Wall, 30, was the top pick in the 2010 draft and quickly ascended to become the Wizards’ franchise player and a beloved figure in Washington. The former University of Kentucky star led the Wizards to the playoffs four times, advancing to the second round in 2014, 2015 and 2017. ESPN first reported the news of the trade.
“Having the opportunity to acquire a player of Russell’s caliber and character was something that we could not pass up when looking at both the immediate and long-term future of our team,” Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said in a team release Wednesday night. “With that said, the decision to part ways with John, one of the greatest players in franchise history, was extremely difficult. What he has meant to our organization and our community is immeasurable and will not be forgotten.”
Not long after signing a supermax contract extension in 2017, Wall encountered injuries that altered the course of his career. In 2017-18, he played just 41 games and underwent knee surgery. The following year, he was limited to 32 games and suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon that sidelined him for the entire 2019-20 season as well. Wall averaged 20.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists in 2018-19, the last time he took the court in Washington.
As rumors of a possible trade with Houston percolated in recent weeks, people with knowledge of the situation told The Washington Post that Wall wanted out of Washington. However, Sheppard said that Wall had not requested a trade, and Wall issued a “no comment” last week when asked about the situation. Wall also made headlines in September flashing gang signs in a video that went viral, and he later apologized.
Westbrook, 32, is a nine-time all-star who endured a trying 2019-20 season with the Rockets, his first in Houston. While he averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists during the regular season, Westbrook tested positive for the coronavirus before the NBA bubble and was limited by a quadriceps injury during the playoffs. His poor outside shooting and turnover problems were a key factor in Houston’s second-round exit to the Los Angeles Lakers. In Washington, Westbrook will be reunited with his former coach on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Scott Brooks.
The Wall-for-Westbrook swap gives both players a fresh start, but it changes little about their teams’ salary cap positions. Wall is on the books for $40.8 million this season and $43.8 million the next, and he holds a $46.9 million player option in 2022-23. Westbrook will make $41 million this season and $43.8 million next season with a 2022-23 player option worth $46.7 million.
“Russell’s accomplishments and honors on the court speak for themselves, but his drive and will to win are what separate him as a truly unique player,” Brooks said in a release. “As much as I’m looking forward to reuniting with him, I’m equally sad to say goodbye to John. He is one of the toughest and most gifted players I’ve ever been around and we all wish him nothing but the best moving forward.”
With the NBA’s 2020-21 season set to open Dec. 22, the Wizards will hope that moving Wall can provide a fresh start for Bradley Beal, who became the organization’s franchise player in recent years. Westbrook is a productive regular season player with a less severe injury history than Wall, and he was seeking a change of scenery after the Rockets parted ways with General Manager Daryl Morey and Coach Mike D’Antoni during the offseason.
The Rockets attempted last season to pair Westbrook with James Harden, his childhood friend, with mixed results. Westbrook’s skill going to the basket and poor outside shooting led Houston to attempt a radical small-ball approach, which fizzled during the playoffs. Harden and Westbrook were both dynamic individual scorers, but they didn’t consistently demonstrate the ability to make each other better. Harden also was linked to the Brooklyn Nets in trade rumors in recent weeks.
Washington will hope that Westbrook and Beal form a dynamic backcourt duo that can lead a playoff push after two lottery trips in Wall’s absence. However, Westbrook’s individual success often came at the expense of his younger teammates during his 11 seasons with the Thunder, which could present complications for recent Wizards draft picks Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija.
Wall’s second chapter in Houston comes at a time of immense transition, with owner Tilman Fertitta hiring a first-time general manager in Rafael Stone and a first-time head coach in Stephen Silas this offseason. If the Rockets execute a Harden trade, they almost certainly would enter a full rebuild.