Westbrook-Wall trade could be lose-lose for both Rockets and Wizards

Marc Stein joined Sportsnet Central to talk about the blockbuster trade that sees Russell Westbrook headed to the Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a first-round pick to the Rockets, and discusses how this affects James Harden's situation.

An old cliché in the NBA says that any contract can be traded in the league, and on Wednesday night this old adage certainly proved to be true.

In a swap for two players on supermax deals, the Houston Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a protected first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

It’s worth noting that this was a swap for players making, essentially, the same money and, really, the only trade that could be made out there for any of them would’ve been this one. But after Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said one week ago that the team “had no plans” to trade Wall, the idea of this deal lost all steam and was thought to be dead in the water.

The NBA is never one to disappoint, however, and the trigger was pulled. This trade that would normally just be reserved for fantasy leagues and NBA 2K franchise modes is now reality.

So then, what to make of all of this? We have a few questions about this whole thing we’d like answers to.

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East has become tougher, but by how much?

Make no mistake, even if John Wall wasn’t coming off two missed seasons recovering from a ruptured Achilles and there were no question marks about his health and this deal was made, the Wizards still likely would’ve ended up with the better player between the two.

Though mercurial and frustratingly inefficient at times, Westbrook will improve the Wizards this coming season and, by proxy, make the Eastern Conference tougher. The question, therefore, remains: by how much?

Bradley Beal took a monster step last season, becoming an all-star for the second time in his career and transforming himself into a bona fide scoring machine, finishing second in league scoring with a 30.5 average. The Wizards also managed to re-sign sweet-shooting stretch four Davis Bertans, and are bringing back essentially the same group that at one point last season was among the league’s best, most high-octane offences.

And now Washington is adding Westbrook to this mix to possibly take it into overdrive offensively, something that the club is hoping will return it to the post-season.

The Wizards haven’t played a playoff game since 2018 and that’s rather unacceptable given the amount of money on their payroll.

However, looking around the Eastern Conference, you have to wonder how high a seed the Wizards could realistically get.

The powers of the conference are rather obvious in the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. That’s already seven teams that most expect to make the playoffs next season. That leaves the good-but-not-great Orlando Magic, the ambitious-looking Atlanta Hawks and now the Wizards as the likely candidates vying for that final spot.

Westbrook is an upgrade for Washington, but is his addition really enough to leapfrog the Wizards past those seven teams first mentioned? If not, is the No. 8 seed in the East really that worth it?

What does this trade mean for Harden’s future in Houston?

For the time being, according to ESPN’s Tim McMahon, James Harden will not be traded, despite reports that he wants out of Houston.

Those reports came, obviously, before this Westbrook trade happened and if Harden didn’t want to play with his old childhood buddy anymore then the wish has been granted and there shouldn’t be animosity any longer.

However, if the issues are more deeply-seeded for Harden and there is actually a disconnect between he and the Rockets franchise, you have to wonder how much will bringing in Wall perhaps aid in retaining Harden?

As mentioned before, there’s no knowing what kind of player Wall will be after being out for two seasons. There’s a chance the trademark athleticism and explosiveness that made him a former No. 1 overall pick and allowed him to get to the rim almost at will and guard multiple positions at a high level could be robbed from him.

On the other hand, Wall was never the best nor most willing shooter, meaning shots that were taken away from Harden playing alongside Westbrook will be his again. Additionally, Wall was, and should remain, a great passer with very creative vision.

But you can’t discount the possibility that perhaps the Rockets themselves would look to move on from Harden after the apparent bad blood during this off-season. The Rockets’ payroll is exorbitant to say the least and they are saving a little bit of money by swapping Westbrook for Wall, so if owner Tilman Fertitta is looking to cut costs, finding a suitor for Harden for expiring contracts would be the play here.

Did anyone actually win this trade?

The more you think about this trade, the harder it becomes to determine who came out on top as the winner.

As the tweet above from ESPN’s Bobby Marks shows, the money between both players is very even and while Westbrook is probably the better player, these are still two very similar players, right down to their glaring flaws as being not-great shooters.

There’s an argument to be made that Washington did end up with the better deal because of the reunion between Westbrook and head coach Scott Brooks, who had Westbrook as a rookie and coached him and the Thunder for seven seasons.

Brooks has always had a strong relationship with Westbrook and helped turn him into the star he is today. That bodes very well for the Wizards with the caveat that sometimes Brooks’ reliance on Wesbrook came at the expense of Kevin Durant, an ultra-efficient scorer back then similar to what Beal is now, opening up the possibility of some friction between Westbrook and Beal over who gets the ball more and who gets more shots.

So then, would that mean the Rockets won the trade? Houston may have if Wall is anything like the five-time all-star he once was before injuries forced him off the floor. That’s a big “if,” however, as Achilles injuries are always tough to come back from.

There’s also the chance Wall could clash with Harden as he’s a player used to being the top dog in an organization, having spent the first 10 years of his NBA career in Washington.

Wall was supposed to be a franchise player that the Wizards could build around and looked like he could become that when he signed that supermax extension with Washington back in the summer of 2017. The contract didn’t kick in until this past season, and now he’ll go without ever playing for the team that originally signed him to it. Injuries suck, and the fact that they’re so commonplace sucks even more, but Wall is only human and may be looking to finally prove his worth now, for better or worse, in Houston.

So then, who won the trade? It’s too early to say for certain, but for the time being is it possible that both teams lost? Trading stars almost always ends up badly for the team giving one up, and that includes a case like this where it is a star for a star. The uncertainty among both Westbrook and Wall raises too many red flags on both sides for this deal to be healthy for either.

Boogie and Wall reunited

This isn’t a question, but how cool will it be see these two Kentucky Wildcats teammates reunited on the floor together again?

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