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Realistic Landing Spots for Houston Rockets Guard John Wall

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2021

Houston Rockets' John Wall controls the ball during the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers in an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Houston. (Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo via AP)
Carmen Mandato/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets are reportedly on the hunt for a new team for former All-Star point guard John Wall.

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium broke the news Tuesday.

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Sources: John Wall, Houston Rockets meet and mutually agree to work together on finding a new home for the five-time All-Star guard. Plan is for Wall to be present at training camp, but not play in Rockets games this season. Details: https://t.co/oKzzdKR2zt

For most of the NBA's top tier of moneymakers, such news might be accompanied by a wave of reports on potential suitors and fake trade ideas. But no player with a top-10 salary-cap hit would be harder to trade than Wall.

At $44.3 million, Wall is tied with James Harden for the second-highest salary in the league next season. And he isn't on an expiring contract, either. He has a $47.4 million player option in 2022-23 that he's a virtual lock to pick up.

Teams can stomach that kind of financial burden for superstars like Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James, but it's hard to imagine many lining up for Wall. The Rockets also have "no buyout plans" at the moment, according to Charania.

Unless that changes, Wall's options figure to be severely limited.

After missing all of the 2019-20 season to recover from an Achilles tear, Wall appeared in only 40 games in 2020-21. His per-game averages of 20.6 points, 6.9 assists, 2.0 threes and 1.1 steals look fine, but his effective field-goal percentage was eight points below the league average. The explosiveness that once made him one of the NBA's most exciting defenders and end-to-end threats is nowhere near where it was.

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Any team that acquires him at this point will likely insist on sweeteners in the trade. In other words, the rebuilding Rockets might have to attach draft picks to Wall's contract to unload it.

That makes it tough to come up with realistic destinations for Wall when scanning the NBA landscape. Squint hard enough, though, and a few teams might make sense.

    

Orlando Magic

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

The Orlando Magic having any interest in John Wall would likely imply a few things.

First, they'd need to be out on Markelle Fultz, whom they just signed to a three-year, $50 million extension back in December. They could cobble together enough salary to send Houston for Wall by combining Gary Harris ($20.5 million) with either Fultz ($16.5 million) or Jonathan Isaac ($17.4 million).

Although Isaac hasn't played in an NBA game since January 2020, moving him for Wall feels like a nonstarter. He's shown hints of Andrei Kirilenko-like defensive versatility when healthy. Trading Fultz and Harris, a 27-year-old shooting guard who likely doesn't have a long-term future in Orlando, makes far more sense.

The Magic could get a deal done without Fultz or Isaac by sending Harris, Terrence Ross and Michael Carter-Williams, but that might make it tougher to get a sweetener from Houston. If the Rockets have to send out a first-round pick, it'd be nice to take a flyer on Fultz, who may have more value than one of the first-rounders Houston received from the Brooklyn Nets in the Harden trade.

The Magic likely aren't looking to speed up their rebuilding timeline after trading away their three best players—Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier—at last year's trade deadline, either. Cynics might argue that acquiring Wall would actually help a tank, but the Rockets were even worse last year with him off the floor.

His experience and leadership could help young guards like Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony in the long run. And bigs like Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba might get a few extra open looks while playing alongside Wall, too.

But even if Wall returned to his All-Star form of four or five years ago, the rest of this Orlando roster may be barely good enough to sniff contention for the play-in tournament. For the Magic, acquiring Wall might be as much about getting a first-round pick with him than anything else.

    

Oklahoma City Thunder

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

The other obvious landing spot for Wall is the one that has come up for seemingly every other salary dump over the last few years: the Oklahoma City Thunder. And they would be interested more in the sweeteners than whatever Wall has left in the tank.

Even with nearly $30 million in dead money on their books thanks to the Kemba Walker buyout, the Thunder can engineer enough cap space to absorb most of Wall's deal.

"The only team left with significant cap space is OKC (roughly $21 million)," Zach Harper of The Athletic noted. "If they cleared out old cap holds (Nick Collison and Raymond Felton included), they could approach $34 million. That means Derrick Favors and cap space gets it done."

If Houston were to send a first-round pick along with Wall, that might be worth it for the Thunder. Favors isn't a part of their long-term plans anyway. And at worst, they would be slightly feistier in some games as Wall rehabs his future value a bit (similar to what Chris Paul did in OKC, though likely to a lesser degree).

Why would the Rockets do that? The biggest incentive is not paying Wall nearly $50 million in 2022-23. That's a big chunk of change for a player who clearly isn't integral to the rebuild. They might also be higher on a young player like Darius Bazley or Theo Maledon than OKC is.

If the Rockets were willing to attach sweeteners to Wall, they might demand one of the Thunder's young prospects in return. OKC likely wouldn't part with Josh Giddey or Aleksej Pokusevski, but general manager Sam Presti has proved his love of draft picks in recent years. It wouldn't be surprising if he valued future first-rounders over one of his team's less intriguing prospects.

Wall may have a hard time seeing either of these potential landing spots as ideal, but he'd likely have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do (assuming he can stay healthy). That selling point might be even more obvious with OKC. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey and Poku will all get plenty of possessions, but there would be loads of usage for Wall to take.

And again, there's a precedent here. When the Thunder acquired CP3 in 2019, he seemed like a lock to get rerouted immediately. Instead, OKC held on and Paul had a bounce-back season.

Could Wall do the same and land one more decent contract? At this point, he has to be thinking about those kind of long-game options.

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