The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.
The dwindling offseason was hit one with one more ripple when it was announced that John Wall and the Houston Rockets were working together to find a trade for him. He will work out with the team but won’t play for the Rockets as they continue to work on a deal.
Among the teams that have reportedly expressed interest are the Heat, Clippers and Pistons but looking at that group underscores just how challenging it’s going to be to find a workable deal, especially if the Rockets are focused on ‘winning’ the transaction.
Wall’s health, his declining production and his enormous salary are all complicating factors here. He’s due $44 million this season and has a player option for roughly $47 million next season, which he is absolutely going to pick up. And those numbers are just large, they’re completely out of line with the player he is at this point in his career. His salary for last season was the fourth-highest in the NBA and for all that, he appeared in just 40 games and produced about 2.46 wins, as estimated by ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus. For roughly the cost of Chris Paul, he provided Houston with roughly the aggregate production of Cameron Payne.
Wall is still just 31 years old but the distance between him and his prime is already enormous. Over the past four seasons, he’s appeared in 113 of a possible 308 games. And even on a per-minute basis, his production is on a different level — his RPM of plus-0.08 last season is a microscopic fraction of his career peak of plus-5.33 in 2015-17.
Which teams could actually trade for John Wall?
Besides the list of teams mentioned above, there aren’t a lot of obvious landing spots for Wall. A return to the Wizards is unlikely. We can probably rule out the Nets, Bucks, Hawks, Pacers, Hornets, Bulls, Cavaliers, Jazz, Suns, Blazers, Lakers, Warriors, Grizzlies and Kings, who all have firmly entrenched point guards or recently made investments in a new option who is likely preferable to Wall.
The Knicks could probably figure something out but it’s not clear that Wall is a good fit or an improvement over their current point guard options. Ditto for the Celtics, 76ers and Raptors. The Magic could conceivably make something work but they’re probably better off just reserving minutes and developmental opportunities for Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz. The Thunder are probably in the same boat with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Theo Maledon. The Spurs could also make something work but they seem to be pivoting towards youth and Wall alone doesn’t really catapult them forward into anything meaningful. The Nuggets are probably out given their current roster, big new investment in Aaron Gordon and a looming extension for Michael Porter Jr.
That leaves the Mavericks, Pelicans and Timberwolves.
Dallas might be happy to turn Kristaps Porzingis into John Wall, especially since his contract is a year shorter, but they might not have much else to add to the deal that would qualify as a ‘win’ for Houston. The Pelicans would have to make absolutely sure that Zion Williamson was on board, which is not an easy sell, but they’d also likely need to include Brandon Ingram to make the salaries work and ask Houston to return something else of significant value to balance the scales. The Timberwolves might be able to get a deal done using pieces like Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley and Taurean Prince but, again, it’s not clear how that would actually improve their team or if it would be enough to get the Rockets on board.
Could John Wall help facilitate a Ben Simmons trade?
The most interesting possibility is that Wall is a piece that helps grease the wheels for a Ben Simmons trade. Wall shouldn’t hold any real interest for the 76ers and so it doesn’t really work as a two-team trade. But Wall might be able to help lure in the third team the 76ers have been looking for. For example, you could build a deal including the Pelicans with Brandon Ingram and Kira Lewis going to Philadelphia, Wall, Tyrese Maxey and Kevin Porter Jr. going to New Orleans and Ben Simmons and Nickeil Alexander-Walker going to Houston. The Pelicans would still be the wild card here, with Zion’s opinion of the deal as the key factor, but it’s at least somewhat plausible.
Something with the Mavericks could be possible, as well. Dallas gets Wall and Tyrese Maxey. The Rockets get Ben Simmons and Dwight Powell. The 76ers get Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Porter Jr. and a future first-round pick from Houston. Again, these are all complicated and there are holes in every idea but looping three teams together makes it a bit easier for find a situation that provides wins for both the 76ers and Rockets in trades of Wall and Simmons.
Ben Simmons trade rumors have ruled the offseason conversation and Owen Phillips has the stats to prove it.
A new episode of the Over and Back podcast looks at the last great games in the careers of this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame class, including Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Ben Wallace and Chris Webber.