John Wall agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Washington Wizards late Friday night.
The rest of the details don’t matter. Yes, the former University of Kentucky star has an option and a trade kicker, the kinds of goodies associated with just about any contract for a star. But the only important thing to anyone with even a passing interest in Washington basketball is that for the next five years, Wall — the best player to play for the franchise since Wes Unseld — will remain in a Wizards uniform.
This is a seminal moment for a franchise that has spent most of the past four decades in the basketball wilderness. By convincing Wall, one of the NBA’s best players, to spend the rest of his prime in Washington, the Wizards have officially graduated from the league’s laughingstock to a franchise that most would be envious of.
Championship contention might be some ways off — at least as long as LeBron James is in the Eastern Conference, creating a one-man barrier to the NBA Finals. But for a Wizards franchise that hadn’t come close to achieving any real success since the 1970s until the past few years, when it made the second round of the playoffs three times in four seasons, this is important for continuity.
Wall is the kind of player nearly any team in the NBA would love to build around. After averaging 23.1 points and 10.7 assists this past season, Wall deservedly earned third-team all-NBA honors as one of the top guards in the NBA. Two years from now, he easily would have been one of the top free agents on the market, one sought by every team with cap room to sign a max free agent.
Now none of them will have that option, and that’s no small victory for the Wizards. It was only three weeks ago that Wall told The Washington Post that he was going to wait and see what the Wizards did in free agency before committing his future to the District.
That was before owner Ted Leonsis committed to paying the luxury tax by keeping Otto Porter Jr. as a restricted free agent and, in doing so, committing to the Wizards in a way he never had before. It clearly resonated with Wall and convinced him to agree to stay long term with the Wizards.
By doing so, Wall stays off the market till at least 2022 and keeps together the backcourt with Bradley Beal, whose five-year deal runs through 2021.
That will allow Washington to pursue players to upgrade at other spots for the next several seasons, beginning with DeMarcus Cousins in 2018. Yes, Porter will be able to deny any trade for a year as part of the offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets earlier this month. But if Cousins wants to play with Wall — as several people around the league believe he does — then all he has to do is wait until next summer and present the New Orleans Pelicans with a choice: Lose me for nothing or get a good player back in return.
There’s no certainty such a deal will happen, but the important thing is that the Wizards have their foundation moving forward and can begin to build upon it. For so long, the Wizards have been searching for the kind of long-term stability they now have.
This past season, Washington was one game away from its first Eastern Conference finals in close to 40 years. With its core together and with so much uncertainty across the rest of the East, it seems as if the Wizards will, at minimum, be able to replicate that success over the next few seasons even without any additions.
And while some in Washington will see that and reflexively say the front office, led by team President Ernie Grunfeld, hasn’t done enough, it is worth reminding that the franchise hasn’t been this competitive since the Unseld days.
So this should be a day to be celebrated in Washington. The Wizards convinced one of their own — and one of the best in the NBA — to stay here through his prime.
That’s something that was unthinkable as recently as a few years ago. It is a credit to the franchise and gives the Wizards license to try to expand on what they have done over the next five years.
As others in town have proved, keeping a franchise player is by no means a sure thing. With Wall agreeing to re-sign, the Wizards have accomplished the first step. Now it’s up to the Wizards to become the championship contender everyone in Washington hopes they can be.
For a franchise devoid of seminal moments, this most definitely is one.