When the NBA offseason had started to calm down, the biggest trade of this peculiarly timed winter break was announced.
The Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards are swapping point guards. Russell Westbrook is heading to Washington, John Wall is joining James Harden in Houston, and the Wizards are sending a protected future first to complete the deal.
A trade request from Wall was reported a few weeks ago, but such desire to leave the capital has since been downplayed by the organisation. Westbrook asked for a trade too, though potential suitors were always in short supply and the list seemed to be decreasing. Swapping Westbrook’s contracts for a similar unwanted deal like Wall’s was maybe the only solution. This path produces more questions than answers for both franchises.
The Wizards have a new backcourt partner for Bradley Beal after months of saying they want to reunite Wall and Beal. The Rockets, only a season after giving up effectively four first-round picks for Westbrook, get one draft pick in return.
What’s in it for Houston?
Both Houston and Washington are trying to keep hold of their stars. Harden is further along his journey to forcing his way out. He’s keen to play with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, but the Rockets are not going to buckle to his demands. The Rockets have swapped Westbrook for Wall, a player who projects to be a slightly better fit alongside Harden, but a player who hasn’t played an NBA game in recent memory and is hardly an off-ball threat.
The Rockets get a pick. Although protected enough to be limited in value, Houston need every pick they can get right now. Don’t be surprised to see it dealt for a player at the trade deadline if Harden stays on the team.
Aside from Durant saying Wall looks great, there’s little knowledge of how impactful the once All-NBA point guard will be. Even if he’s somewhere near the player he was, there are ever-present injury worries to a greater extent than even Westbrook carries.
Maybe the Rockets were under more pressure to make this deal than it seemed. Had Harden and Westbrook’s relationship completely deteriorated? Was Westbrook desperate to leave? In isolation, it’s a deal that makes little sense despite the disappointment of last season. Wall’s contract is probably the worst in the league. He would have to return to the player he was, stay healthy and adapt his role to make them markedly better.
Wizards trying to win now
Outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Beal is the highest profile name floating around in trade rumours. He has not agitated to leave the Wizards just yet, but many expect a trade request (or something synonymous) to come in the not too distant future.
Wall seemingly wanted out of Washington – was that a result of a fall out with Beal? Were the reports of Washington suggesting a Wall for Westbrook trade because Beal wanted it? Maybe we’ll never know the answer. We can only speculate at this point, but it’s unlikely this trade happens unless Beal is happy with it.
Where Wall was almost a complete unknown, there’s reason for Beal to want Westbrook. They become a better team, and likely move to the top of the non-contenders in the Eastern Conference. Westbrook and Beal are a better fit than Westbrook and Harden. The Wizards have the shooting to space the floor for the former Thunder superstar.
If healthy, the current compilation of the Wizards should be a playoff team. Whether that’s enough for Beal to want to stay is the real question, and we’d suggest it’s probably not. This is a trade that doesn’t do much for their medium-term outlook. They are probably better in 2021, but they are still stuck with a bloated contract for seasons to come.
There was little else Washington could do with Wall’s deal. It’s one big shrug.