Coming up with a realistic John Wall trade is not impossible.
But it’s impossible adjacent.
Wall and the Rockets have agreed to part ways. He will practice with the team this season, stay in shape, but not play in games as Houston focuses on Jalen Green and their rebuild. Wall and the Rockets are working together to find a trade… but good luck with that.
In the 40 games he played last season, Wall showed that he still has athleticism and skills and can create his own shot. He averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists a game. The concern on the court was his efficiency — he shot 40.4% overall and had a 50.3 true shooting percentage (well below the league average). On top of that, there are the injury concerns of the last four years. Still, he looked like a player who could make a team better with the right players around him.
It’s just a challenge to find that team. It’s easy in a vacuum to say, “Wall is better than player X” and try to construct a trade with that team. I could see Wall as the starting point guard running the break and feeding Zion Williamson the ball in New Orleans. Could Boston put him in the point guard rotation with Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard? Sure, he would help.
But this isn’t a vacuum — Wall is owed $91.7 million over the next two seasons. He is the second-highest-paid player in the NBA this season, tied with James Harden (and trailing only Stephen Curry), but he doesn’t bring near that level of efficiency or production. New Orleans isn’t taking that money on. Brad Stevens isn’t going to tie his hands in Boston with that contract. A lot of teams see it the same way.
There is not one easy, obvious fit for Wall around the league. Unless some star decides he really wants to play with Wall (as LeBron James did with Russell Westbrook), it’s hard to see how a deal gets done in the short term. Which is why a lot of sources around the league don’t expect a deal until the trade deadline at the earliest, and maybe next season. Even then, a buyout and Wall jumping to another team at a reduced salary makes more sense than a straight-up trade.
Still, the rumor mill churns.
There was some media speculation about Miami, but that makes no sense after the Heat landed Kyle Lowry this offseason. Detroit also has come up, but again logic gets in the way: They’re going to take the ball out of Cade Cunningham‘s hands and slow the rebuild to pay $91 million to a veteran?
Barring something highly unexpected — for example, the Mavericks deciding to trade Kristaps Porzingis for Wall — what follows are the two most likely landing spots being discussed.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook. Chris Paul. Kemba Walker. Al Horford. Oklahoma City has been the destination every time a team has needed to dump a big salary the past couple of years (all of those players later moved on to much better landing spots). That could happen again, although likely not straight up — the Thunder want picks and/or young players in a trade, and the rebuilding Rockets will not give those up. However, the Thunder as part of a three (or four) team trade that moved another player with a big salary seems possible. Hypothetically in a trade for a point forward playing in a Pennsylvania city not far from the New Jersey border.
The Thunder have $21.4 million in cap space available, the most of any team right now. That cap space plus Derrick Favors and a young player like Theo Maledon can get it done. Or, clear out some dead cap holds (Nick Collison, for example) and Favors, and it works. The bottom line is, the Thunder can make the financial room to fit Wall fairly easily, and they are the only team with the cap space to pull that off (every other team is over the cap right now).
What the Thunder will want back are things that help them rebuild. For example, removing some or all of the protections on the picks the Rockets already owe the Thunder. Whatever construction a John Wall trade ultimately takes, do not be surprised if the Thunder are in on the deal and come away with a few more first-round picks out of it.
Los Angeles Clippers
This comes up in a lot of fan speculation, but I don’t see the logic in it now, and there has been little buzz from league sources about the Clippers having interest. The Clippers as an organization value flexibility, and Wall’s contract is the opposite of that.
The logic for Wall to Los Angeles goes like this: The Clippers need more scoring with Kawhi Leonard out, they need depth and help at the point guard spot, and Wall, despite his shooting concerns, gets buckets and is a gifted passer. It’s easy enough to put a trade together — Luke Kennard (if the Clippers have given up on him), Serge Ibaka, Eric Bledsoe — and Steve Ballmer won’t care about paying any extra tax or money because it’s still pocket change to him.
However, it doesn’t make sense for these Clippers on the court. The reality is this is a good team but not a contender without Kawhi Leonard — likely out for the season with a torn ACL — and adding Wall now doesn’t really move the needle much. Are they going to make this trade and shell out all that money to be the six seed instead of seven? A season ago the Clippers needed better passing from the point, but fixing last season’s problems is not the way forward.
A healthy Wall is an upgrade over Bledsoe (a better, more instinctive passer), but throw in Kennard and Ibaka and are the Clippers as a team better?
Longer term, adding Wall next to Leonard and Paul George doesn’t make a real “Big 3.” Sort of like Westbrook to the Lakers, it adds a big name and some specific skills, but get to the playoffs and it’s going to still be all about Leonard and George. The Clippers worked hard to make George more of a primary ball handler last season (and he did well in the role), and when it matters, Leonard will have the rock to create. Wall’s lack of shooting makes him a liability off the ball — he makes it easier to double Leonard. A healthy Kennard and Ibaka fit better around Leonard and George in the playoffs than Wall.