Normally, the Washington Wizards would be preparing for the offseason right now, weighing options on who to select in the upcoming NBA Draft and which free agents they should gun after. Instead, despite standing 5.5 games behind the Orlando Magic for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Wiz are somehow in the postseason hunt.
The NBA has not played a game since Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus on March 11 and it was recently announced that the league plans to restart play on July 31. The proposal is to extend the postseason through October with the last day a game would be played falling on Oct. 12. In a world that hadn’t been tortured by a global pandemic, the 2020 NBA Finals would be happening as we speak. The 2019-20 season is technically going to run an extra four-plus months– and that’s if everything goes according to the current plan.
This mess has resulted in a truncated return to play. The NBA is allowing 22 franchises to isolate themselves down in Orlando’s Walt Disney World in order to crown a champion. Six teams that were on the outside looking in (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington D.C.) will now have a shot at sneaking into the playoff picture. The Wizards are the only team from the East that made the cut, and they’ll have to gain a few games on the Orlando Magic in order to force a play-in tournament. Washington has to finish within four games of the Magic to make this happen. Every team will play eight games before the final seeding is decided.
Back in March, the Wizards didn’t expect to find themselves in this situation. The team’s star player, Bradley Beal, was playing at a level higher than he ever had before but they were still objectively a bad team and that won’t change once they play again in October, if not for one main reason: John Wall isn’t going to make his long-awaited return this season.
“I won’t play at all. I will wait until next season,” Wall said this past week on The Kevin Sheehan Show. “The decision has been already made. No, I’m not [going to play].”
Wall has missed over a year-and-a-half of basketball after an Achilles injury and heel surgery sidelined him indefinitely. The 2020-21 season is tentatively set to tip-off on Dec. 1, although it is widely expected that date will ultimately be pushed back.
Beal is still second in the league in scoring at over 30 points per game and overall the Wizards have a potent offense, but they are widely renowned as the NBA’s worst defensive team. The thought of adding in Wall, the Wizards’ franchise player who hasn’t stepped on the hardwood since Dec. 2018, is tantalizing, but ultimately not the route the franchise wants to take.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, either. Members within the Wizards organization have been adamant for months now that Wall won’t make his return this season. His head coach said the same thing just last month. The Wizards General Manager first denied Wall’s potential return back in February.
Wall, who turns 30 in September, has made it public over recent weeks that he’s feeling “110 percent” and ready to get back on the court, but the timing isn’t favorable and he appears aware of that. The NBA will have taken a four-month hiatus once they eventually get back into action and Wall hasn’t played in over 18 months. Bringing Wall back for what would likely be eight games seems highly unnecessary and risky. Even if the Wiz can finagle its way into the playoffs, a date with the No. 1 overall Milwaukee Bucks isn’t exactly worth losing a lottery pick over.
“Not playing all season and trying to get into a rhythm of practicing, and then the last two months I haven’t been around the guys, I haven’t worked out with the guys, haven’t gotten any chemistry or anything like that, so that’s a big factor,” Wall added.
Wall hasn’t played with this version of Bradley Beal yet, and he’ll have to wait until the 2020-21 season to do so. But if that’s what it cost for a fully prepared and completely healthy John Wall to team up next to him, then I’m all for it.