On December 2, the Houston Rockets and the Washington Wizards executed a trade revolving around Russell Westbrook and John Wall. The deal is one where many feel uneasy and unsure of what the future might hold for everyone involved. The deal, in full, is Russell Westbrook to the Wizards and John Wall and a protected first-round pick to the Houston Rockets. Both players had become dissatisfied with the situations they were in and requested trades. It looked like the only option either organization had was to work with one another to get a deal done.
For the Rockets, this offseason has not been an easy one. The general manager and coach who have been at the helm for over a decade decided to go elsewhere, leading both Westbrook and James Harden to voice concern over the franchise’s future. Rumors swirled a month ago about perennial All-NBA candidate James Harden potentially wanting out, which eventually died down. News of potential Westbrook deals came about around the same time, but they didn’t fade with time. It seemed evident that Russell wouldn’t begin the season in a Rockets uniform; what wasn’t clear was where he would call home for the 2020-21 season. There were varying levels of interest from the Knicks, Clippers, and Hornets; none of them seemed to think he was the guy they needed. All that was left was the Wizards.
Despite the lack of success, Washington has been at the forefront of news in the NBA for the past couple of years. Updates regarding Wall’s injuries and the interest in Beal as a trade chip has kept the team relevant. The team made it public this season they saw Beal as the centerpiece of the team and that didn’t set well with their former number one selection. Tension between John and the organization has gotten worse of the past couple of years; Wall hearing he wasn’t the focal point seemed the last straw as he demanded to be traded.
The trade doesn’t seem to make either team demonstratively worse or better. Despite the success Westbrook has had in his career, he is viewed by many as an overrated player. People seem to think he chases stats or isn’t a winning player and won’t make much of a difference to a team that has been stuck at the bottom of the eastern conference for the past couple of years. My personal opinion is that having a player a few years removed from winning the MVP isn’t a bad thing. He has played with other great players before (Harden, Durant, George) so there won’t be a need for Russell to drastically change stylistically. The best ability is availability and Westbrook has offered that much more often than Wall has recently, so I don’t think Washington could be killed for this trade.
For people who think this could end up being a great deal for the Rockets, I would have to disagree. Yes, the situation in Houston was untenable and they had to move on from Westbrook. Yes, their options in terms of potential trades was extremely limited. But, I don’t think they can say they got the better end of this deal by any means. Wall hasn’t played in two years and the injuries he suffered are pretty major issues. This is a guy who has made a career off being a world-class athlete. Suffering an achilles injury and then rupturing it while rehabbing makes it very unlikely we will see Wall play like he did before. The former Kentucky guard is getting older, been injury prone, and now playing with someone that dominates the ball. That combination makes me think we could be hearing “Houston, we have a problem” sooner rather than later.
The saving grace of this trade for the Rockets would be the draft pick they ended up getting back. You have to squint to see it working out in Houston’s favor, though. Washington has protections on the pick that favor them heavily. The protections on the pick ended up being for the lottery for 2023, 1-12 for 2024, and 1-10 for 2025. If the pick doesn’t convey for the Rockets until 2026, then they get two second-round selections (2026 and 2027). Perhaps the Wizards’ experiment of adding in Westbrook works out, they won’t be as worried about giving up the pick anyways. Maybe things don’t work out and the team succumbs to the pressures of trading away Beal, then they’ll still have the picks.
Only time will tell how all of this shakes out for all parties involved. Will Wall return to form and be the running mate Harden has always wanted? Will Westbrook be able to help maximize Beal and get the Wizards back in the playoffs? We will all just have to wait and see.