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  • On its face, John Wall’s need for surgery is a blow to the Wizards’ season. But for optimists, there could be some long-term benefits.
By Rohan Nadkarni
December 29, 2018

Let’s give the Wizards credit for this: They’ve been every bit as dysfunctional as most NBA Twitterers predicted before the season. From the Dwight Howard butt injury to the practice squabbles, Washington’s season has been one long joke for non-fans. The fun times took a sobering hit Saturday, however, when multiple reports indicated John Wall will need season-ending surgery on his heel. Maybe I’m feeling charitable because of the New Year spirit, but I think the Wall surgery could potentially have some positive consequences for the Wizards.

1. Washington could use a tank.

Remember how the Grizzlies had a bleak outlook, then were awful for a season and landed Jaren Jackson Jr.? The Wizards, already a lottery team, could benefit from a full-on tank. Washington is four-and-a-half games behind the eighth seed, but are only five games from the worst record in the league. The Wizards, famously capped out because of big contracts owed to Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, are in desperate need for cheap labor that actually contributes. If Washington can somehow turn this Wall absence into a better draft pick in a loaded class, that’s not the worst thing in the world! After all, the Wizards at their peak haven’t shown anything more than a second-round ceiling. A soft reset could end up being beneficial, especially as the payroll continues to rise.

2. A tank could force some reality.

Speaking of a tank job, ideally that would go hand-in-hand with a little bit more of a reshuffling. It would be unfair to Beal—the team’s best player—but Washington should really be stripping down and trying to create flexibility. The Wizards have attractive assets. Trevor Ariza, Markieff Morris and Porter each have varying degrees of usefulness for contenders, and maybe Washington can find a way to clear cap space (by moving Porter) or pick up some more draft picks. It becomes more justifiable for the Wizards to reconfigure the team if they immediately start to go backward without Wall; the organization seemed eager to attempt competing as long as Wall was on the court, no matter how poorly that was going. Wall’s absence could finally sober up the front office, that will now be dealing with an under-.500 team that’s also missing its highest-paid player. Those are the ideal conditions for a sneak tank. (Provided the team doesn’t start ripping off wins without its starting point guard.)

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3. Maybe Wall comes back healthier.

This is the biggest stretch, but maybe this surgery does some good for John Wall’s career? He’ll almost certainly never live up to his supermax extension, which starts next season at $37.8 million. It can be hard to remember at times, but Wall was once one of the NBA’s most electrifying talents. Expecting the speed to come back or for him to morph into a superstar is a little too pie-in-the-sky. But maybe—just maybe!—the surgery will alleviate some long-term issue and allow Wall to more closely resemble the kind of player who he used to be. That’s what the Wizards and their fans can hope for. There’s certainly no sense in trotting Wall out now for what’s going to be a lottery campaign. Getting him proper treatment and rehab could bring back a motivated star next season—though Wall’s previous injury history puts an obvious chill on those hopes.

The Wall injury obviously casts yet another pall on Washington’s hilarious-for-us, depressing-for-them season, and slogging through the rest of this year won’t be easy for the Wizards or their fans. If you’re feeling particularly cheery, however, you can try to draw some positives for the organization. (At the very least, I tried my best.)

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