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With LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference, the East is wide-open and there are a lot of teams who feel this is the year they can make it to the NBA Finals.
Washington Wizards point guard John Wall is in that camp, as the All-Star says Washington should be included among the elite teams in the East.
The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers are considered the best teams in the conference, with the Milwaukee Bucks and Wizards not too far behind. But Wall believes all the teams should be considered equals since none of the aforementioned clubs have won a championship.
“I feel like we’re all equal,” Wall told Yahoo Sports. “None of them won a championship. This is no knock on no other team. Don’t get me wrong. Boston is a hell of a team. Philly has great young talent with those guys [Joel] Embiid, [Ben] Simmons. And Toronto, losing DeMar [DeRozan], they still get Kawhi [Leonard]. Y’all might have been to the Eastern Conference finals, where we haven’t been to, but none of y’all were going to the Finals. It was one guy going to the Finals. Ain’t nobody separated from nothing. I know one guy that separated himself from the Eastern Conference every year and that was LeBron James and the Cavs. Other than that, if you lose in the second-round, or the conference finals, you still didn’t get to your ultimate goal.”
For the past few seasons, Wall and the Wizards have been the national media’s dark horse Eastern Conference team that could make a run to the Finals. Year after year, however, the Wizards fail to reach those expectations and usually underwhelm. So even after signing Dwight Howard and trading for Austin Rivers, the critics haven’t really been giving the Wizards the spotlight similar to past seasons.
The Wizards lost to the Raptors in the first-round of the 2018 playoffs in six games. Wall and head coach Scott Brooks highlighted specific types of players they wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer after the season ended. Most notably, the two men pointed to an athletic big.
So that’s why Wall recruited Howard to come to Washington. As he was negotiating his buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Howard was not considering signing with the Wizards, as the team didn’t really cross his mind. But when Wall messaged Howard on Instagram telling the former All-NBA center to come to D.C., Howard was all in.
Howard signed a two-year, $11 million free-agent deal with the Wizards. Wall has heard about Howard’s reputation of being a bad locker room presence, but the explosive guard wants to see for himself if that rumor is true.
“I heard about his reputation. A lot of people had a reputation about me that I just enjoy the lifestyle but don’t love the game of basketball and don’t put the work in. But guys that have become my teammates know it’s totally different,” Wall told Yahoo Sports. “I was just dealing with the injuries. People are always going to have their perceptions of you. It only matters if you care about that person and want to see that perception change or if that’s really them. I understand what Dwight’s perception is. If you say it’s something different, show it.”
Wall will be hosting an informal minicamp for Wizards players next week in Miami and Howard will attend. The Wizards’ starting lineup will most likely feature Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris and Howard.
“On paper, everybody looks great,” Wall told Yahoo Sports. “We look great. Boston looks great on paper. But how are all those young guys going to mesh with Kyrie [Irving] being back? Or Gordon Hayward being back? Nobody knows how that’s going to work. Now, they’ve got a hell of a coach in Brad Stevens, and [with GM and president] Danny Ainge, they’re going to figure it out. But you still got to put it all together. You’ve still got to make it work on the court. We don’t know how Kawhi is going to work. We know what Simmons and Embiid are going to give you, but it’s a new year. I feel like it’s all cluttered. But I put us right there.”