The Rockets and Wizards are swapping Russell Westbrook for John Wall. Here are NBA Trade Grades for both sides.
The Houston Rockets had a disgruntled point guard who wanted out in Russell Westbrook. The Washington Wizards had a disgruntled point guard who wanted out in John Wall. And although both sides denied the tension and inner turmoil within their organizations, they ultimately managed to alleviate some of those concerns by swapping those guards out for one another.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets have agreed to send Westbrook to the Wizards in exchange for Wall and a first-round draft pick.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports the pick is a lottery-protected first-rounder in 2023, top-12 protected in 2024, top-10 protected in 2025 and top-8 protected in 2026. If it has not conveyed by then, it will convert into two second-rounders.
2023 protected 1st round pick
There are more than a few parallels between these two once-dynamic point guards who found themselves unwanted by their respective teams and reciprocated the same energy. Both have an extensive injury history, both are poor long-range shooters, both are on terrible, debilitating contracts and both were looking for a new situation.
Now that they’ve been swapped for one another, it’s time to sort out how both sides fared with some NBA Trade Grades.
The Wizards are getting the better and healthier player here, plain and simple. Russ is not an ideal fit next to Bradley Beal as a non-shooter who sees himself as the alpha, but he should also take some of the defensive pressure off the Wizards’ 2-guard. Beal’s well-rounded game is more conducive to a drive-and-dish point guard like Russ than Harden’s iso-heavy style was.
There’s also the savings: While both Wall and the 32-year-old Russ are on the books for at least two more years with a hefty player option for that third season, Wall’s contract comes in at $132.9 million over the next three seasons. Westbrook’s is only $132.6 million. LOOK AT ALL THOSE SAVINGS, TOMMY SHEPPARD!
In all seriousness, Wall was as close to two peas in a pod with Russ as you could get because of their ugly contracts, worrisome injury histories, waning athleticism upon which much of their games relied and their complete lack of a jump shot.
Russ compounds those issues by still playing like he’s Option A, but at least he played last season. Or the season before, when Wall missed 50 games. Or the season before that, when Wall missed another 41 games. In fact, the last time John Wall started a season in which he would go on to play at least 70 games, Donald Trump hadn’t been elected president yet.
In that regard, this is a win for a Washington squad that wants to start assembling a more competitive team around Beal. This Wizards offense was high-powered last season without Wall. Put Westbrook in that point guard slot, put shooters around him and Beal, and suddenly a weaker Southeastern Division makes this fit look a lot more appealing.
Add in his familiarity with head coach Scott Brooks, who was something of a Westbrook Whisperer during their time together on the Oklahoma City Thunder, and you can see the potential benefits.
A Russ-Beal backcourt gives the Wizards legitimate star power, even if it won’t vault them into the contender category in the East. Still, if the goal is giving Beal a foundation to return to the playoffs and keep him happy in Washington, this deal is about as good as could be expected in a potential John Wall trade — even at the price of a protected first-round pick in 2023.
On the bright side, the Rockets are getting rid of a disgruntled player who doesn’t fit with Harden anymore. Russ couldn’t accept the reality that he needed to be Robin to Harden’s … well, Batman in the regular season, Nightwing in the playoffs. Between that, his penchant for poor shots, his turnovers in clutch situations and his lack of a jumper, he was just a bad fit.
Wall, even being two years younger than Russ, is not a perfect replacement by any means. As a career 32.4 percent 3-point shooter, he’s hardly an ideal match with the way Harden-led teams play. It’s not like he’s suddenly going to discover a 3-point shot after being injured and away from NBA action for two years (707 days, to be exact).
However, Wall at his best is a better distributor than Westbrook, and as he showed at times in Washington, he was capable of riding shotgun when Beal started cranking it up toward a high-scoring night. He’s more likely to accept a complementary role alongside a perennial MVP like Harden than Russ was as a former MVP himself. That alone could be an addition by subtraction kind of move where even an adequate Wall is an upgrade simply by not trying to do too much and focusing on distributing. That should be easy for a guy with a career average of 9.2 assists per game.
With that being said, Wall has missed 163 out of a possible 236 games for the Wizards over the last three seasons. That’s 69 percent of the time, and that number is not nice in this case. Availability matters, especially for a Rockets team that relies so heavily on Harden and just brought a recovering DeMarcus Cousins on board.
Boogie and Wall reuniting as former Kentucky teammates is a nice story, but this is another risky hedge to try and keep Harden happy in Houston — much like acquiring Cousins, signing Christian Wood and trading away Robert Covington all were.
Even if Wall stays healthy, it will take him quite a bit of time to return to proper form, and that’s while adjusting to an entirely new superstar teammate and supporting cast — under a first-year head coach, no less. The Rockets are doing everything in their power to assemble a makeshift contender with limited means in an attempt to curb any further trade demands, but expecting this recovering star to be the piece that pushes them over the top would be naive. At the very least, they’re recouping some kind of draft asset — even if it is well-protected — after years of trades left them sorely lacking in that department.
In the end, this a rare player-for-player swap that is sure to enrage both fanbases even if it’s actually a pretty fair deal that makes sense given the desperate situations both franchises find themselves in. Both scenarios could easily backfire and send either team into rebuild territory, but since the Rockets and Wizards lacked other avenues to pursue in order to keep their stars happy, these last-ditch efforts made sense for both sides.