By Sam Schwartz
Before Israeli sensation Deni Avdija got to step on the court to receive a pass from Washington Wizards All-Star guard John Wall, the former #1 draft pick was sent packing to the Houston Rockets for the the 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook in a move that on the surface appears questionable for both involved teams.
Wall and the Wizard’s franchise have been synonymous since the Kentucky product entered the league ten years ago, yet after a two-year stretch in which Wall has been sidelined due to Achilles issues, it seems Washington decision-makers had lost patience in their fallen star’s return.
So why deal Wall for a similarly aging point guard with an almost identically bloated contract? For the second year General Manager Tommy Sheppard, this is a statement that the Wizards believe they are ready to compete in the eastern conference. Slotting Westbrook into a starting lineup alongside Bradley Beal, an All-NBA scoring threat, as well as the array of quality role players and young talent currently on the Wizards roster, make them an outside threat at advancing through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Washington is attempting to build a winning culture that can properly prepare and develop their young talent (Deni Advija, Rui Hachimora, Isaac Bonga) while being competitive enough in the present to satisfy Beal. Avdija will certainly benefit from Westbrook’s tough nosed attitude and high paced practice sessions as the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business will only help the Israeli as he adjusts to the NBA. Westbrook makes the Wizards better now, and it should be effective in developing a competitive culture for years to come.
For Houston, dealing Westbrook for Wall is about hope. It was clear after a single season that Westbrook and Rocket’s franchise cornerstone James Harden had a ceiling together that was below finals contention, and in today’s era of player empowerment and superstar athletes being in control of their destiny, Houston knew that the clock was ticking before Harden was gone. New Rocket’s General Manager Rafael Stone made a move of desperation, a last-ditch effort to appease Harden with a new toy on the ever-rotating wheel of Houston point guards.
If Wall returns to his pre-injury form, the Rockets have a dynamic backcourt that along with free-agent signings Christian Wood and Demarcus Cousins could provide the team with a slightly higher ceiling than any previous Harden lead Rockets squad and convince the generational talent to stick around. If Wall is a shell of his former self than this deal is only a slight mishap for Houston, as while they are stuck paying Wall’s exorbitant contraction, they take in a first-round pick in return for a player in Westbrook they no longer had use for, and deal Harden for a package of young assets while remaining fairly competitive.
Westbrook for Wall is the rare win-win NBA trade, as the Wizards dump their baggage for a chance at postseason relevance and a positive role model for their young core, and the Rockets get a final opportunity to pitch Harden on staying in Houston with a team that, assuming Wall returns to form, can be as competitive as they’ve been in the Harden era while maintaining the ability to go into full rebuild mode if the pair fails to click. The Wizards got better last night, and if everything goes right in Wall’s recovery, Houston did too.