John Wall may have started the season on the shelf, working back from a stress fracture of his patella, but he finished it with a flourish. After suffering through an up-and-down season from mid January to late March, Wall forced the Washington Wizards to put their money where their mouth is.
As promising as Wall's season turned out to be, it also proved that he cannot do it alone, and the Wizards still need a few more pieces to be considered contenders.
Injuries played a substantial part in Washington's inability to win games early and down the stretch. They started the season on a 12-game losing streak, went 4-28 in 2012 and suffered through a 5-32 overall mark without Wall.
Considering the Wizards paid the trio of Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza a combined $33,810,210 last season, they should have been at least 10 wins better without Wall.
In the first month of Wall's return, from his first game back on Jan. 12 to Feb. 11, Washington went 10-7 with Wall averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 assists. It was expected that he'd take some time to get back to full speed following his layoff, but it still looked like Wall was just a great talent still on the cusp of a breakthrough.
That breakthrough happened on March 25, when Wall scored a career-high 47 points and went on an absolute tear over the last 13 games.
Over the final 13 games, Wall averaged 25.6 points and 7.5 assists per game, but the Wizards went just 4-9.
Now that Wall has shown himself capable of being the guy for the Wizards, the rest of the team can't stay healthy or be consistent enough to run with Wall to the playoffs.
The way the Wizards are built now, they aren't going to be much more than a perennial eighth seed, even at their best. Sure, eighth seed is still in the playoffs, but the goal of building a contender isn't to sneak into the playoffs year in and year out, but to improve and excel to be a division winner.
Aside from Wall, Bradley Beal, Kevin Seraphin and Martell Webster, it is difficult to point to anyone on Washington's roster and say, unequivocally, that he is an integral part of the team's future.
Jan Vesely is a bust, regardless of how anyone wants to paint his case as a matter of an international prospect needing time to acclimate to the NBA game, or the health of Wall directly affecting his effectiveness.
A sixth-overall pick should be able to average double-digit points per game on his own, and Vesely is simply not skilled enough to do that. Ernie Grunfeld's infatuation with international prospects has killed the Wizards once again.
Of the 24 players selected after Vesely, 21 have averaged more points per game, including Washington's own Chris Singleton, selected with the 18th overall pick.
But it isn't about just one player holding the Wizards back; it is about half of the roster being dead weight. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment, but the aforementioned trio of Ariza, Okafor and Nene missed 50 games combined.
Sure, those three brought out one of the better defensive efforts in recent Wizards history, but if it doesn't win games, is it really that important?
The team traded Jordan Crawford for two expiring contracts, presumably to open up cap space to make a move for a big piece in the offseason. But with the exception of Dwight Howard, is there anyone set to hit the free-agent market who would be worth the money the team is stockpiling?
The bottom line is that Wall has more than held up his end of the bargain, and just paying him the contract he is worth isn't going to be enough to appease fans, or anyone who has winning a championship in mind.
LeBron James took less money to go to Miami and win a title, and he did it. Wall isn't quite the same caliber player as James, of course, but there is no question that he could just as easily go elsewhere, to a team that can put the best players around him, and be a part of a championship formula.
Unless the Wizards cut ties with Grunfeld and some of his failed projects and acquisitions, Wall is going to become the best player on one of the worst teams in the NBA, a plight no player ever wants to endure.
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