Wizardry; Russell Westbrook dealt to Wizards in rare superstar swap


Ben Miller, Staff Writer

Mayhem in the NBA, as the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards agreed to swap their disgruntled superstars in a blockbuster deal, the teams announced Wednesday, Dec. 2.


The full trade is as follows: point guard Russell Westbrook to Washington, in exchange for point guard John Wall, as well as a lottery-protected 2023 first round pick.


This had been a deal in the making since early November, but Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard and Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone decided to get back on the phone and get a deal done. They had it finished within hours.


Westbrook’s 2019-20 season ended on a sour note, after he contracted coronavirus prior to the NBA’s Walt Disney World bubble, and strained his right quadriceps during the seeding schedule. The injury caused Westbrook to miss the first four games of Houston’s first-round playoff matchup against the Thunder, his former team. He struggled after returning, averaging 17.9 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 42% during the playoffs.


While this move all together certainly shocked NBA fans across the globe, these were two players who needed a change of scenery, and did not shy away from saying so. Wall, who turned 30 in September, has not played in an NBA game since December 2018 as a result of multiple injuries. He decided months ago that a move out of D.C. was best for his career. Wall claims to be 100% healthy, and says that he has regained a great deal of his signature quickness and explosion from before his injuries.


Westbrook, however, is a different story. After spending 10 years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was shipped off to Houston prior to the 2019-20 NBA season, in hopes of creating a dynamic duo with Rockets star guard James Harden. The Rockets were bounced in Round 2 of the playoffs, and it became obvious that the partnership between Westbrook and Harden would not work out. Both he and Harden requested trades following the 2019-20 season, and the Rockets shipped off Westbrook, in hopes that trading for John Wall would convince Harden to stay in Houston. Westbrook showed up to Wizards training camp two hours early to prepare to lead his new team. Wall also showed up ready for Rockets camp, but teammate James Harden did not arrive at training camp until Dec. 8.


The trade is a big one, and certainly a memorable one. It is a high risk, high reward trade here for both parties, however many initially believe that Houston is taking the bigger risk here, bringing in an injury-prone Wall, who also is owed three years and 132 million dollars on his current contract.


“The Rockets are taking a big risk in trading for John Wall, he’s very injury-prone, and they also gave up a lot to acquire him. Even though Wall has a high upside, this is a huge gamble by the Rockets,” said Zoe Politis, sophomore at Athens Drive.


It’s also worth noting that one of the injuries John Wall sustained was a torn achilles, which is regarded as one of the most devastating injuries an athlete can sustain. Wall claims to be “110 percent,” and said that he has never felt better.


The Houston Rockets have not changed their stance on trading star guard and perennial MVP candidate James Harden, who recently asked for a trade. Harden specifically requested that he be traded to the Brooklyn Nets, but has since said that he would be willing to be shipped off to other “Championship contending teams,” such as The 76ers, Bucks, and Heat.


It was also rumored that Westbrook cited a desire to play “My game,” and had concerns over the Rockets’ “casual culture”. Westbrook was a third-team All NBA selection this past season with Houston, averaging 27.2 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, and 7.0 assists per game. He will now reunite with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Washington, who coached Westbrook for seven years with the Oklahoma City Thunder.


“I think this trade is more of a one-time deal than a precursor for future dealing within the NBA…I feel like both players have had personality conflicts in the past. Their respective organizations were trying to get something of value for their money before losing them to free agency,” said William St. John, basketball coach at Athens Drive.


The move is certainly a surprise one, and also a big gamble for both teams. The 2020-21 NBA season begins Dec. 22, where Westbrook and Wall will gear up in their new uniforms for the first time.