The deal between the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards, swapping star point guards Russell Westbrook and John Wall, is one of the biggest of this NBA offseason. It also isn't the most obvious trade we've ever seen.
While Westbrook and Wall have very distinct playing styles, their strengths and weaknesses in the "pace and space" era of the NBA are ultimately pretty similar. Both are hyper-athletic, creative ball handlers and passers, and below-average shooters at the point guard position. Many of the initial reactions to the trade were that both teams were just looking to get the guards a change of scenery, specifically after Westbrook requested a trade from the Rockets.
The Rockets have seen more major turnover than just about any other franchise in the league so far this year. General manager Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D'Antoni are both gone. James Harden is the last franchise cornerstone standing, besides owner Tilman Fertitta, and he also reportedly wants out, though it is now even more unlikely that a Harden deal is done, at least before the season.
Fred Katz and Kelly Iko of The Athletic broke down the deal in a new piece this morning. In context of the goals of both franchises right now, and the terms of the deal, the move makes a bit more sense.
For Houston, there is a chance that Wall winds up being a more seamless fit with Harden in the backcourt than Russell Westbrook was. Wall needs the ball in his hands, but less so than Westbrook, and the team doesn't want to give up on the Harden era if it doesn't have to, hence the lack of a trade this offseason.
"The Rockets had no interest in a major downgrade, as that would defeat the purpose of smoothing things over with Harden and might also signal a rebuild," The Athletic says. If Wall is healthy, which is a big "if" after almost two years away, he allows Houston to stay in the mix in the Western Conference.
The Wizards, meanwhile, hope that a top catch and shoot player like Bradley Beal can mesh well with Westbrook, who rejoins his old Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks in the nation's capital. The piece compares the situation to that in OKC a few years ago, where Paul George had one of his best individual years next to Westbrook.
The draft capital that the the Wizards send along—a protected 2023 first-round pick—won't vest if this trade doesn't turn the Wizards into a playoff team by then, and may wind up only being a pair of second rounders down the line depending on how things shake out. It is still another asset for the Rockets to take on a potentially distressed asset in the recently-injured John Wall.
However things work out for both of these superstars with their new teams, the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards both got a bit more interesting with this deal, if nothing else.