After his first practice with the Houston Rockets, point guard John Wall spoke wistfully of his decade with the Washington Wizards and vowed to return to All-Star form with his new franchise coming off a two-year layoff.
Wall said it was a "surreal" feeling reporting to practice in Houston -- which traded Russell Westbrook for Wall and a protected future first-round pick in a swap of maximum-salaried point guards -- after spending the previous decade in Washington.
"I was a skinny kid, 19 years old with no facial hair and didn't know where I was going in life," Wall said, reminiscing about his arrival in Washington after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. "They watched me grow up and be this grown man that has two beautiful boys and has a family at home. That's all I can say. I love them. My heart is always going to be there. The way I touched the fans, the way I touched that community, that still exists today and that will still exist until the day I'm off this Earth.
"I wish that whole team, the organization the best of luck this year, but my main focus is with my new team, the Rockets, and what I'm trying to accomplish: come back and be an All-Star player and be that player that everybody feels like I don't have no more."
Wall's debut with the Rockets will be his first game since Dec. 26, 2018, which was shortly before he underwent surgery on his left heel. Weeks later, Wall ruptured his left Achilles tendon after slipping and falling at home.
Wall is reuniting with longtime friend and former Kentucky teammate DeMarcus Cousins in Houston as they both come back from serious injuries. Cousins, a four-time All-Star center who signed a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum with the Rockets, has been limited to 38 games (including playoffs) over the past two seasons because of a ruptured Achilles, torn quadriceps and torn ACL.
"They're not limping around or doing anything like that," Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. "They both look good physically. It's just the conditioning piece. ... Neither guy has played in such a long time. It might be a while before we see like the old Boogie or the old John Wall, but they both look better than anybody expected them to look today in the scrimmaging that we did."
Wall said he has felt completely healthy since March, when he scrimmaged with the Wizards' G League affiliate and practiced some with the NBA team. He specifically recalled feeling "like, yeah, I'm back" while playing 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 during the Wizards' visit to the Bay Area last season.
Wall, a five-time All-Star with career averages of 19.0 points and 9.2 assists per game, said his heel had been bothering him for years and limiting his athleticism.
"I'm going to be John Wall no matter what when I get on that court, but at the same time, me being out and me just looking at how much longer I want to play and certain things I want to improve on, I'm able to do certain things that I wasn't able to do before when I was injured and playing through certain things," said Wall, who has $133 million over three seasons remaining on his contract. "That's why I feel like my game is going to evolve, because I'm finally healthy and don't have those little nagging injuries that I was dealing with over the last six or seven years. People will finally get to see at some point what I was playing through and what I was going through.
"To be doing what I was doing on one leg basically lets me know how special I am."