Just less than a month after Russell Westbrook told the Houston Rockets that he wanted to be traded, his wish has come true. On Wednesday night, the Rockets traded the nine-time All-Star to the Washington Wizards in exchange for five-time All-Star John Wall and a lottery-protected first-round selection in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Trading ends Westbrook’s spell in Houston after just one season, while Wall leaves Washington after 10 years with the franchise that selected him with the first overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. Both Westbrook and Wall had become dissatisfied with their organizations, and rumors of a blockbuster deal had first surfaced in November, only to falter in recent weeks. ESPN reported that negotiations finally resumed earlier this week, with both franchises quickly reaching agreement.
However, it remains to be seen whether the agreement will be satisfactory for one of the two parties. After a brilliant start to the regular season, Westbrook struggled hard when the regular NBA season in Orlando resumed after a four-month break due to the corona virus pandemic. Meanwhile, Wall missed the last two seasons due to serious injuries to his Achilles tendon and knee.
From a financial point of view, both players come with a heavy burden. Westbrook has $133 million left on his contract for the next three seasons, with a player option for last year. Wall, however, owes him $132 million for the next three seasons.
Both Rockets and Wizards hope that the deal will convince their two stars – James Harden and Bradley Beal – to tie their future to the franchises. Harden has refused a two-year $103 million extension and reportedly wants to join the Brooklyn Nets, while Beal can become a free agent next summer.
With this in mind, here’s a look at which team is better off in the retail business.
The Wizards of Washington
There are no clear winners in this trade, for the most part it is a trade on equal terms in many aspects – including the playing style of Westbrook and Wall and their onerous contracts.
At the same time, however, it is difficult to deny that Washington has reached the better end of the bargain.
Although Westbrook will no longer be on the field at the age of 32, Washington would be more than happy to have the player who averaged just over 31 points per game while shooting 52 percent of the field over a distance of 24 games before the coronavirus pandemic stopped the NBA season – he finished the regular season with an average of 27.2 points, 7 assists and 7.9 rebounds, while shooting the best 47.2 percent of his career off the field.
Conversely, Washington could regret the deal for years to come if it gets Westbrook, who averaged 17.9 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 42.1 percent off the field in the playoffs after being hampered by a quadriceps injury.
Beal is a less ball-dominant player than Harden, and Westbrook should see plenty of ball possession in Washington. At the same time, Beal averaged more field goals per 100 possessions than Harden last season, and Westbrook’s desire to return to the “ground general” role he held during his 11 seasons with Oklahoma City Thunder may remain unfulfilled.
Developing the chemistry between Westbrook and Beal will be the Wizards’ head coach, Scott Brooks,’ biggest task this season and could be instrumental in the franchise’s hopes of convincing the latter to commit to a long-term deal – Beal may become a free agent in 2021, despite signing a contract extension last year.
From a financial point of view, the deal does not move the needle for the Wizards any further, as the Westbrook and Wall deals are very similar. This means that Washington still has little room for maneuver, as Westbrook will receive over $40 million next season, while Beal owes $34 million and the Wizards have just signed a five-year $80 million contract with Davis Bertans.
The trade comes with two big question marks for the missiles. The first is whether the acquisition of Wall is enough to convince Harden to tie his future to the franchise, just as the Wizards must find out whether Beal will be happy to extend his stay in the nation’s capital after Westbrook arrives.
Harden allegedly wants to disappear from Houston, but the Rockets have made it clear that the Brooklyn Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers or other potential candidates would have to pay a high price to trade the eight-time All-Star. The second big question that needs to be answered in relation to the Rocket concerns Wall’s fitness. Although the five-time All-Star is two years younger than Westbrook, he has not played a game since December 26, 2018, and has missed the last two seasons with injuries to his Achilles tendon and knee.
This is hardly a good omen for a guard who makes speed and dynamism his greatest assets. While ESPN reported that Wall has regained a lot of form in the off-season, the first overall candidate for the 2010 NBA Draft, even at full fitness, is a worse player than Westbrook, with whom he shares all the characteristics that made it difficult for the latter to coexist with Harden on the court. Like Westbrook, Wall wants to hold the ball in his hands, a luxury that a team around Harden probably cannot afford.
The silver lining for Houston is the decision in the first round, although the fact that it is lottery-protected weakens this particular advantage somewhat.