What is John Wall’s future on the Rockets?
The 2021-22 Houston Rockets are shaping up to have a pretty clear identity: youth and exuberance. Equipped with six players under the age of 21, the Rockets will likely go through their fair share of speed bumps again next season as they navigate a pretty exciting and promising future. As their season tips off in a couple months, this does leave a pretty glaring question: What does Houston do with their remaining veteran talent? No player is this more pertinent to than 30-year-old John Wall.
Houston originally acquired Wall with the intention of both satisfying the trade demand of Russell Westbrook and trying to build a winner around James Harden. Now that Harden’s gone and the organization has started to move in a new direction, Wall likely knows that his days in a Rockets uniform are numbered. There’s really only three things that can happen now:
- The Rockets allow Wall’s contract to expire in 2023
- The Rockets trade Wall
- The Rockets buyout Wall’s contract before his deal expires
Let’s go through each scenario in detail.
The Rockets allow Wall’s contract to expire in 2023
This scenario may be the most off-putting to Rockets fans and also pretty unlikely, but it’s worth discussing. Wall’s remaining 2-years, $91 million – last year being a player option – is so massive that it could be unsettling for ownership to pay him just to go away. In this scenario, Wall is likely sent home at some point in the final year of his deal (similar to Al-Horford in Oklahoma City last year). Two years is a significant chunk of time in the NBA, so this is probably the least likely outcome.
The Rockets trade John Wall
Something less unlikely than Houston letting Wall’s contract expire is Houston trading him. Unless he can prove otherwise, Wall’s contract is one of the worst assets in basketball at the moment. This means the Rockets would have to positive attach assets in a deal to move him, those likely being first round picks. As a rebuilding team, Houston is in asset acquisition mode, not asset forfeiture mode. Any deal where the Rockets surrender picks that doesn’t net them a positive asset is a no-go.
The only other scenario would be Wall playing relatively up to the contract he’s on. Theoretically, a team with a significant point guard need could be tempted by a season of All-Star play from Wall and make an offer. However, this is a doubtful outcome considering the injuries Wall has accrued over the the past five years. If both the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder did their homework and determined there likely wasn’t a suitor for Kemba Walker, there probably isn’t one for Wall. Walker’s contract was considerably more team-friendly than Wall’s and if he couldn’t get traded, it’s improbably John Wall is getting dealt anytime soon.
The Rockets buyout Wall’s contract in the next calendar year
If you could bet on things like this, this is where I would advise you to park most of your money. An eventual buyout just makes the most sense for both parties. Wall gets his money and the opportunity to play for a playoff team and the Rockets can move forward with their young core without sacrificing future flexibility. Houston is not in a place where they can use first round picks to dump a contract. Wall is also not in a position to opt-out of the last year of his contract.
Two interesting questions emerge from this:
- How much money is John Wall willing to give up?
- When will this buyout happen?
The baseline Wall would be willing to give up at this point would probably be $2.8 million considering that’s how much he can make on a minimum deal in 2022-23. However it’ll be interesting if the Rockets could convince him to give up a little more to offer some cap flexibility. If Wall’s agents scour the market and determine they could command the taxpayer mid-level exception, that’s $6.2 million off Houston’s books next year. The full mid-level exception would make it $10 million, however, that is pushing the extents of his value as a basketball player at this point.
Stranger things have happened though. Everyone though Gordon Hayward was foolish for opting out of his contract with Boston, but he found a 4-year, $120 million contract with Charlotte last summer. With several star players coming off the free agency market, Wall’s value could also become artificially inflated with a strong 2021-22 campaign. The NBA is impossible to predict so it would be naive to rule out a multi-year deal for Wall cavalierly.
As far as when John Wall could get bought out, there’s really only a few dates to watch out for:
- 2022 Trade Deadline
- 2022 Offseason
- 2023 Trade Deadline
At this point, it’s probably far-fetched to expect Wall to be bought out before the 2021-22 season, but I have to mention it for posterity. If the Rockets trade some their remaining veteran players (Eric Gordon, Danuel House, etc…) at the 2022 trade deadline, the days following become high-alert for a possible Wall buyout. Houston will probably explore all their trade options for Wall and if they come up empty, both sides will likely come to the table and discuss numbers. The days following the trade deadline are when the highest profile buyouts usually happen every year and Wall would certainly qualify for that label.
This is because teams have deemed a playoff appearance unlikely and want commit full-time to their young talent. This means more minutes for players like Kevin Porter Jr. and Josh Christopher in the backcourt. This also gives Wall time to sign with a playoff team for the stretch run of the season. This feels like the most natural time for a buyout, but there’s also a realistic scenario where Houston waits until the offseason.
If the Rockets start the season better than expected, they may be tempted to keep their helpful veterans on board and go for a the play-in spot. A recent comparison may be the 2019-20 Thunder, where Oklahoma City opted to keep Chris Paul due to unexpected regular season success. This is where the 2022 offseason comes into play as the next logical buyout time.
In all likelihood, Wall’s situation will be resolved before the 2023 trade deadline. The only scenario where he stays that long is if the Rockets exceed expectations to a great degree this season and want to try again the following season.
It should be interesting to see what John Wall has to say at Rockets media day, but until then, the Rockets are just going to have to roll the ball out and see what they have next season. Since their future core is still on rookie deals, there’s no need to rush into a resolution, as frustrating as it may be for Rockets fans who want to turn the page sooner rather than later.