The Houston Rockets haven’t been able to trade John Wall and now he doesn’t want to sit out and wait anymore. Does this make things better or worse?
John Wall wants to play again. After sitting out all of the Houston Rockets’ games so far this year, he is now expressing a desire to rejoin the team. However, the team is not especially eager to give playing time to its most decorated and highly-paid player. And now the team and the former All-NBA point guard find themselves at an impasse as they try to figure out a way forward that is satisfactory for both parties.
After the 2017 season, John Wall signed a four-year extension that would have kept him with the Wizards through the 2022-23 season. He was coming off four straight All-Star appearances and his first All-NBA selection, but the following season was when injury troubles began robbing him of his athleticism along with his ability to stay on the floor at all. Since then, Wall has not played more than 41 games in any season and has only appeared in 113 games overall over the last five years.
When the Rockets traded for John Wall last offseason, it was more to unload Russell Westbrook than to acquire Wall. Westbrook wanted out and the team acquiesced, hoping that a Wall and James Harden pairing could be something the Westbrook/Harden duo wasn’t. Of course Harden then wanted out and was quickly traded to Brooklyn making the idea moot. Wall was an awkward fit as Houston transformed from a team with championship aspirations to a squad in the midst of a complete rebuild overnight.
The Rockets know that John Wall is not a part of the team’s future. They are hoping to build around Jalen Green, the number two pick in last year’s draft, and the several other young players on the roster. So far, the team has been fun in spurts, flashing bursts of potential, but also abysmal. They have one of the worst records in the league at 4-16 and are unlikely to turn things around this season, but that’s no cause for concern in the eyes of the front office since they still own their first-round picks in the next two drafts.
What does John Wall have to offer at this point?
It’s not clear how good John Wall is or how much he can contribute at this point. Last season, Wall did average over 20 points per game, but he needed 18 shots to do so as he shot a career-low 40 percent from the field. He was not quite the dynamic athlete that he was a few years ago, before injuries took their toll, but he was less diminished than one may have feared or expected.
Though it is unlikely that Wall will ever be able to recapture the glory of his All-Star days with Washington, it seems sure that he does still have something to contribute. Perhaps not as a starting point guard, but as a change-of-pace option off the bench who could offer a dash of speed and tenacious defense. In Houston, Wall would be able to provide the young team with some much-needed veteran leadership that could help keep his younger teammates from developing bad habits that could hinder their growth. His mere presence could give Houston a dose of consistency and competence that the team has often lacked through the start of the season.
It does feel unfair to Wall for him to be benched indefinitely less because of any failure on his own part than because of the team’s rebuilding strategy. Perhaps the team is worried that his presence would make the team more competitive and help them win games that they’d rather lose. Most likely, they would rather give his potential minutes to young guards like Green or Kevin Porter Jr. to give them further experience. Yet one must ask, could they not grow by playing alongside him?
The concept of untradeable contracts has been proven false time and time again over the last decade. However, it is truly difficult to imagine just who would be willing to take on Wall’s deal in a vacuum, let alone how the trade could be engineered to work under the current salary cap rules. Additionally, the Rockets would have to sacrifice assets in order to get another team to trade for Wall and his contract, which it is difficult to imagine them doing. More probable is an eventual buy-out. Houston will certainly explore other options in order to avoid having to pay tens of millions just to ensure the end of the situation, but that is how these things usually end.
The thing about being a professional athlete is that one rarely gets to choose how one’s career comes to a close. Years of bouncing around the league, taking on diminished roles, before eventually finding no more suitors is usually the way it ends. The farewell tours are the exception, not the rule. This is not likely to be the end for Wall, but it is a sign that a new stage is underway, one where stardom is again a dream rather than the reality.