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‘A focal point for years to come’
The Wizards won the right to select Wall when they won the NBA Draft Lottery held on May 18. He’s expected to team up as a member of the starting backcourt with Gilbert Arenas, who missed much of last season due to a suspension for gun possession charges, and most of the two previous seasons with a succession of knee injuries.
The pairing of Wall and Arenas will be an interesting change for Arenas, who is well known as a shoot-first point guard who likes to have the ball in his hands. That will no longer be the case with Wall at the point.
Wall, the first player from Kentucky to be drafted number one, called his selection “a big honor”.
“I’m just going to come in and work hard every day to try and get better. I’m going to go in and try to help as much as I can. I’m going to have my ups and downs, but [head coach] Flip [Saunders] said he believes in me,” Wall said.
Wall’s arrival in Washington comes at a perfect time. The Wizards have a new majority owner in Ted Leonsis, who has already changed the organization’s name from Washington Sports and Entertainment to Monumental Sports and Entertainment.
He’s about as fan-friendly and savvy as an owner can be, and is expected to bring an entirely new atmosphere to the Verizon Center experience. If his ownership of the Washington Capitals is any indication, the game night experience should improve significantly.
Leonsis pays attention to every detail of what the fans want when they come to see his teams’ play. Although he did not confirm it, the expectation is that Wizards uniforms will change back to the old Bullets-style of red, white and blue, most likely in the 2011-12 season.
He will also make other changes, both subtle and eye opening. The team’s long time public address announcer, who held the job for 12 seasons, has already been told his contract will not be renewed.
But ultimately, the real change fans want to see is a winning product on the court.
During his ownership announcement press conference several weeks ago, Leonsis acknowledged that he felt the same pain as the fans feel when the team is not winning, and pledged to commit his expertise and resources into making the Wizards a playoff contender once again.
The Wizards also made a trade on draft night, acquiring guard Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick from the Chicago Bulls, along with three million in cash. The Bulls chose forward Kevin Seraphin with the pick in a trade which will become official on July 8.
Wall is the first piece of the Wizards new-look team and knowing Leonsis, it will only be a matter of days, if not hours, before the Verizon Center is packed with John Wall merchandise, and his likeness graces the hallways of the building.
“He’s an outstanding talent. He’s got a competitive nature and he will be the focal point of this organization for many years to come,” said Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld.
The second piece is expected to be Arenas, although trade rumors are circulating. As for the rest of the squad, not one member of the team (other than the newly drafted Wall) is safe from being trade bait.
It is unlikely that the team will be a player in the free agent market; the Wizards are too far away from being a contender to attract the likes of the big free agent class that includes LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitski, Amare Stoudamire, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Dwyane Wade.
So now, the work begins as a city and a franchise welcomes 19-year old kid and hands him the reigns of a team that is broken, and tells him he is the lynchpin of helping to get it fixed.
The young but seemingly mature Wall appears ready for the challenge.
“He has special physical tools that make him an outstanding player. He can come in here and be a dynamic player. He is a natural point guard, a pass first point guard,” Grunfeld said.
“We will be patient with him because they will be a learning curve from college to the pros, but we believe he has the ability to be a special player.”