Many throughout the Washington D.C. metropolitan area are legitimately saddened this Wednesday night. The official news coming after a few days of firefighting by Tommy Sheppard and Scott Brooks. John Wall has been traded to Houston with a lottery-protected 2023 first-round draft pick for Russell Westbrook. Thus marks the end of a decade long era that should be thoroughly celebrated, but remembered for its bitter end.
From 1982-2013, the Wizards only made the Eastern Conference Semifinals one time. The 2004-05 team of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes, Antawn Jamison, and company takes that honor. Wall led the team that shocked the Bulls in 2014, swept the Raptors in 2015, and took the Celtics to the brink in 2017. If it was not for five non-displaced fractures in Wall’s wrist that he then tried to play through, Washington would have beat the Atlanta Hawks and gone toe-to-toe with LeBron James for the right to the NBA Finals.
You can quantify what Wall did on the court in D.C., 10,879 points, 5,282 assists, 573 games. That alone should be good enough to retire #2 in the Capital One Arena rafters. You can’t quantify what Wall did off the court in the nation’s capital. Wall provided Back to School supplies, Thanksgiving meals, Christmas presents for hundreds of D.C. residents every year. At the beginning of the pandemic, he raised over half a million dollars to pay the rent of those most impacted by COVID-19 in Southeast, D.C. Wall directly touched the lives of thousands in his self-adopted second home.
Over the course of the last 10 years, frustration has been accumulating over time for both Wall and the Wizards organization. Wall’s prime years of basketball were wasted with sub-par pieces around him due to poor drafting and free agency miscues. If you ask the Kentucky product, his prime was shortened significantly by injury misdiagnosis. For the organization, the most recent offseason transgressions may have been Wall’s last straw, enough to entertain his name in trade discussions.
When the five-time All-Star point guard heard his name linked to trade discussions with some legitimacy, he lost his sense of loyalty to the organization that he has given his body to, literally. Wall wanted out and he wanted out because he knew that his relationship with the owner Ted Leonsis and newly anointed franchise player Bradley Beal had never taken a turn of no return. After two hard years of rehab to make himself pain-free for the first time in his NBA career (and there is no debating Wall looks fantastic), the organization that drafted Wall no longer wanted to run it back after years of doing just that. For whatever combination of too many strikes and/or not believing a Wall/Beal team can compete and keep Beal in Washington, Tommy Sheppard had no choice but to trade one of the most beloved athletes in D.C. sports history.
Purely from a basketball perspective, Sheppard was able to get a comparable talent and only give up a lottery-protected first-round pick three years from now when he may or may not still be employed by the Wizards. All of Washington’s chips are at the center of the table hoping that Westbrook and Beal gel quickly with the season starting in just three weeks. If 2020-21 does not live up to expectations, Scott Brooks will be gone and Bradley Beal could be eyeing his departure in 2022 or just demand a trade before then. There is no denying Westbrook is a talented player, he’s a nine-time All-Star and 2017 MVP, but he is 32 and not a significant upgrade over Wall, in my opinion. A potentially lateral move costing us a look at the rebooted Wall/Beal backcourt, another ‘what if’ in Washington Wizards history.
You can debate the objective merits of the trade, but sports are rarely objective for fans. You root for your team, you root for your favorite player and John Wall was Washington D.C.’s favorite basketball player from Day 1 on June 24, 2010. He brought the Wizards back to relevance, but the Wizards never gave him the tools to go beyond that. The DMV will forever wish that Wall delivered a championship and that he retire a Wizards, but that would have been too perfect. Instead, we got unfulfilled hope, a decade’s worth of resentment, and an ugly divorce.