Latest Buzz on John Wall, NBA Play-In Tournament Winners and Losers

Jake FischerContributor IApril 21, 2022

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 07: John Wall #1 of the Houston Rockets laughs prior to the game against the Miami Heat at FTX Arena on March 07, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans' feel-good postseason run—which now includes an impressive Game 2 road win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night—is also coming at the expense of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite losing to New Orleans in the play-in tournament, the Clippers are poised to bounce back in 2022-23. In fact, many league personnel are already pegging them as a potential favorite for next season's championship. Kawhi Leonard should finally return from his prolonged ACL recovery. Add in the hopes of a full season from Paul George, plus the team's trade deadline additions of Norman Powell and Robert Covington, and you have a formidable contender.

But there still appears to be one glaring void in head coach Ty Lue's rotation, which Clippers forward Marcus Morris addressed following the team's postseason elimination.

"I would say one of our biggest needs is a backup point guard," Morris told reporters. "We played a lot of the season without one.”

One strong possibility to fill that opening? John Wall.

A Wall Buyout?

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 13: John Wall #1 of the Houston Rockets warms up before the game against the Atlanta Hawks on December 13, 2021 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The veteran Houston Rockets point guard had no interest in a contract buyout this season. Instead, Wall sat out for the entire 2021-22 campaign, collecting $44.3 million in the third year of his four-year contract, while Houston prioritized minutes for young point guard Kevin Porter Jr. and star rookie Jalen Green.

That impasse prompted the Rockets to inquire about a trade deadline swap for Russell Westbrook, with the belief that Westbrook would be more amenable to negotiating a buyout. But those February conversations between Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers never gained serious traction, sources told B/R. The Rockets sought a future Lakers first-rounder, which was a non-starter for L.A.'s front office. It still seems unlikely that such a deal framework will ever cross the finish line.

From conversations with league figures familiar with those talks, neither front office appears to truly value the opposing player. And if the 31-year-old Wall picks up his $47.4 million player option for 2022-23 as expected, it could be even more challenging for Houston to shed him than for the Lakers to move Westbrook's expiring contract.

If the Rockets are unable to find a trade for Wall before the June 23 NBA draft, all signs now point to Houston and Wall's representation revisiting buyout talks prior to free agency in July. In that event, Wall would become an unrestricted free agent, and the Clippers, along with the Miami Heat, have been mentioned by league sources as strong potential landing spots for him.

The Play-In Tournament's Impact on NBA Draft

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 19: CJ McCollum #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on against the Phoenix Suns during Round 1 Game 2 of the NBA 2022 Playoffs on April 19, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

New Orleans' improbable run to the playoffs had wide-reaching ripple effects across the Western Conference.

The Clippers owed their unprotected 2022 first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Because the Pelicans beat the Clippers in that final play-in game, the Thunder will now receive an additional lottery pick—as opposed to the 15th pick if Los Angeles had been the No. 8 seed—with a 7.1 percent chance of vaulting into the top four, 12th-best among all lottery teams.

And after a dreadful 1-12 start, New Orleans' once-embattled front office has suddenly reached the benchmark they've been chasing since 2019, only months after significant questions surrounded executive vice president David Griffin's future helming the franchise.

Griffin's decision to hire head coach Willie Green now appears successful following New Orleans' lengthy search last summer. Green's staff has overseen steady growth from 2019 lottery pick Jaxson Hayes plus rookie forwards Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III. Undrafted guard Jose Alvarado has been another exceptional find in the Pelicans rotation.

The Pelicans' trade deadline acquisitions of veteran guard CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. have also paid significant dividends.

Back in February, New Orleans sent Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick and two second-rounders to the Portland Trail Blazers for McCollum and Nance. At the time, that was commonly regarded around the NBA as a value deal for the Pelicans. New Orleans' run to the playoffs has only further tipped the scale in that direction.

Portland's Nightmare Outcome

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 30: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers and CJ McCollum #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans embrace before the game on March 30, 2022 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Blazers seemed to prioritize salary flexibility in much of their trade deadline conversations rather than leverage a greater amount of draft capital.

