Moore: Russell Westbrook & John Wall Trade Shifts Little for Rockets and Wizards

Moore: Russell Westbrook & John Wall Trade Shifts Little for Rockets and Wizards article feature image
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Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Westbrook.

After a little more than a calendar year and just one season, the Harden-Westbrook partnership is over in Houston. The Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday for John Wall and a heavily protected first-round pick.

There are ramifications and bets to consider in the wake of this mega-deal that reshapes both franchises, even if the deal is ultimately a wash in many ways.

Houston Rockets

The word had been out for several months that Westbrook wanted out of Houston. He reportedly wanted to return to his role as a culture-shaper and franchise icon — to have the kind of impact on how things are done that he had in Oklahoma City.

The trade conversations with the Rockets apparently bothered Wall enough for him to want out as well.

The Rockets made it clear in the wake of the trade that they’re not bending on trading Harden just yet.

Rockets source: Stance on James Harden has not changed. Houston hopes to be competitive with him this season and does not envision a scenario where Harden would be traded before the opener.

— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 3, 2020

The Rockets are hoping to get a massive return for Harden, willing to try and hold out. This won’t end well. This isn’t a partnership with Wall that Harden had asked for. Harden’s asked out. There are very few instances in NBA history of that kind of storm being weathered.

This is more likely to end like the Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony. Anthony told the Nuggets he wanted traded in the 2010 offseason. They held off for months and let James Dolan bid against himself and Mikhail Prokhorov, then-owner of the Nets, jack up the price. The Nuggets walked away with a massive haul for Anthony, who was on an expiring contract.

But even with more years remaining on Harden’s deal, it’s unlikely such a dream offer materializes.

Houston understood that the demand for Russell Westbrook was limited and was willing to settle for the protected first-round pick along with John Wall.

The Rockets want a king's ransom (young franchise cornerstone plus Jrue-esque picks package) in any potential Harden deal. https://t.co/jxo9hBiSAW

— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 3, 2020

Maybe the offer will fall into the Rockets’ lap, but it’s difficult to find teams that have a team ready to contend, a young franchise cornerstone, and a full assortment of picks. But then again, the Knicks are still out there, so who knows?

The Wall-Harden combo isn’t bad. We have no idea of what Wall is going to look like after so many major injuries and so much time away from the game. He may never be the same. He might look pretty similar. There’s literally no telling right now.

Wall is a little more of a shooter than Westbrook, but he’s still a straight-line driver. He’s a better passer than Westbrook. He’s never played off-ball, so either he or Harden will have to make a monstrous adjustment. But Wall, if he’s anything close to his old self, should be good in a space-centric lineup.

However, until the Rockets’ incredible bluff with Harden is either called or Harden folds, all bets are unplayable with Houston. If you want the best value? Wait to see if the Rockets actually do trade Harden for multiple pieces, then bet their over or division odds.

Wall with PJ Tucker, his former Kentucky teammate DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Gordon, and Christian Wood? That’s a sneaky good team. The Rockets’ title odds plummeted in the wake of the news, which shows that it’s likely there will be an overreaction to a move that might be lateral if anything.

Ironically, the under has more value the longer they keep Harden. These situations are toxic for teams. You can’t go out and fight for a guy who has made it known he doesn’t want to play with you anymore, even if his bigger issue is with the front office.

Since Tilman Fertitta took over, the Rockets have lost Mike D’Antoni, Daryl Morey, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook. They turned Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two swaps into John Wall and one heavily-protected pick.

If I could short the medium-term future of the Rockets, I absolutely would.

Washington Wizards

The well with Wall was poisoned, so the Wizards went on their way.

Wall and Bradley Beal had issues going back almost a decade. They had learned to work through it, had even become something of friends. I saw them at an All-Star NBA Cares event in Los Angeles a few years ago. The two were easy, comfortable with one another, and there was no sign of tension or annoyance that they were together.

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They just never quite fit. Westbrook does not appear to fit any better.

Westbrook, like Wall, is a straight-line driver. But he’s ball-dominant, and Beal has become an All-NBA talent with the ball in his hands. Westbrook wants to come in and set the tone and be the franchise-defining force-of-nature personality. What does Beal think about that?

But on the floor, there are a number of ways this could work. My first reaction is that the big beneficiary here is Thomas Bryant, a hyper-efficient big man. Wall and Beal will both feed him, and he should feast on teams loading up on the perimeter to stop the new combo.

Beal and Westbrook may, in fact, click better. Westbrook is all business, hyper-competitive, an alpha dog. Wall, by all accounts, is the same in terms of confidence but has never shown the kind of edge that Westbrook exudes every second of his professional life.

If you sink to help on Wall while still keeping tethered to Beal, Davis Bertans will make himself open. If you bring help against Beal, Westbrook will take the pass and cut to the rim.

The Wizards’ defense will be horrible. What else is new?

But more than anything? Westbrook, for the first time in his career, gets to feast on the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards should contend for a playoff spot. I don’t like them to overtake Miami for the division barring an injury, but it also wouldn’t shock me. I’ll be looking for Wizards’ odds to make the playoffs.

This may not work at all; there are about 50 ways it goes south. But given Wall’s unknown health and unhappy status and what Westbrook still brings every night? This was a trade worth trying for the Wizards.

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