How John Wall’s contract impacts potential trade from Rockets

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The John Wall experiment in Houston is over.

According to a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Wall and the Rockets have mutually agreed to work together on finding a new team for the five-time All-Star. Charania’s report indicates that Wall will be present at training camp, but he will not play in any games for the Rockets this season.

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The news comes less than a year after the Rockets acquired Wall in a blockbuster trade that sent Russell Westbrook to the Wizards, the first domino to fall in a series of moves that launched a full rebuild in Houston. Just over a month after trading for Wall, Houston sent franchise cornerstone James Harden to Brooklyn, officially turning the page toward the Rockets’ next chapter.

Let’s dissect the latest news on the Wall situation with three key questions that will ultimately determine what happens next.

How much money does John Wall make?

It’s the elephant in the room and where every conversation about Wall begins. In the summer of 2017, Wall inked a new four-year, $170 million extension with the Wizards that runs through the 2022-23 season.

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According to Spotrac, Wall is scheduled to make $44.3 million this season and has a player option for a whopping $47.4 million in 2022-23. The only player currently slated to make more than Wall this upcoming season is Stephen Curry.

NBA’s highest-paid players
Player 2021-22 salary Signed through
Stephen Curry $45.8M 2025-26
John Wall $44.3M 2022-23
James Harden $44.3M 2022-23
Russell Westbrook $44.2M 2022-23
Kevin Durant $42.0M 2025-26

According to Sharania, there are no buyout plans in the works, which means the team that trades for Wall will ultimately absorb the remaining $91.7 million on his contract. Given the astronomical figure in 2022-23, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Wall opts out early.

How much does John Wall have left in the tank?

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Wall’s play doesn’t exactly scream “$44 million dollar player” anymore. It’s not Rocket science.

In addition to the obvious health concerns — he has appeared in 113 of a possible 308 games dating back to the 2017-18 season and missed the entire 2019-20 season after suffering a ruptured Achilles — Wall’s style of play isn’t one that easily slots in next to an established ball-dominant star.

Wall just turned 31 years old, and we would probably be having a conversation about his declining physical abilities even without the context of his injury history given how he plays. At his athletic peak, Wall throttled baseline-to-baseline perhaps faster than any player in the league, attacking in the open floor and putting recovering defenders in a tizzy.

And yet, even before that ruptured Achilles robbed Wall of his elite explosiveness, his offensive game never fully translated into a half-court setting. Though he occasionally caught defenders sleeping with well-timed cuts, Wall never developed into a reliable off-ball threat, and much of the back half of his prime was spent oscillating in an awkward “your turn, my turn” two-man tango with Bradley Beal.

(stats/nba.com)

For Wall to find his way in 2021-22 and beyond, he’ll need to make a Jason Kidd-eque transformation.

Once an open-floor dynamo who struggled from the outside, Kidd eventually remodeled his game to become an effective catch-and-shoot option who could still dissect defenses with uncanny passing ability. It’s Wall’s biggest hurdle moving forward, as he has ranked below league average in shooting every year of his career. And while the outside shooting has never been a strength, Wall has never shot league average on 2-point attempts, either.

There is hope, though. For all the knocks, Wall did show flashes last season, averaging 20.6 points and 6.9 assists in 40 games with the Rockets. He also averaged over 15 drives per game and shot a respectable 49 percent on those drives, almost identical to numbers put forth by Donovan Mitchell and Jimmy Butler.

Does Wall’s short stint in Houston come with the asterisk that he shot a career-worst 40.4 percent from the field? Yes. But not unlike Westbrook, Wall still has enough game to put pressure on opposing teams and remains a brilliant passer who, in the right situation, could bring value. 

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Where will John Wall play next? 

Four factors will ultimately drive what happens next with Wall and the Rockets:

1. The $44 million price tag — along with the initial report that a buyout isn’t on the table until at least next summer — makes projecting where Wall lands incredibly difficult. Additional reporting suggests the Rockets aren’t willing to attach a first-round pick for the sake of moving off Wall. Finding a team with enough moveable contracts to absorb that price tag and do it without receiving draft compensation back makes it tough.

2. Timing is key. With rosters largely set and training camp two weeks away, teams likely want to see how their initial team fits together before making such a drastic move. Adding Wall after securing a buyout — like the Knicks did with Kemba Walker — would be one thing, but this is an entirely different animal. The Rockets don’t have any leverage to crank up the pressure for any potentially interested team to move now, and Wall is no longer the type of “can’t-afford-to-wait” target that necessitates a swift response.

3. The pool of tradeable players expands on Dec. 15. That’s the date when players who signed new contracts this past offseason can be traded. By waiting until at least Dec. 15, Houston gives itself more options.

4. Wall and the Rockets are on good terms. As Charania indicated in his report, Wall intends to report to training camp and offer a steady, veteran presence in the locker room. In the wake of last season’s fiasco with Harden, it was Wall who stepped up and provided much-needed stability and composure, a fact not lost on Houston’s front office and coaching staff.

Houston views Wall as a positive influence on its young core, including No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green, and for a team that recently parted ways with its longtime general manager, head coach and franchise player, that can’t be undersold.

Long story short: This could take a while. Maybe a mystery team flies in from the top rope to snag Wall, but the best bet here is that this situation remains unresolved until well after the start of the season.

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