LAS VEGAS – Despite playing just 40 games in the last three NBA seasons, John Wall is ready for the next part of his journey. Wall joined the LA Clippers in free agency and the point guard couldn't be more excited. Now, he's looking to help Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the ultimate goal.
Wall negotiated a buyout with the Houston Rockets after playing two seasons there. He quickly agreed to a two-year deal with the Clippers. He sees it as the best fit in terms of his skillset and their position of need, especially when it comes to pushing the pace.
“I am super excited,” John Wall told ClutchPoints on Saturday. “I haven’t played so I am just ready to play. Just imagine I got to push the pace and I have guys like a Kawhi Leonard or Paul George on this side or Nicolas Batum or Reggie Jackson or Terance Mann or Luke Kennard and have a big like Zu who can run the floor. Just having those guys that can knock down shots but at the same time can defend at a high level.”
The last game John Wall played came on April 23, 2021 against the LA Clippers, where he dropped 27 points and 13 assists in a loss. The Rockets didn't play the point guard another second the remaining 12 games of that season or the entirety of the 2021-22 NBA season.
And it wasn't like Wall was hurt. Far from it, in fact.
“Everybody kept saying he’s hurt. I wasn’t hurt at all. I was ready to play, I just in a situation I couldn’t control. And it was understandable. Like I said, nothing hard against those guys. I just tried to be a veteran, leadership as much as I can.”
The last three years weren't just about dealing with not playing. In January of 2019, he tore his Achilles tendon, effectively ending his tenure with the Washington Wizards. Despite multiple reports about wanting to stay in Washington and build with the Wizards, he was traded to Houston.
Wall, whose father passed away from liver cancer when he was just nine years old, lost his mother in December 2019 following a battle with cancer. Throughout his career, Wall has repeatedly expressed how his mother was the most important figure in his life.
Then in February 2021, Wall lost his grandmother, another person who played a huge role in his life.
“My last three years is like I was in the darkest place I have ever been,” he explained. “I don’t think a lot of people could have gotten through what I went through – losing my mom, losing my grandma, tearing my Achilles, going through all that adversity, just trying to find myself, and then getting some of that love more than anything taken away from me.
“That was very tough, but grateful to have an opportunity to be here. The Clippers organization, first class organization, great teammates, great guys, we have been working hard, having fun, and it’s been exciting.”
With the way the last few years have played out, Wall says preparing to play basketball again gives him butterflies.
“Yeah, super butterflies for me just to say I can play basketball again. I got an opportunity to be in the NBA again and just like I said, all the stuff I’ve been through and just having my family, my friends right there with me. Sticking with me through this tough time. That’s what you really need because you really find out who’s there with you. Like, I wasn’t playing, the phone wasn’t ringing as much as it was before. You know, that’s the nature of the game, that’s how it goes. That’s why I believe in loyalty is love. I don’t care if people tell me they love me. Show me loyalty, that’s most important to me. They’re embracing with open arms, they wanted me there, they’re super excited and I feel the same. I just think it’s gonna be a dope thing.”
The Clippers were among multiple teams with reported interest in Wall. There were some floating rumors involving John Wall and the Clippers over the last few years, but nothing ever came of it. Once a buyout was negotiated, however, there wasn't much to think about from Wall's perspective.
“For me, I was just happy to have the opportunity to be back in the league,,” John Wall continued. “I really didn’t care about all the other teams. The other teams are great and I’m glad teams wanted to come after me, but I kind of looked at the picture of like, where can I go where I don’t have to be the John Wall from 2016 and have to carry the load and do all those and have the pressure on me. I think they was missing a piece of having a point guard and it’s a great situation for me to be there.”
If there was any indecision on where he would go, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard sure put an end to it.
“Me, Paul [George], and Kawhi [Leonard], have been talking for a minute about it. I tried to recruit Paul to D.C. in like 2016, if I’m not mistaken. That’s somebody I call a brother and then just watching how great they are as a team I think like, they’re a first-class organization first of all with that. Great teammates, great guys, great coaching staff, great ownership. Who wouldn’t want to live in L.A., amazing city, great fans, and I think they have something special they have a chance to do.”
Wall comes to the Clippers with career averages of 19.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.1 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Most of those seasons were spent carrying the Wizards alongside Bradley Beal. The duo made some noise in the playoffs, reaching the second round three times in four seasons, but never got further than that.
On a team like these Clippers, Wall knows his workload is going to be significantly reduced and he won't be asked to be, ‘that guy,' again.
“I want to be that, but I don’t have to do it every night, I don’t have to be Batman every night for us to win. That’s the ultimate goal for me is this part of my career I don’t want to have to be the Batman every night to try to win. On our team that we have I think anyone can be Batman. I think that’s a great thing for us is we just got to build our camaraderie. Like, on paper it looks great. How many times have you seen teams look good on paper but can you do it when you get on the court. I still got all the stuff I had in 2016, but like yeah I only played 40 games but last year wasn’t my fault or my choice and I couldn’t control that. I just tried to be professional, be a leader and be a vet and help the young guys out as much as possible and the year before it was the bubble so I was like, I ain’t coming back for no bubble.”
Wall spent the 2021-22 season staying in game-shape in case his name was called while also honing on specific skillsets of his. Unfortunately, the Rockets never called him up, electing to run with their young guys the whole season en route to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. His season absence drew speculation as to his injury status, and whether Houston was secretly shielding him from anything going public.
Wall confirmed on Saturday that he was never injured last season, but simply trying to stay in shape while being a good vet.
“I’m good. My Achilles never bothered me. Like if you watched me, like it’s funny to me, when I was in Houston, I wasn’t on a great team that year, we didn’t play well, but I was averaging 21 [points] and seven [assists]. I think that speaks high of me. When I get between those four lines, I don’t have an injury, I don’t think about it. I go out there and compete. I work hard every day to try to get back to this position to be back in the league.”
As for the starting point guard job, which is expected to be a competition at training camp, Wall says he's not concerned about whether he starts or finishes.
“For me, I’m just happy to play basketball again. I’m a competitor, I know a lot of people ask me, are you mad if you start or not start – I don’t care, I’m a competitor and I just want an opportunity to go out there and compete for a spot and if I get it I get it and if I don’t, we know how talented Reggie Jackson is and what he’s done for this team and helping these guys out, especially when Kawhi and PG was out, even when they was there, he’s a great piece. Whoever gets the spot is great. We all just come here with one goal and trying to win a championship.
“I think it’s exciting man, I get to come back and play, it’s not really too much for me to do, just go out there and play my game and Kawhi’s coming back so I think it’s going to be fun.”