An NBA offseason isn’t really complete without a couple of deals that will take everyone by surprise, and this year is no different. There was the Phoenix Suns trading for Chris Paul to pair him with another All Star in Devin Booker, there was Bogdan Bogdanovic spurning the Milwaukee Bucks to join the Atlanta Hawks, and there was the Los Angeles Lakers signing Montrezl Harrell away from the Clippers to strengthen their hopes of repeating as champions.
A deal that would have been more shocking, however, is the one that hasn’t happened yet but was rumored at the start of free agency: a trade between the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards that swaps Russell Westbrook for John Wall. Reports of the potential trade sent social media into a frenzy, as both point guards were in there 30s, have struggled to shoot from outside, were signed to massive contracts, and had previously dealt with injuries, with Wall sitting out the 2019-2020 season due to an Achilles injury.
This is an odd one. Bradley Beal has been saying all year how excited he is to get back on the court with John Wall. Of course, Russell Westbrook is better than Wall. And winning, not friendship, is all that’ll keep Beal in Washington long term. https://t.co/3DgHRVRjrx
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) November 17, 2020
John Wall is better than Russ moving forward to me. I don’t know why Washington would do this.
— Ry (@JustRyCole) November 17, 2020
Wizards general manager Tommy Shepard recently clarified that “there are no plans” to trade Wall, per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, and that the five-time All Star has not requested a trade. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meanwhile, reports that the Rockets training camp could start with both Westbrook and fellow All Star James Harden in the lineup, which could mean that trade talks between the teams have stalled. However, there’s a possibility that talks could heat up again, especially since Westbrook has said that he wants to leave the Rockets, and there’s not a lot of interest in a potential trade around the league.
It’s interesting to understand why the teams would even considering swapping their All Star point guards. Westbrook, the 2017 NBA MVP winner, a nine-time All Star, and a two-time All NBA First Team and five-time All NBA Second Team selection, remains the better player. However, he is also two years older than Wall, and struggled in his first season in Houston after testing positive for COVID-19 and battling a right quad injury, which resulted in career-low numbers in the playoffs.
Wall, meanwhile, is the younger player at 30 and has less mileage than Westbrook, but hasn’t played since December 2018 and is coming off an Achilles injury, which is notoriously hard to recover from. In the 2018-2019 season, when he played on 32 games, Wall averaged 20.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 1.5 steals, while shooting 44.4% from the field and 30.2% from beyond the arc.
Westbrook, in his first season with Harden in Houston, put up better numbers, averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, seven assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting 47.2% from the field and 25.8% from downtown. The two guards are also signed to similarly hefty contracts, with Westbrook still having three years and $132 million left on his current deal, and Wall also having three years and $133 million left on his current deal.
Perhaps the Rockets and Wizards were looking for ways to help their star point guards with a change of scenery, especially the Rockets, who have struggled to find a trade partner for Westbrook. Houston is also looking at the possibility of parting ways with Harden, who has said that he wants to play for the Brooklyn Nets and reunite with former teammate Kevin Durant, even turning down a massive extension from the team. Having Wall instead of Westbrook to share the backcourt could shake things up for Houston, especially after the hiring of Stephen Silas as the new head coach and the addition of players like Christian Wood and Demarcus Cousins.
The Wizards, meanwhile, have another All Star in Bradley Beal, who has thrived in Wall’s absence and put up career numbers last season. But while the 27-year old Beal has said that he is looking forward to playing alongside Wall, there are reports that it was the two-time All Star who wanted to bring Westbrook on board and team up with the former MVP. It’s unsure, however, if Westbrook’s role in Washington will be similar to his role in Oklahoma City, or whether he can co-exist with Beal after his stint with the Rockets.
The trade involving Wall and Westbrook may not happen, and it remains unclear why the Rockets and Wizards even discussed it. But perhaps it was the similar situations of the two organisations regarding the players who both want change, their lucrative contracts, and their uncertain futures caused them to do the unthinkable and discuss this deal. Anything really is possible during the NBA offseason.