Five big questions from the Russell Westbrook for John Wall trade


Welcome to the NBA, where no contract is untradable.

Washington’s John Wall and Houston’s Russell Westbrook had two of the top five worst contracts in the NBA (maybe two of the top three), and Wednesday the Rockets and Wizards decided to swap problems. Because Westbrook is the better player at this point, the Wizards had to throw in a future first-round pick.

It’s a trade of big-name players — each of whom reportedly asked for a trade — and massive contracts, but it doesn’t move the needle much for either Houston or Washington on the court. If anything, this trade raises more questions than it provides answers.

Here are the five biggest questions from the Westbrook for Wall trade.

1) How much does John Wall have left in the tank?

That is the single biggest unknown in this entire trade. Wall hasn’t been on an NBA court since December of 2018 — almost two years — and has had a couple of major surgeries since then. Is Wall still an All-Star level player? Is he more like a good starter now? Has he slid to being backup-level? Nobody really knows, but the answer ties into the other big question for the Rockets:

Will Wall fit well next to James Harden?

The risk with Wall is his lengthy injury history. Wall has some craft to his game, he’s a decent spot-up shooter (37% on catch-and-shoot threes the last season he played regularly), and he can get to the rim and create. You have to cover Wall at the arc (unlike Westbrook the past season or two). Wall also is a better defender than Westbrook.

However, Wall was last an All-Star in the 2017-18 season, since then he had major knee surgery and ruptured his Achilles. But even before the injuries, in the last two seasons he played, Wall’s efficiency was starting to fall off. Was that due to injuries — he played through bone spurs in his heel before his knee and Achilles injuries — or was his game just starting to show age?

The past couple of seasons in Houston, Mike D’Antoni directed the James Harden show — Harden was given an all-he-could-eat buffet of isolation touches. Houston traded Clint Capela, so there wasn’t even a guy to set picks, it was just The Beard doing what he wanted. Westbrook had the ball in his hands plenty last season, but Harden still had a ridiculous usage rate (third highest in the league).

Will the addition of a point guard like Wall, bringing in some more traditional players such as centers Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins, and a change of coaches to Stephen Silas, mean a shift back toward a more traditional offensive system in Houston? Maybe. The last couple of seasons maxed out the Harden-against-the-world offense and showed its limitations. Silas will likely shake things up by making the Rockets more traditional in some ways (and getting Houston to play faster).

Will Wall and Harden fit together? Maybe the better question is, will they get a chance?

2) Does this mean a fire sale in Houston?

Not a fire sale, but the day the Rockets traded Robert Covington to Portland for draft picks was the day it became obvious the Rockets front office was thinking about the long term and a potential rebuild. Trading Westbrook — even for Wall — is just another step down that road (as they added another pick).

Houston is dealing, and there is strong interest around the league in PJ Tucker, plus guys like Eric Gordon and Danuel House also could be trade targets. Just about anyone wearing a Rockets’ jersey will be available at the deadline, including Harden.

Don’t sleep on the fact the Rockets picked up a first-round pick in this trade (protected, but it likely conveys as a first-rounder in 2024 or 2025). Houston sent out a lot of picks to trade for Westbrook, getting one back in this deal is a good pick up for the rebuild that is eventually coming.

3) What does this trade mean for Bradley Beal? The Wizards’ offense?

Owner Ted Leonsis wants his Washington squad to make the playoffs, and the Wizards just got better because Westbrook will actually be on the court putting up numbers. Wall is back this season, but the injury risk is high and, as previously noted (question No. 1), nobody is sure where his game stands.

At age 32, Westbrook may be in decline, but he was an All-NBA player last season who averaged 27 points a night and had a very efficient stretch through the middle of the season. Westbrook’s contract may have scared teams, but he can still play — he was Third Team All-NBA last season — and him at the point next to Beal makes the Wizards better. (How much better? Skip ahead to question four.)

How well Westbrook and Beal mesh is an open question, with a lot falling on Scott Brooks and staff (remember Brooks coached Westbrook in Oklahoma City). Beal had the rock in his hands any time he wanted the past couple of seasons, now Westbrook will take some of those touches but he is not as efficient as Beal. Will Beal get frustrated, or will Washington win enough that issues are smoothed over?

