John Wall is entering the realm of accountability.
There is no one else in Washington—save for maybe the front office—who will be held responsible for how well the team fares. As the resident "superstar," Wall will be the one who's recognized should all go according to plan or should everything fall apart.
The last three years have been a grace period of sorts, shelter from the expectations set for him, but he was never really held to. Washington missed the playoffs again last season, yet Wall was still paid handsomely.
Eighty-million big ones later, the vacation's over. The missed postseasons, sub-par records, atypical inefficiency—those are no longer acceptable results.
Ready or not, Wall has a new status to uphold.
Dollars and Cents Don't Add Up
Wall's fancy new extension doesn't kick in until 2014, but the standard to which he is held jumps now.
There are no take-backs in the NBA; the Wizards will have to pay Wall that money. Which shouldn't be an issue because they believe he'll be worth that much coin, otherwise they wouldn't have forked it over.
Only seven players in NBA history have averaged at least 16 points, eight assists and 1.5 steals through their first three seasons, and Wall is one of them. Joining the ranks of a young Magic Johnson or Chris Paul always makes for smooth negotiating.
Problem is, Washington isn't paying for the Wall of today. His career averages of 16.9 points and eight assists were enough to get him this far, within reach of his latest contract. Upon putting pen to paper, however, everything he did previously is no longer adequate.
The Wizards didn't line Wall's pockets with enough money to satisfy his tattoo addiction for him to keep doing what he's doing. Because what he has done isn't enough.
Washington handed him the same extension James Harden received from the Houston Rockets last fall. Like Wall, Harden had yet to earn an All-Star selection. But he had been to the playoffs three times and been named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year once. There was little doubt that he was worth such a steep contract.
Harden isn't the end-all of measuring sticks, but this is the class of athlete Wall's pay grade has attached him to. And it's unsettling to know that a former third option on the Oklahoma City Thunder faced fewer detractors than Wall, who was given the keys to the Wiz from day one.
Sound $80-million investments aren't normally headlined by those who have yet to secure a playoff berth and also failed to make an All-Star appearance.
When the Chicago Bulls inked Rose to his five-year, $94-plus million extension in 2011, he had been to the postseason three times, been named to two All-Star teams and won a league MVP. And when Russell Westbrook received his $80 million, he too had been to the playoffs three times and was on the verge of procuring his second All-Star selection.
Naturally, it seems unfair to pit Wall against Rose, Harden and Westbrook, but why? They're star guards and Wall is set to be paid like a star guard.
Excuses tend to be made for Wall, some of which are legitimate. A lackluster supporting cast wrought with personal and collective injuries hasn't allowed the Wall-led Wizards to do anything special.
Superstars are supposed to find a way, though. That's why they're paid as much as Rose, Harden, Westbrook and now Wall. So next season, Wall must find a way.
Now or Never?
Posing such a fateful question three years into Wall's career is extreme. Then again, time isn't exactly on his side.
By now, Wall should be considered an elite point guard, he should have separated himself from a positional field teeming with star-caliber talent. He hasn't, and it shows.
Rank your top 10 NBA point guards. Does Wall make the cut? Chances are, he will. But does he finish in the top five? If he does, you're a far more generous grader than I am.
B/R's Adam Fromal has Wall coming in at very plausible No. 9, ahead of Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and Ty Lawson. One could easily argue that any of those four belong in the top 10 as well, potentially at the expense of Wall. Those ahead of him include Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving, all of whom will be earning less than Washington's point man leading into the 2014-15 season.
Ordering is subjective, of course, yet there's no way Wall is in the top five. More importantly, he's not indisputably elite either.
The time for that to change is now.
Wall's most noteworthy accomplishment came this past season when he returned from injury and led the Wizards to a 24-25 finish. Records just under .500 tend to be good enough for a postseason appearance in the turbulent Eastern Conference, but once more, Wall isn't paid to be just good enough.
He was just good enough to earn his extension, just good enough to get here. Elite point men are supposed to be better than "just good enough." They're supposed to lead.
That's most of the problem with Wall—perception. He's still viewed as someone barely skating by. And it's not our fault. Everything we've seen or haven't seen supports prevailing skepticism.
This is now a Wall who is one of five maxed-out point guards. Despite the financial benefits he's reaping, those who pass judgment understand he's not Deron Williams, Rose, Westbrook or Paul, the other four.
Few expect him to be either, and emerging as a carbon copy of one of them isn't what next season is about.
Never mind the individual accolades, Wall needs to reach the playoffs. Washington has finally assembled a playoff-caliber team around him, now he must deliver.
The same way star floor generals around him have delivered. The same way financially inferior point men (Curry) have delivered. The same way Wall himself has yet to deliver. No excuses.
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