Elliott: John Wall is ready to be the Clippers’ ‘big dog’

John Wall said the world will see a dog when he makes his Clippers debut this season, which is how he describes his defiant nature as teammate Reggie Jackson began cheering from the back of the gym as the Clippers held their activities on Monday to the media day.

“I’m just excited that we have John,” Jackson said, and he wasn’t the only one to welcome the five-time All-Star to a team that has a chance to be a force in the NBA’s Western Conference.

Wall’s advantage is huge: He has career averages of 19.1 points, 9.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, and he’s able to dictate the pace. While playing alongside Clippers teammate Paul George in pickup games known as the Rico Hines Runs this summer, he sliced ​​through defenders and announced in videos that were widely viewed on social media, “I am return”.

He was a dog again, but he’s a different person, stronger for having acknowledged he needed therapy after an Achilles tendon injury, a foot infection and his mother’s death from breast cancer in late 2019, leading him to consider suicide draw. He recently opened up about his struggles in a searing, candid essay in The Players Tribune, proud to have made it through the darkness and eager to help all who yet find the path to the light.

“Basketball is my sanctuary when I step between those four lines,” he said Monday. “I think I’m a better man, a better person, I’m a better father, and whatever my role on this team, I’m just trying to come here and help them win.”

Best-case scenario for the Clippers, who signed him as a free agent on a two-year contract worth $13.281 million: His bark and bite are as violent as they have been two of the last three NBA seasons. He sat out 2019-20 with heel and Achilles tendon injuries and missed all of last season after the Houston Rockets moved to a younger backcourt and told him to stay home.

“It’s definitely a needed piece and I’m thrilled,” said George. “I think what he brings and where the value for us is so tremendous is his transition game. It was like one of the things that teams did against us was crash the boards because there was – really, there was no transition play from us. They didn’t worry about that.

“I think with John, his ability to play and sprint up and down and get going in transition, I think teams are staying honest. You can’t crash everyone. He bounces off as well as any guard.”

For coach Tyronn Lue, that means updating his playbook. “I think with John, if I add John, his pace is tremendous. That will allow us to get easy baskets,” Lue said. “Guys get open threes, easy shots, he goes downhill, going to the basket changes our team dramatically. His pace and style of play bring another dimension to our team.”

As with any discussion of the Clippers, the phrase “if sane” applies to Wall and the overall fate of a team that always seems close to something big, but hasn’t lived up to the promise of reality.

Robert Covington and John Wall greet Paul George during media day for the Clippers.

Robert Covington, left, and John Wall greet Paul George during media day for the Clippers at the Honey Training Center in Playa Vista.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Wall has not played an NBA game since April 23, 2021, before the Rockets banned him. Because of that and his injuries, he has only played 113 games in the last five NBA seasons. Early in his career he underwent surgeries on both knees and treated bone spurs.

Exactly what the Clippers don’t need: another risk of injury. Kawhi Leonard, who missed last season after tearing his ACL in the 2021 playoffs, said he will “build up gradually” over the course of training camp based on how his knee reacts each day. George missed most of 51 games last season with an elbow injury but has made a full recovery.

At least for the moment everyone is fit and ready to go. The Clippers have yet to lose a game and they haven’t lost a player to injury and they’re looking on the bright side.

“Very excited for what is to come this year. Since I’ve been here, I think we still have a full healthy season to go with everyone in uniform. There’s a lot of optimism about what we can achieve if we all give it our all,” said George, who is starting his fourth season with the Clippers.

“I think this year is definitely a great opportunity to win and win big and I think everyone feels and feels that. You know, day one, we’re going to get it over with.”

Wall ended his essay for the Players Tribune with the words “I’m still here,” a short sentence that packs a slap in the face. He’s here in the sense that he’s pushed aside his suicidal thoughts and realized he has reasons to move on. And he’s emotionally there for the Clippers, who need a big dog.

“I just feel like throughout my career, a lot of people don’t give me my respect. I do not know why. It is what it is. Like I said, I have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “But that’s not why I’m happy to be back. I put a lot of work into it. Everything I’ve been through in the last two or three years, I don’t think many people would have been able to go through it.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/clippers/story/2022-09-27/los-angeles-clippers-john-wall-ready-to-be-big-dog Elliott: John Wall is ready to be the Clippers’ ‘big dog’

Emma Bowman

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