Tuesday, January 30, 2018


So when did John Wall’s knee problems take a wrong turn? Was it when he banged knees in a game against Dallas early in the season? Was it maybe after he came back too soon from a knee treatment in December? Was it the 201 minutes he played in five straight games a month later?

Or was it last year, when, coming off double knee surgery, John Wall played the fifth most minutes in the NBA?

If they someday make a film about the John Wall Wizards, they may call it “I, Ernie.” Like Tonya Harding, the Wizards general manager didn’t swing a baton to damage Wall’s knees. But Ernie Grunfeld is certainly a co-conspirator.

Wall was scheduled to undergo yet another knee procedure on his left knee Tuesday and could miss up to two months, the Washington Post reported. He had an MRI on the knee Monday and returned to Cleveland for the procedure to be done by orthopedic surgeon Richard D. Parker, who did two knee surgeries on Wall in May 2016 — a little more than a year before Grunfeld would give Wall a $207 million contract extension.

You remember the recovery from those double knee surgeries in 2016, don’t you? The plan was to bring Wall along slowly, limit his minutes — a plan that made sense, except Grunfeld, in building the roster, had given new coach Scott Brooks no real options to be prudent about Wall’s minutes.

“The thing about John, he’s been progressing very well since we started training camp,” Brooks told reporters early in the season, when the plan was to limit Wall’s minutes and not play him in back-to-back games. “We’re going to see how he feels.”

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That plan went out the window when the Wizards started the season 3-9 and were on the brink of being buried for the year. Brooks had no bench to turn to to give Wall the time he needed for his recovering knees, and by the time the season had ended, John Wall, with double-knee surgery still visible in the rear view mirror, had played 2,836 minutes — fifth in the NBA, more than Russell Westbrook or LeBron James.

That’s a formula for a return trip to Dr. Parker and the Cleveland Clinic.

It’s been more of the same this year — no real options to spell Wall and buy time while the team competes.

Tomas Satoransky has had his moments, but not enough for Brooks to feel fully confident about. Then there is the rest of the roster, once you get past the team’s big three of Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

It’s mired in bad contracts — particularly for their group of inept big men, personified by Ian Mahnimi’s $64 million contract. Grunfeld’s poor roster construction, hamstrung by his own debilitating contracts, have forced the Wizards to put pressure on Wall’s surgically-repaired knees.

Now, after expectations of the Wizards taking a step this season to perhaps finally get past the second round of the NBA playoffs, such goals seem foolish if Wall misses up to two months of the season. This Wizards team has struggled and looked uninspired with Wall on the court so far this year. The prospects of moving forward without him — and without answers provided by Grunfeld to take his place — are bleak.

In other words, typical Wizards business.

It remains one of the great mysteries of Washington sports that Grunfeld, in his 14th season as the team’s general manager, has remained in charge. He presided over the near-destruction of this franchise in the Gilbert Arenas era, yet gets credit for cleaning up his own messes — the arsonist fireman, setting the fires and putting them out. The clean ups, though, are limited.

He got credit for resigning the big three — Wall, Beal and Porter — yet what else were the Wizards going to do with the money except sign their own players? Grunfeld was unable to attract any free agent of note to Washington. Forget about Kevin Durant ignoring the organization — the key free agent defeat was Al Horford, who spurned the Wizards in favor of the Boston Celtics. You take Horford off the Celtics and put him on the Wizards roster, it is a conference game changer. Grunfeld, though, was unable to close the deal.

This franchise has still never made it past the second round of the playoffs in nearly 40 years, or won more than 50 games in a season during that time. And now, with Wall’s future uncertain, the prospect of getting to the next level — past the seventh game of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics — seem dim.

If and when Wall returns, what will have changed? How will Scott Brooks manage his damaged star’s minutes going forward?

Will “I, Ernie” ever end?

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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