This trade was a clear sign to other front offices (and fans) — Washington is not trading Beal. At least not this season. The Wizards were never planning to, and they kept saying that publicly, but now it’s even more clear the goal is to make the playoffs, then try to convince Beal to stay long term.

Beal has three years on his contract, but the last one of those is a player option at $37.2 million. Beal likely will choose not to pick that final year up so he can get the security of a longer deal. If Beal tells the Washington front office he wants out, the Wizards need to make a move next offseason.

Whether he wants out or not will possibly hinge on how this season goes.

4) Can the Wizards make the playoffs?

Probably. If you consider making the play-in games in the East making the playoffs.

These Wizards are a win-now team. Washington has its stars in Beal and Westbrook and a potentially strong group of role players around them: Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant and Robin Lopez at center, and the just drafted Deni Avdija. It’s a pretty good roster.

However, the East is improving. Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, and Miami are the likely top five in the conference (in whatever order you want to place them), followed by Toronto and Indiana in my mind. That’s seven. I have Atlanta eighth. Is Washington better than the retooled Hawks?

In a play-in world where the Wizards just need to make the top 10, they should be fine (Orlando is in that mix, too). But advancing beyond the play-in games may be a big ask, and even then the Wizards will draw a series against the Bucks or Nets or Celtics in the first round, and that will be too much to overcome.

5) Can the Rockets repair their relationship with Harden and keep him?

Only Harden can answer this question.

The Rockets continue to say they are committed to repairing the relationship with Harden, keeping him, and retooling a contender around him. He’s not being traded before the season starts, according to reports. All that despite Harden’s attempt to force his way to Brooklyn. Let’s just say there is plenty of skepticism around the league that Houston can fix things; but the Rockets need to say they will keep him for the trade leverage.

Houston wants the motherload in return for Harden — if Jrue Holiday drew three first-round picks, two pick swaps, and two rotation players in his trade, what is Harden worth? — but currently there are no takers. For now, the Rockets and Harden will continue an uneasy marriage… unless the Rockets are going to spring another unexpected trade in the coming days.

Philadelphia 76ers reportedly hire Nick Nurse as new head coach

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics
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Doc Rivers could not take a contender in the Philadelphia 76ers — a roster with the reigning MVP in Joel Embiid and a former one in James Harden — past the second round. Again. As good as the Sixers have been in the regular season the past few years, it has not translated to playoff success.

Now Nick Nurse will get the chance.

Nurse will be hired as the 76ers’ new head coach, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The buzz around Nurse to Philadephia spiked in the last 24 hours after Milwaukee announced hiring Adrian Griffin as their coach. Nurse makes sense for the 76ers as a coach who is unafraid of unorthodox, out-of-the-box strategies, which is part of the reason he was able to lead the Raptors to the 2019 NBA title.

Nurse also has a connection to Philadelphia president/GM Daryl Morey, who hired Nurse to coach the Houston Rockets’ G-League team the Rio Grand Valley Vipers back in 2011 (when Morey was running the Rockets). That connection was another reason the league sources thought of Nurse as the frontrunner in Philly.

The question is what the roster Nurse will coach looks like. James Harden is a free agent with persistent rumors he might return to Houston, does bringing in Nurse influence his decision?

Philadelphia will have a win-now team with MVP Embiid, rising star Tyrese Maxey (who will have to take on a lot more if Harden leaves), plus quality players such as Tobias Harris, De'Anthony Melton, Shake Milton and others, but the roster likely will shift over the summer. Nurse walks in the door with expectations, but with a roster capable of reaching them.

NBA investigating if referee Eric Lewis had burner Twitter account defending himself

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
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About the last place an NBA referee should want to spend time is Twitter — pictures of puppies and ice cream can draw dark and cruel reactions in that social media space. One can only imagine fans’ reactions to the people making calls against their team (the legitimacy of those calls is moot).

