John Wall is still two years away from free agency, but when July 1, 2017 hit, the Washington Wizards extended an offer to Wall that he seemingly couldn’t refuse. It was a four-year, $170 million designated player extension that would kick in starting in 2019, after Wall’s current five-year, $85 million contract expires. It’s the same “supermax” deal James Harden signed in Houston. It’s the most lucrative extension an NBA player can be offered, 35 percent of the salary cap in year one.
And yet it’s one Wall didn’t sign. And one he still hasn’t signed. The eighth-year, All-NBA point guard is sitting on the offer. The Wizards are waiting.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis addressed Wall’s contract status and the extension offer for the first time Wednesday, and relayed confidence. “My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension,” Leonsis said. “He wants to be here and my goal is to have no drama.”
Wall, for his part, has echoed the second part of Leonsis’ statement. “I love being in Washington, I love playing there, and there’s not another city I’d really want to play for,” he told the Washington Post in June.
Everybody is saying the right things. Wall says he loves Washington. The Wizards say he wants to be in Washington. But actions speak louder than words, and until Wall’s actions back up his and Leonsis’ words, the words are relatively hollow. Concern will linger among Wizards fans. And if you slipped truth serum to people within the Wizards organization, they’d probably betray hints of worry as well.
There are multiple reasons for Wall to sit on the offer rather than sign it immediately. One of the reasons is financial. If he makes an All-NBA team again in 2017-18, Wall could sign a five-year extension next summer that would pay him well over $200 million — and again, that only kicks in after his current deal expires in 2019.
So this could be about money. Or it could be about commitment. Wall might not want to commit his long-term future to Washington until he has a clearer sense of the possibilities that future holds. Here’s what he told the Washington Post last month about his reasons for not signing the extension right away:
“I just want to kind of see what they do throughout free agency, talk to my family, talk to my agency and my managers and see what we want to do. It’s definitely a place I want to be … I’ve just got to make sure things are going in the right direction, and make sure we are building the team in the way we want to be, and don’t get locked up in a situation where you might not feel comfortable.”
So why should Wizards fans worry? Isn’t the team on an upward trajectory and looking to improve on last season’s top-four finish in the East? Didn’t ownership just more or less commit to spending into the luxury tax by signing Otto Porter to a max contract?
The issue is that Wall doesn’t appear to be 100 percent behind that move. He hasn’t specifically said that, to be clear. But, first, he (perhaps mistakenly, and kind of subtly) took a shot at Porter when he publicly tried to recruit Paul George to Washington:
“Look at our team,” Wall told ESPN. “We are one piece away. We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. Our three-man did great for us. You can’t take nothing away from what he did. But [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It’s a piece that you’re going to need to win. If you don’t have a guy who can do that, you don’t have a chance. You got to add another star. You got to add another piece. You got to have three guys.”
Wall essentially championed Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, but was reticent on Porter, and didn’t seem to consider him a third “guy.” OK. Fine. Could just be a coincidence, because George plays the same position as Porter, right?
Two weeks later, though, Wall basically doubled down:
“I know [what] Otto means for us here,” Wall told FanRag Sports. “At the end of the day, as for any team, if you can improve a position — Otto is going to be a great player for us, a great role player for a lot of teams. There’s a difference between a role player and a superstar. There’s a big difference.
“I know what I love about Otto as a teammate. End of the day if you can make a team better you always do that. If people take it the wrong way, so be it.”
Wall’s misguided attempt to quell the mini-storm that his earlier comments created turned into his labeling of Porter as a “role player.” And it created the impression that Wall wants the Wizards to strengthen, not just retain their starters and run it back.
The thing is, the Wizards are going to have a hard time improving. If Wall re-ups, they’ll have three max contracts on the books (Wall, Porter and Bradley Beal). And as the roster is currently constructed, Washington is still sizable steps below the cream of the Eastern Conference crop.
If Wall is waiting to sign the contract to see if title contention is realistic in Washington, what will he think next summer if the Wizards are bounced in the second round of the playoffs again, and if Washington has no viable routes to fortifying the roster? The question becomes especially provocative if Wall doesn’t make an All-NBA team. In that scenario, might he decline an extension once again and test free agency in 2019?
Whatever Wall and the Wizards say, it seems like a possibility. Not a probability, but a possibility. And if Wall doesn’t sign his extension before the start of the regular season — the deadline to do so if he wishes to not wait until next summer — it’s a possibility that will gnaw at the minds of Wizards fans as the 2017-18 season progresses.