An old stereotype in the NBA says that any contract in the league can be traded, and Wednesday night certainly proved this old adage.
In exchange for two players on supermax deals, the Houston Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a protected first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
It’s worth noting that this is an exchange for players who are basically making the same money and, in fact, the only trade that could be made out there for any of them would be this one. But after Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said a week ago the team “there were no plans”To trade Wall, the idea of this deal lost all steam and was thought to be dead in the water.
The NBA is never one to disappoint, though, and the trigger was pulled. This trade that would normally be reserved for fantasy leagues and NBA 2K franchise methods are now a reality.
So then, what to make of all this? We have a few questions about this whole thing that we want answers to.
The east has become harder, but how much?
Make no mistake, even if John Wall didn’t come off two missed seasons recovering from a broken Achilles and there were no question marks about his health and this deal was made, it’s likely that the Wizards would have finished with the better player between the two.
Although unclear and frustratingly inefficient at times, Westbrook will improve the Wizards this season and, by proxy, make the Eastern Conference more difficult. The question therefore remains: how much?
Bradley Beal took a monster step last season, becoming the second star of his career and transforming himself into a bona fide scoring machine, finishing second in league scoring with a 30.5 average. The Wizards also managed to re-sign Davis Bertans’ sweet four-piece shooting, and they are bringing back essentially the same group that at one point last season was among the league’s best, most octane offenses.
And now Washington is adding Westbrook to this mix to potentially take him into offensive over-driving, something the club hopes will return to the post-season.
The Wizards haven’t played a playoff game since 2018 and that’s pretty much unacceptable given how much money is on their payroll.
However, when looking around the Eastern Conference, you have to wonder how high magicians could realistically get.
The conference powers are somewhat evident in the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. That’s already seven teams most expect to make the playoffs next season. That leaves the good, but not great, Orlando Magic of the ambitious Atlanta Hawks and now the Wizards as the likely candidates competing for that final spot.
Westbrook is an upgrade for Washington, but is his addition really enough to lash the Wizards past those seven teams that were first mentioned? If not, is the No. 8 seed in the East worth it?
What does this trade mean for Harden’s future in Houston?
For now, according to Tim McMahon of ESPN, James Harden will not be traded, despite reports that he wants out of Houston.
Those reports, obviously, came before this Westbrook trade took place and if Harden no longer wanted to play with his old childhood friend then the wish has been granted and there should be no more animation.
However, if the issues are deeper-seeded for Harden and there is a disconnect between him and the Rockets franchise, you have to wonder how much bringing Wall in will help keep Harden?
As mentioned before, it is not known what kind of player Wall will be after being out for two seasons. There is a chance that the trademark athleticism and explosiveness that made him a former No. 1 overall pick and allowed him to almost reach the edge at will and protect several high-level positions was stolen from him.
On the other hand, Wall was never the best or most prepared shooter, meaning shots taken from Harden playing alongside Westbrook will be his again. In addition, Wall was, and should remain, a great passer with a very creative vision.
But you can’t rule out the possibility that the Rockets themselves would look to move on from Harden after the apparent bad blood during this off-season. The Rockets’ payroll is unreasonable to say the least and they save a small amount of money by swapping Westbrook for Wall, so if owner Tilman Fertitta is looking to cut costs, find a prosecutor for Harden for bringing this drama would end contracts.
Did anyone really win this trade?
The more you think about this trade, the harder it will be to decide who came out on top as the winner.
As the above tweet from ESPN’s Bobby Marks shows, the money between the two players is very even and while Westbrook is probably the best player, these are still two very similar players, up to their flawless flaws as not-great shooters.
There is an argument to be made that Washington got the better deal because of the reunion between Westbrook and head coach Scott Brooks, who had Westbrook as a rookie and coached him and the Thunder for seven seasons.
Brooks has always had a strong relationship with Westbrook and helped turn him into the star he is today. That bodes very well for the Wizards with the caveat that Brooks’s reliance on Wesbrook sometimes came at the expense of Kevin Durant, a highly efficient scorer back and then similar to what Beal is now, opening the possibility of some friction between Westbrook and Beal over who gets the ball more and who gets more shots.
So then, would that mean the Rockets won the trade? Houston may have if Wall is anything like the five-time star he once was before injuries forced him off the floor. That’s a big “if,” though, as Achilles’ injuries are always difficult to recover from.
There is also the chance that Wall could clash with Harden as he is a player who has used to be the best dog in an organization, having spent the first 10 years of his NBA career in Washington.
Wall was supposed to be a franchise player that the Wizards could build around and it looked like he could become that when he signed that supermax extension with Washington back in the summer of 2017. The contract didn’t start until last season, and now he will go without ever playing for the team that originally signed him. Injuries suck, and the fact that they are so common sucks even more, but Wall is only human and may be finally trying to prove his worth now, for better or for worse, Houston.
So then, who won the trade? It’s too early to say for sure, but for now is it possible for both teams to lose? Trading stars almost always end badly for the team to surrender one, and that includes a case like this where it’s star to star. The uncertainty among Westbrook and Wall raises too many red flags on both sides of this deal to be healthy for either.
Aduno Boogie and Wall
This is not a question, but how cool will it be to see these two Kentucky Wildcats teammates reunited on the floor together again?
– DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) December 3, 2020