Yet the NBA is investigating if referee Eric Lewis had a Twitter burner account where he defended himself, something first reported by Marc Stein. The account — now deleted — had the username “Blair Cuttliff” with the handle @CuttliffBlair.

The NBA has a rule that referees cannot comment on officiating publicly (outside of specific, authorized moments).

There was some commentary on Twitter that Lewis’ brother, Mark, ran this account, not Eric. That will be part of the league’s investigation.

Lewis has been an NBA official for 19 seasons and is highly rated by the league, having worked an NBA Finals game along with numerous playoff games. The last game he officiated was Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Nuggets on May 16.

This is not the first time the league investigated a Twitter burner account. In 2018, then 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo stepped down after Twitter burner accounts — linked to him and his wife — criticized 76ers players and more. Kevin Durant has admitted to having Twitter burner accounts in the past (which is not a violation for players).

Three things to watch in Game 7 between Miami Heat, Boston Celtics


After three games, the Boston Celtics looked done — not only did they get blown out in Game 3, they dropped the rope. They quit. This looked over. But Boston found their pride and won Game 4, then won Game 5 at home, and finally came the insane Derrick White Game and a Game 6 win to become only the third team ever to go down 0-3 and force a Game 7.

Miami was in control of this series, but some cold shooting nights — particularly from their stars — and a lot of turnovers opened the door for the Celtics. Miami and its vaunted culture, find itself in the exact place it was a year ago, having to win a Game 7 against these Celtics to advance to the Finals — if Jimmy Butler hit an open 3-pointer late a year ago the Heat would have advanced. Can they take that one more step now?

Game 7. The sweetest two words in sports, and we get one Monday night from the TD Garden.

Here are a couple of things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Butler/Adebayo or Tatum/Brown? Which stars show up?

The last time we saw Jayson Tatum in a Game 7 was just two weeks ago, when he dropped a record 51 points on the 76ers in that deciding game. A season ago in a Game 7 against these same Heat, Tatum scored 26 points and hit 4-of-7 from 3, while Jaylen Brown added 24 points.

This item really isn’t about them. While the Celtics’ stars have to have good games, it’s reasonable to expect them to.

This is all about Jimmy Butler, and to a lesser extent Bam Adebayo. For the first 43 minutes of Game 6 these two shot a combined 7-of-35 and were not good enough. Butler had 14 points and was a non-factor in Game 5. For the last three games he has looked tired, he’s lacked some of his explosion, and he has struggled with the Celtics length as they have packed the paint and taken away his easy shots inside for buckets.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said after the Game 6 loss. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

Butler turned things around in the final minutes of Game 6 — sparking a 15-4 run — mainly by attacking and drawing fouls, although he hit a 3-pointer in there as well. That Butler needs to show up Monday night in Boston, they need his points and they need his defense (he will draw Brown or Tatum as his assignment for much of the game).

If Miami is going to win, Butler has to be the best player on the floor. It’s that simple. If he struggles again, the rest will not matter.

2) Are the Celtics hitting their 3-pointers

Among the many ways the Heat have to feel they let a great opportunity slip away in Game 6 was this: Boston shot 7-of-35 from 3. The Celtics’ offense this season has been much more dependent on the 3-pointer, and the Heat did not take advantage of a bad 3-point shooting night from the Celtics.

Boston’s shooters — particularly role players such as Grant Williams and Derrick White — tend to be more comfortable 3-point shooters at home, and if this team gets rolling and hits 15 or more 3s and is shooting 40% or better on those, it’s lights out. Especially if they are breakMiami, even on a good Butler day, will have trouble keeping up.

It’s simplistic to say it’s a make-or-miss league, but when it comes to the Celtics shooting from beyond the arc it applies

3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendation for Game 7

In the last 16 Game 7’s when the total moved at least five points lower than the previous Game 6 total, the Under is on a 14-2 winning streak (87.5%), which is in play here. The total for Game 6 opened at 213.5 and closed at 209.5. Game 7 opened at 206.5 and is down to 203.5, so the trend is in effect with a 10-point or 6.0 point-move depending on how you look at it.

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.