But there must have been wiggle room for Portland to swipe more than one first-rounder from the pick-loaded Pelicans for McCollum and Nance, the latter of whom the Blazers acquired from the Chicago Bulls last summer for a lottery-protected first-rounder. And when New Orleans clinched a playoff berth over Los Angeles, that 2022 first-round pick, which was protected 1-4 and 15-30, suddenly vaulted out of the lottery entirely, and out of the Blazers' warchest for at least three more years.

The Pelicans still don't get to keep the selection, and they never really expected to. It will head to Charlotte thanks to a three-team sign-and-trade with Memphis that delivered Devante Graham to New Orleans, among a host of other moving parts. But the Trail Blazers had been banking on the Pelicans to deliver them a late-lottery selection before the play-in tournament started.

If New Orleans failed to steal the 8th seed, the Pelicans would have shipped Portland the likely No. 11 pick prior to the draft lottery. Now the Blazers' compensation for McCollum and Nance becomes Milwaukee's top-four protected 2025 first-round pick that New Orleans acquired in its return for Jrue Holiday.

That's a costly outcome for the Blazers' front office, which appears set on quickly retooling around Damian Lillard this offseason.

Through conversations with NBA personnel, it was clear that Portland staffers were working under the assumption they would have two lottery picks at their disposal. The Blazers' interest in trading at least one of those picks to acquire Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant has been one of the worst-kept secrets in NBA circles.

“That was a big deal to them,” said a Western Conference official. “The expectation was certainly, 'Once we get this pick, we'll turn it into someone. We'll overpay to get someone.'”

Grant seemed to be at the top of their list. He and Lillard have a relationship dating back to their days with Team USA, and they share an interest in playing together once again, sources said. In years prior, Lillard has indicated to Portland leadership several two-way, rangy wings such as Grant, Ben Simmons, Aaron Gordon and Jaylen Brown as the type of playing partner he preferred, sources said.

If the Pistons do trade Grant this offseason, he's known to be seeking a situation where he's a primary offensive option, as he is in Detroit. There is plenty of room on Portland's trade-ravaged roster for Grant to eat alongside Lillard as he pleases.

However, the Pistons had a high asking price for Grant at the February deadline, sources said. They wanted either two first-round picks or a first-rounder and a promising, young, rookie-scale contract player such as Chicago forward Patrick Williams.

No team, including Portland, was willing to meet that price. And skepticism remains that the Pistons will ever command that much for Grant, given that any franchise acquiring him will need to be amenable to paying the four-year, $100-plus million contract extension that Grant covets.

Without that Pelicans pick, it's uncertain if the Blazers have enough draft capital that they're willing to part with to appease Detroit. Early indications are that the Blazers have no desire to sacrifice their own selection, currently slated as the No. 6 pick, in trade conversations for Grant. Sacrificing the No. 11 pick would have been a much easier pill to swallow.

Blazing a Path to New Ownership

PORTLAND, OREGON - FEBRUARY 09: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers is honored for his NBA All Star selection by Portland Trail Blazers Owner Jody Allen and Head Coach Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers prior to taking on the Miami Heat at Moda Center on February 09, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Who spearheads the Blazers' decision-making this summer is still of great interest around the NBA. Interim general manager Joe Cronin seems likely to hold the title on a full-time basis, according to multiple league sources with knowledge of the situation. He has been granted autonomy to hire assistant general managers and swing major deals, including parting with a franchise mainstay in McCollum.

Some league figures believe Portland will eventually search for a president above Cronin on the organizational chart, just as the Philadelphia 76ers did with Daryl Morey supplanting general manager Elton Brand. But others with knowledge of the franchise have indicated that move may never come, or that Portland will at least wait until what's perceived to be an inevitable sale of the team, before adding an expensive executive atop its basketball operations.

While league personnel have been on the lookout for a potential change in Blazers ownership, initial word suggested such a transition might not come until the NBA's new television deal begins in 2025. But since the conclusion of the regular season, several industry sources have pointed to this summer as the early beginning of Portland's exploration of the market for new ownership.

League figures now expect a sale of the Blazers to be completed as soon as sometime in the next 18 months. Which begs the question: Just how motivated will Portland be to add talent around Lillard this offseason if failing to do so could eventually lead him to one day to request a trade—as rival teams surely still hope—and presumably diminish the franchise's overall value?

Jake Fischer has covered the NBA for Bleacher Report since 2019 and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.