This year at the trade deadline, management finally cut the fat, and shipped out talented, but disgruntled and immature players like Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Andray Blatche, another resident troublemaker, was banished for being out of shape. Washington traded for Nene, a 29-year-old center fresh off signing a five-year deal for more than $67 million in Denver last summer, to shore up the inside game and give Wall a legitimate player he could count on.
From there, the Wizards didn’t exactly explode. They won just five of their next 19 games, but finished the year by winning six in a row as Wall had double-figure assists in the last five.
“We want to be a playoff team,” Wall says. “We know we can be a playoff team. We showed we can beat some of the best teams in the league, and we can compete with all of the teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s just that we have to do the right things. I think everybody knows what our team is expected to be next year and what guys we’re gonna have back. We just have to put in the work this summer and come back even better.”
Yes, the work. Talent isn’t weaned in the summer. Production is. Wall has always carried a somewhat awkward reputation. Amongst fans, there’s a long-imbedded belief that if a player can’t shoot, they’re simply lazy and lack a solid work ethic. As an athlete, you’re supposed to will it to happen as if everything in life is just that easy. Tony Parker shot 23 percent from beyond the arc this season. He’s a three-time NBA champion. Derrick Rose made just 32 triples combined during his first two years. No one ever questions their work ethic. Even the greatest competitor of them all, Michael Jordan, was an up-and-down outside threat, shooting below 33 percent from deep for his career.
The most partying Wall ever did was for his 21st birthday, when he held parties along the East Coast, from New York to Miami. A few days later, he met us in Los Angeles for the cover shoot of Dime #66 and was going so hard in the gym that by the end of the shoot, he was in a full sweat. His life is ball, and even though it’s been overlooked, there is already some evidence his game is changing.