Wizards’ rebuilding begins with Wall

The Washington Wizards had been humiliated and humbled, dismantled piece by painful piece. They tore the face of the franchise from the side of the arena, packed up those images of Gilbert Arenas(notes) and stored them away. The Wizards were desperate for someone to wash away the stain, to cleanse the residue of a locker-room gun scandal and a franchise stripped to its core.

And so suddenly on Tuesday night, the windows swung open, a gust of air blew into the Verizon Center and against all odds, the franchise was delivered a fresh face.

The Wizards figure to make John Wall the center of their rebuilding efforts.
(Getty Images)

Out of nowhere, out of Kentucky, John Wall.

Arenas gets out of the halfway house, and the Wizards got out of jail on Tuesday night. They won the NBA draft lottery, securing the No. 1 pick and the chance to turn their team over to the promise of tomorrow, not the failure of yesterday.

“A great night for our franchise,” Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said in Secaucus, N.J.

For the criminal behavior of Arenas, for a Wizards culture that enabled him too long, this is no suggestion that justice had been done there. Sometimes, this is just how it goes in the NBA. Sometimes, those bouncing lottery balls are cruel. The New Jersey Nets had a worse season, but it’s hard to call it more miserable. Somehow, the Nets get the third pick in a two-man draft. There’s a big, rich new owner for the Nets, but the same frustrating song.

The Wizards won the lottery nine years ago, and Michael Jordan made one of the worst picks in history: a lost, dizzy high school kid, Kwame Brown(notes), out of a small town in Georgia. This time, the choice is easy. Yes, Ohio State’s Evan Turner is a marvelous talent, but Wall makes too much sense for the Wizards. They have nothing to think about. They need a leader, a point guard to give the ball and let go for a decade.

Wall has a chance to be a superstar, and rest assured that the Wizards will work harder than ever to find a trade for Arenas. It won’t be easy with the $80 million left on Arenas’ contract; they’ll have to take back someone else’s issues. Philadelphia’s Elton Brand(notes), perhaps? Nevertheless, the Wizards will give Wall a locker on one side of the room with Arenas completely across the way.

Truth be told, there will be tension between the old and new guard until Arenas is moved. With his suspension for most of the past season and the knee injuries that ravaged the two prior ones, NBA teams will need to see Arenas show some staying power. He’s a tough sell, but he’s still talented and perhaps he’ll prove himself worthy of redemption.

What’s so important for the Wizards next season, though, is this: The return of Arenas becomes marginalized with the arrival of Wall. The kid is strong and sure with flair and substance. He doesn’t make the Wizards a playoff team, but he makes them watchable again. He makes them a magnet for free agents and fans. As much as anything, John Wall makes the Wizards relevant again for all the right reasons.

Out of nowhere, there’s a chance for cleansing with the Wizards, a chance to start over again. After all this franchise’s missteps and misfortune, there came a gust of wind into the Verizon Center, the possibilities of a point guard out of Kentucky. The Wizards get the No. 1 pick and get an easy call with John Wall. Most of all, the franchise gets a fresh face to hang on the side of the building again.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, May 18, 2010