HOUSTON – Russell Westbrook is heading to the Washington Wizards and John Wall is moving to the Houston Rockets in a significant change of point guards – one an MVP, the other a No. 1 overall draft pick – just weeks before the season kicks off.
The wizards sent a lottery-protected first round of 2023 to the Rockets on Wednesday night.
“Having the opportunity to acquire a player of Russell’s caliber and character was something we couldn’t pass up when looking at both the near and long term of our team,” said Tommy Sheppard, general manager. from Wizards. That said, the decision to part with John, one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise, was extremely difficult. What he has meant for our organization and our community is immeasurable and will not be forgotten. ”
Although Wall has played his entire professional career in the nation’s capital, the move ends Westbrook’s tenure in Houston after just one disappointing season. The former Leuzinger High and UCLA star arrived from Oklahoma City in July 2019 in exchange for Chris Paul and draft.
The Rockets had hoped 32-year-old Westbrook would be the last piece they needed to win their first title since winning back-to-back championships in 1994-95. But instead, Houston was eliminated from the playoffs by eventual champion Lakers in the semi-finals of the Western Conference. Westbrook was the 2017 NBA MVP and is a nine-time All-Star, but has not won a title.
Many wondered if pairing two bal-dominated guards like Westbrook and James Harden would work in Houston, but the old friends insisted it would. After the Rockets were sent home early from the playoffs again, rumors began circulating that the two were unhappy in Houston and both wanted to leave, with some reports indicating that Harden wanted to land in Brooklyn or Philadelphia.
But after years of building their entire team around Harden, who won MVP accolades in 2018, the Rockets were not interested in parting with him. This move could be new General Manager Rafael Stone’s way to appease Harden so that the Rockets can continue their quest for a title this season rather than rebuild without the superstar. Stone was promoted to GM last month after Daryl Morey stepped down before quickly landing a job with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Rockets have reportedly said they would need a return that included a young, potential franchise cornerstone and massive picks package in every possible deal for Harden, ESPN said.
Westbrook’s season ended on a sour note after reporting late to the NBA’s Walt Disney World bubble for contracting the coronavirus and straining his right quadriceps during the seeding schedule. Due to the injury, Westbrook missed the first four games of the first-round playoff series against the Thunder, his former team. He struggled when he returned, averaging 17.9 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 42.1% off the floor during the playoffs.
Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to achieve an average triple-double for a season, doing his last three seasons with the Thunder. Westbrook and Wizards coach Scott Brooks have a long history, spending seven years as a player and coach together in Oklahoma City.
The Westbrook-Wall deal operates by NBA rules because the two players owe about the same amount: each will get more than $ 80 million over the next two seasons, plus a player option of more than $ 45 million each for 2022-23 .
And both were looking for a deal that had been simmering for weeks.
Wall, Kentucky’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, became the face of the franchise for Washington, a five-time All-Star who repeatedly helped his team get to the playoffs.
But Wall’s Wizards never hit 50 wins in a season or made it past the semifinals of the conference.
Wall, who is 30, has averaged 19 points and 9.2 assists for his career.
He has been suffering from injuries lately, appearing in just 41 games in 2017/18 due to left knee surgery, and only 32 in 2018/19 due to a left heel problem that required surgery. While recovering from that, Wall tore his left Achilles tendon and sat out all season.
After a report surfaced that Wall wanted to leave Washington, Sheppard said on Nov. 23 that Wall “did not request” to be moved when they spoke that morning.
“There are no plans to trade in John,” Sheppard said during a video conference with reporters that day.
He said he and Wall speak “almost every other day” and characterized their relationship as “very, very close.”
“There are no problems with John and I,” Sheppard said then. “There are no problems with John and the Wizards.”
But he also confirmed that his plan is to build around shooting guard Bradley Beal, whose 30.5-point scoring average was second in the league behind Harden last season. Beal can become a free agent next summer.
After entering the postseason four times in five years, Washington has each missed the playoffs in the past two seasons, losing 47 and 50 the previous season.
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson believes the combination of Beal and Westbrook will be what the Wizards need to be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
“Everyone should watch out for the Wizards now! They traded for Russell Westbrook today, ”Johnson tweeted. “(Westbrook) / (Beal) will terrorize the East and turn the Wizards into a playoff team.”
Wall was beloved in Washington and team owner Ted Leonsis praised the player and his contributions to the team and the city in a series of tweets Wednesday night.
“He is a great all-star player and a fantastic citizen and leader in our community,” wrote Leonsis. “I am proud of how hard John has worked to get back into the competition after two years of not competing. Our fans, our franchise and I will miss him very much. ”
News services contributed to this report.