Rockets open to trading John Wall for Russell Westbrook, draft asset

In late December, we wrote about the Rockets’ potential rationale for considering another trade involving high-priced guards John Wall and Russell Westbrook. Wall did not play for Houston in the 2021-22 season due to the team’s focus on developing young players.

The two former stars first traded for each other in December 2020, as Rockets landed in a Washington-protected futuristic preliminary draft along with Wall. The high salaries for both players – averaging over $45 million per season through 2022-23 – got to where a trade for the other was far more reasonable than a deal elsewhere, considering the difficulties most teams would have in finding them. Enough salary available to do the math.

Now, with Westbrook as a member of the storied Los Angeles Lakers and clearly struggling to fit in on the field, could that ever happen again? Following Westbrook’s sitting down during the final minutes of the game earlier this week, NBA veteran Mark Stein reported:

I’ve learned that the Rockets – with no interest in Westbrook playing with them again – would actually be able to barter for another Westbrook-for-Wall if the Lakers stimulated the trade with a sufficient bonus.

A year ago, market forces called on the team to ditch Wall (Washington) to ditch the first draft protected future tour for the team to ditch Westbrook (Houston). There were two main reasons.

The first is that Wall hasn’t played in the NBA in two years and was coming off a torn achilles and subsequent complications. The second is Team Houston desperate because of James Harden’s trade order, and something needs to be changed in order to save the relationship. It didn’t work out in the end, but given Harden’s status as the number one perpetual runner in the best player, you can’t blame general manager Raphael Stone for trying. At the time, Houston was not committed to the current rebuilding path.

Today, though? Wall’s Achilles concerns have been largely eliminated after a successful 2020-21 season in which he averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. Now, as the Lakers continue to slide around 0.500, they appear to be the more desperate team, given the incentive to maximize the waning peak years of legendary superstar LeBron James – who recently turned 37.

In December 2020, it was reported that the Rockets saw Wall as a better fit next to Harden than Westbrook, and the Lakers likely feel the same way about fitting in alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis.

It should also be noted that Wall is a client of Klutch Sports and super agent Rich Paul, known for his close relationship with LeBron. With Wall clearly wanting to play and before the February 10 trading deadline less than three weeks away, it should come as no surprise if Paul decides the Lakers are the best and most realistic of the season. If that’s the case, maybe Paul and Clutch are putting pressure on the Lakers behind the scenes.

From Houston’s perspective, it must be emphasized that there is no incentive to trade Wall for Westbrook without a potential asset or sweetener draft. They wouldn’t want Westbrook to actually play with them, and he would likely be released, if such a trade materialized.

The same reasons Houston shouldn’t play Wall (the desire to play younger bouncers like Kevin Porter Jr.) also apply to Westbrook. Unlike Wall, who has proven a willingness to sit down while helping his teammates, Westbrook offered no such indications. Thus, without additional compensation or Westbrook’s willingness to return more money from Wall in a buyout deal, Houston will likely keep track with the no-play arrangement they have already successfully negotiated.

So, in a little over a year, can the Stone and the Rockets somehow extract a payout on both ends of the Wall-Westbrook swap? Nothing seems imminent, but given Stein’s latest report, it appears to be more of a guess as the February 10 deadline approaches.

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