When the Houston Rockets traded Russell Westbrook for John Wall last season, it was a last-ditch effort to please their disgruntled superstar James Harden. At the time it was looked at as an exchange of two of the worst contracts present in the NBA.
Early in the season Wall and Harden exchanged words through press conferences, challenging one another on the idea of playing in Houston. Wall was dropped into the most uncomfortable situation in the NBA and this was after an almost two-year layoff due to various surgeries.
Once Harden was traded, Wall had the opportunity to showcase his talents post-surgery and early in the season he impressed, leading a young team to competitive games and gritty performances. He also showed flashes of his old self with three-sixty layups and flying down the court in transition offense for his signature acrobatic finishes. But down the stretch, injuries and covid protocols marred the team and Wall ended the season getting shutdown for surgery. This left the Rockets with a huge question mark leading into next season, what should be done with John Wall?
I guess the most straightforward option this offseason would be to keep Wall. In Wall’s lone season with the Rockets, he showed flashes of the Wall we had seen in Washington. He seemingly was more confident in his jump shot, attempting to the most threes ever in his career (6.2 a game). Wall also played very well on the defensive end, a lot of the time pressing opposing point guards the minute they crossed half court.
Wall also showed some signs of the fears people had with him going into the season. At times he seemed to slow down late in games and while a lot of the time getting to the basket, he was struggling to finish. Wall also continued with turnover and decision-making issues that were common in Washington. In fairness to Wall, this was his first season playing basketball in almost two full seasons.
The at times inconsistent play was expected from a player with such a long layoff due to such a significant injury. The most troubling aspect of keeping Wall into next season was the season-ending surgery that closed out Wall’s season with the Rockets. At the end of the season, the Rockets shut down Wall to have a knee scope surgery after aggravating his knee throughout the season.
One could debate this was the Rockets being extra careful with Wall, as they were incentivized to do this with the playoffs were out of reach and a high lottery pick was on the horizon. If the plan is to keep Wall, hopefully, it is the case that he follows suit of Paul George and Gordon Hayward, whose second season back after a devastating injury was much more inspiring than the first.
Trade Him: Trade Ideas
Blue Chip Targets
There are two huge names in trade discussions around the NBA, one of them is Ben Simmons and Kristaps Porziņģis. Now it is hard to gauge both of these players’ trade markets before going into the offseason. Obviously, there would need to be multiple first-round picks included in Wall centered deal for either of these players.
While many people might be pessimistic about the idea of Dallas or Philadelphia swapping these players for a player in Wall who is owed 44 million dollars next year and a 47 million dollar player option the following year. With that being said, the Rockets have a combination of things that most teams around the NBA don’t. They have a veteran starter with the potential to get back to his star roots and a plethora of first-round picks to offer up. With Porziņģis’s and Simmons’s trade markets depleted at best, the Rockets might be primed to buy low on either of these young talents, if they can sell Wall as the missing piece to a championship roster.
If Rockets can pull off either of these trades and bring a young star into their newly developed young core, the future could be bright. With the second overall pick and a potential blue-chip trade, the Rockets could expedite their post-Harden trade rebuild.
A More Liekly Scenario: More Picks
While Rockets fans can dream of a blue chirp target in exchange for Wall, the most likely situation is if he is traded is he will go to a losing team in exchange for draft picks.
Two teams that fit this mold that first comes to mind would be the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks. Starting with the Magic, they blew up their team mid-season with a fury of trades, offloading their biggest contracts in exchange for picks. One might ask, why would they revert that and trade picks for a huge contract in Wall?
One thing Orlando has is young players, and what we saw with Chris Paul in OKC was that a veteran player can really expedite the improvement of young talent. If Orlando wants to see what their young players can do in defined roles and not have a season of overextending their responsible, they could look to Wall to be a veteran presence. The exact same reasoning can be given for the Knicks, as they seem the most logical place for Wall to land if he were to be traded.
The Knicks just came off an incredibly overachieving season, seeing some of their young players fill into unexpected roles under new coach Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks could look to buy low on Wall and hope for. career resurrection that pushes their young players to new levels in the playoffs where they struggled. This could also be a hard sell for fans of the Knicks who have seen their organization overpay for players come and time again in hopes to find their superstar.
Final Prediction: What Will Happen?
My gut tells me the Rockets will play into the season and use Wall in the same role as I mentioned he would fill in Orlando or New York. With the Rockets having a young core led by Christain Wood and Kevin Porter JR an incoming number two overall pick, Wall could be the needed veteran presence.
In saying that, I think the Rockets will go with this solution but look to make a midseason trade with the hopes of an improved trade market whether due to Walls play or a team desperate for a mid-season improvement.
Whatever the result is for the Rockets and Wall, hopefully, he can get his injury issues on track and play a full season with a team that wants to have him. He showed us last season all how much more exciting the NBA is when he’s playing at a high level.
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