The Washington Wizards have explored a John Wall/Russell Westbrook swap. Here’s why they shouldn’t do it.
A little over 24 hours after the trade moratorium was lifted, the Washington Wizards were finally in the middle of the NBA trade conversation. It just wasn’t for the All-Star guard that many have assumed the Wizards are in danger of losing.
John Wall — not Bradley Beal — has reportedly been the topic of trade talks between the Wizards and Houston Rockets in a deal that would send Russell Westbrook to D.C. according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
There’s nothing wrong with answering the phone when other teams are shopping, and it is unclear who initiated these discussions or how serious they became. Hopefully, these discussions were short-lived, though. A deal in which the Wizards swap out John Wall’s massive contract for Russell Westbrook’s massive contract just doesn’t make sense, especially when the Rockets are looking for assets in addition to Wall.
It’s no secret that John Wall and Russell Westbrook have two of the least team-friendly contracts in the NBA. They’re both due to make $41 million this season, $44 million next season, and both will presumably opt into their $47 million player options for the 2023-24 season.
If you’re going to move Wall, though, you move him to gain some financial flexibility. You take on some expensive but expiring deals and get whatever assets you can to help for a rebuild. You don’t flip Wall for a 32-year-old, ball-dominant guard with an equally as oppressive contract. And the Wizards certainly shouldn’t be the ones giving up assets in the process. That actually makes them less flexible moving forward.
There are pieces on the Rockets roster that would be interesting additions to this deal. Mainly, PJ Tucker. But according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Houston is “hesitant” to sell low on Westbrook, and they believe he can increase his trade value by the time the trade deadline rolls around. Unfortunately, the Wizards will not be getting a bargain just because they’re one of the few teams showing interest in Westbrook.
Westbrook might not be averaging triple-doubles for an entire season anymore, but he was All-NBA last year. He’s still an exceptional player. On the other hand, John Wall hasn’t played NBA basketball in nearly two full years. Who knows what he’ll look like when he finally returns. So, yes, Westbook might raise the ceiling, but by how much? And at what cost?
There’s no denying that a Westbrook/Beal backcourt would be different than a Wall/Beal backcourt. But would it be better? Wall’s pass-first mentality makes him a bit of a better fit next to Beal, while Westbrook, an aggressive volume shooter, might take some time to gel with Beal. This offseason will be over in the blink of an eye, and with a shortened season on top of that, changing the entire makeup of a backcourt with a history of winning might backfire in a bad way on the Wizards. By the time Beal and Westbrook figure things out, how many games will be left in the season? What kind of hole could they be in by then? It’s not as though Westbrook and Harden clicked right away when Westbrook joined Houston last season.
Even if this deal doesn’t make sense on the surface, there are two reasons why the Wizards would do it.
- They don’t think Wall, coming off one of basketball’s most devastating injuries, will be able to return to form and want to sell while they can.
- Bradley Beal wants Russell Westbrook.
Tommy Sheppard has been adamant about “building around Beal” and not mortgaging the team’s future on moves that would only make the team incrementally better. But if they need to bring Westbook in to keep Beal happy and keep him in D.C., then they have to do it. I’m just not sure how much building they’ll be able to do after absorbing Westbrook’s contact and forfeiting assets to Houston.
Otherwise, it’s a fairly lateral move and one that breaks up two longtime teammates in a season when familiarity may matter more than ever. Beal has been telling everyone who will listen that he can’t wait to play with a healthy John Wall. Maybe that’s just lip service, but it’d be a shame if we never get to see it and the Wall era ends this way, especially when the return won’t really help the Wizards moving forward.