless hours of summer time play may have worn out that knee in ways that a structured and strength-enhancing team-supervised workout wouldn't have.
Whatever the influence, for a 22-year-old guard to have to sit for two months (no surgery is required, rest is the solution according to Washington) because of the same worn-out tendon that causes middle-aged YMCA hacks to strap a frozen bag of peas to their knee is worrying. Good thing Washington cut things off now.
Even if it might cost them their first trip to the postseason in five years.
Washington made its move over the offseason, riding on the coattails of a retained Ernie Grunfeld to strike out for veteran talent like Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. The team took on these players at a significant cost, not unlike the move that netted the team versatile big man Nene last March, but it also ensured that the team would be capped-out, and looking to cash in on a potential playoff trip now instead of slowly building up with players closer to Wall's age.
Because of that postseason potential, criticizing these moves too harshly would be unfair. What is fair is to wonder whether or not the deals for respected veterans like Nene, Okafor and Ariza were an overreaction to the miserable era that saw the Wizards banking heavily on players like Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee exuding some semblance of professionalism around the still-developing Wall. The jump between relying on unorthodox talents (with inconsistent work ethics) like Blatche and McGee and going all-in with sturdy if unspectacular grown men like Okafor and Ariza was a massive one; and you have to wonder if the Wiz couldn't have found a middle ground in there somewhere between those two coasts.
That's the worry. The silver lining hopes to be established sometime next spring.
This is likely a lesson for Wall, a player that clearly worships the game but may have been pushing it too hard on wheels that just weren't ready for a year-round on-court commitment to "first one to 21 wins, win by two." For someone his age to have a fatigue-related patella injury means that his foundation needs some support, the training room has to become his friend, and he may have to take it easy with those impromptu court battles.
To shut it down now, with a month left to go before the season starts, could pay off in the end. Both in terms of long-term growth for their franchise player, and the fact that the Wizards will hopefully have 69 games with a healthy John Wall to work with while they attempt to make the postseason. Wall's replacements — combo guard Shelvin Mack and former Pacer A.J. Price — are capable but not starting-caliber. There is a chance, especially as Nene recovers from ongoing issues with his feet, that the Wizards will stumble out of the gate as one of the NBA's worst offensive teams. And that they could start the season on a 3-10 swoon, in a conference that will probably take 44 wins to reach the playoffs.
Such are the risks when you go all in. Credit the Washington Wizards for being mindful and forward-thinking in their approach to Wall's knee issues. But flame away if the team is on the outside of the playoff bracket come late April, with a playoff-sized payroll on the books.
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