NBA executives reportedly believe Houston Rockets point guard John Wall, who's yet to play during the 2021-22 season while awaiting a potential trade, would attract ample suitors as a free agent.
David Aldridge of The Athletic reported Friday that Wall's four-year, $171.1 million contract remains a significant deterrent in trade talks. The deal includes a $44.3 million salary-cap hit this season and a player option for 2022-23 at $47.4 million.
League execs mentioned the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks as potential landing spots if the five-time All-Star reached a buyout agreement with the Rockets.
"He's still really good," an NBA general manager told Aldridge. "Just not at the number he currently makes."
The key questions surround how badly Wall wants to play right now and whether he's willing to make major financial sacrifices to chase an NBA championship.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday the former Washington Wizards star met with general manager Rafael Stone about possibly returning to the Rockets lineup. The sides had agreed to keep him sidelined while exploring trade avenues, but nothing has materialized.
The issue is whether Wall would be willing to play a small role on a rebuilding roster focused on the development of younger guards like Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. So far there's been "no inclination" from either side to consider a buyout, per Woj.
Aldridge noted Wall would likely have to give up more than the estimated $15-20 million Kemba Walker sacrificed in the offseason to secure his release from the Oklahoma City Thunder before signing with the New York Knicks, and there's "next to no chance" he'd make that money up as a free agent in the short term, with teams like the Nets and Bucks interested in him at the veteran's minimum (around $2.5 million).
"It's hard for him at this point in time, when your salary doesn't equal what your production is," a front-office source told The Athletic. "That's hard for him. It's hard for a lot of guys."
Wall could attempt to figure out a buyout solution with Houston, sign with a contender for the remainder of the season and hope his play is enough to command a lucrative free-agent deal in the offseason, but that would come with a lot of financial risk.
As it stands, the 31-year-old University of Kentucky product is in line to make $91.7 million between this season and next, maybe without even stepping on the floor for the Rockets.
That's not ideal for Houston as it accumulates assets with an eye toward the future, however, and it's unclear what type of interest there would be in Wall as a free agent in 2023 if he hasn't played in two years.
So there are a ton of different variables and alternative routes in play, but the simplest one of merely trading the 2010 first overall draft pick seems among the most unlikely since his contract represents a top-tier franchise cornerstone—and he's no longer at that level.
Wall could still provide a nice boost to a contender. He averaged 20.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds across 40 appearances after a trade to Houston last season. He shot a career-worst 40.4 percent from the field, including 31.7 percent on threes, though.
For now, the waiting game continues for Wall and the Rockets.