Duane Burleson/Associated Press
We’re about to find out if any NBA contract is truly untradeable.
Washington Wizards guard John Wall, owed roughly $133 million over the next three seasons and sidelined from game action for nearly two full calendar years, wants out.
The request, now public, came amid discussions between Washington and the Houston Rockets, which proves at least one team reacted to a possible Wall trade with something other than fits of laughter and a quick hang-up. Talks stalled, but at least there were talks. That’s something.
It’s telling, though, that the contract on offer, Russell Westbrook‘s, is on the very short list of deals as odiously onerous as Wall’s. The Wizards and Rockets were essentially discussing the possibility of swapping expensive problems.
That’s where we have to start our search for plausible landing spots: with teams that have similarly ugly deals on their own books. From there, maybe we can extend the list to include organizations desperate to make a splash.
New York Knicks
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
The New York Knicks didn’t address their void at the point in the draft, opting instead for local product Obi Toppin with the No. 8 pick. If they don’t land Fred VanVleet in free agency, maybe the prospect of starting the season with Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. as the only point guards on the roster would spur a rash decision.
Throw Ntilikina, Julius Randle and Kevin Knox II into a package, and the Knicks, who have cap space at the moment, could take Wall’s money back without issue. The only question then would be how much draft capital Washington would have to include to get the deal done.
A pair of first-round picks, perhaps 2021 and 2023, might be enough.
If Wall still has any of his old burst, he could inject some excitement into a team that needs it. Toppin is a strong finisher, and his transition skills would complement Wall’s open-floor speed well. Again, that’s assuming Wall still has some juice.
Normally, you could argue that Wall would electrify Madison Square Garden. That he’d give Knicks fans someone to cheer for. But without fans in the stands, a good portion of Wall’s potential appeal to New York disappears.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Wall wouldn’t help the Orlando Magic off the mediocrity treadmill, but maybe he could at least make the jog more interesting.
Orlando’s offense has been unremarkable, ranking in the bottom third of the league in points per 100 possessions in each of the last four seasons. Wall, in addition to giving the Magic a big name on the marquee, might also bring some scoring punch.
The point guard’s assist percentage has ranked in or above the 92nd percentile at his position every year since 2012-13, so Orlando could get the ball movement and facilitation it’s been lacking. And with Nikola Vucevic offering decent stretch at the 5, Wall’s unreliable jumper wouldn’t cramp spacing too badly.
Considering the Magic just spent a year with Markelle Fultz and his even less trustworthy shot running the show, Wall’s shooting shortcoming won’t seem like such a big deal.
Fultz and Aaron Gordon could be the principal pieces in a trade package, though Orlando would have to find a few more dollars to make the money work. And as with the Knicks hypothetical, this would probably come down to the amount of draft compensation the Magic would demand for taking on Wall’s money.
Washington sent Gilbert Arenas to the Magic a decade ago. Maybe Orlando is itching for a second shot at an injury-plagued and disgruntled Wizards point guard.
I’ll be honest: I don’t see how Wall makes any more sense in Houston than Westbrook does. But the two have basically identical contracts, and neither wants to be on his current team. A Wall-for-Russ exchange simultaneously makes too much sense and no sense at all.
Not that Westbrook has the cleanest bill of health, but given Wall’s injury history, it might actually be possible for the Rockets to get back some of the draft picks they’ve surrendered in recent trades. Wall and a protected first for Westbrook feels about right.
Many of the same fit issues Westbrook brought to the Rockets would accompany Wall. That said, Wall shot 37.1 percent from deep in his last semi-healthy year, 2017-18. He’s at 32.4 percent for his career, which looks awfully good when measured against Westbrook, who’s failed to crack 30.0 percent on threes in each of his last three seasons.
Defensively, Wall has always been better than Russ. Even if the Achilles tear saps much of the 30-year-old’s quickness, history suggests Wall will at least make an effort to guard his man and pay attention to the scheme, neither of which can consistently be said of Westbrook.
If James Harden departs first, it would suddenly get easier to construct a sensible Wall-led team around whatever Houston gets for him. Squint, and you can see something interesting with Wall leading a made-over Rockets squad.
Maybe, after canvassing the league, both the Rockets and Wizards will realize they don’t have any better options. That’s a bleak thought, but trying to trade a pair of non-shooting, over-30, athleticism-dependent point guards toting unfathomably large contracts is a bleak task.