Washington Wizards trade John Wall, acquire Russell Westbrook

The Washington Wizards have agreed to a blockbuster deal that will send John Wall and a future lottery-protected, first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Russell Westbrook, General Manager Tommy Sheppard confirmed to WTOP.

Wall was originally drafted by the Wizards with the first overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. From 2013-2018, Wall helped guide the Wizards to four playoff appearances in five seasons, but because of injury, he has not appeared in an NBA game since December 2018.

“Having the opportunity to acquire a player of Russell’s caliber and character was something that we could not pass up when looking at both the immediate and long-term future of our team,” Sheppard said in a news release.

“I think there was understandable uncertainty that John could get back to the level he was at before,” said The Athletic’s David Aldridge.

“Sure, he has looked good in practices and on YouTube clips and highlight videos, but the real test is in real games against real competition. And I just think maybe it was time to go in another direction and put their emphasis as an organization behind Bradley Beal.”

Westbrook is a nine-time NBA All Star who once played for Brooks in Oklahoma City.

“He plays with a fire and a passion and he demands things of teammates that make them play in a very high level, and that will help the Wizards going forward,” said Aldridge. “Now they’re going to miss John in a lot of different ways, but they will play hard with Russell Westbrook at point guard every night, I promise you that.”

The move ends Westbrook’s tenure in Houston after just one disappointing season. Westbrook was traded from Oklahoma City for Chris Paul and draft picks in July 2019.

The Rockets had hoped that the 32-year-old Westbrook would be the final 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 the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western semifinals. Westbrook was the 2017 NBA MVP, but has yet to win a title.

Many questioned whether the pairing of two ball-dominant guards like Westbrook and James Harden would work in Houston, but the longtime friends insisted that it would. After the Rockets were sent home from the playoffs early again, rumors started to swirl that the two weren’t happy in Houston and both wanted out.

But after spending years building their entire team around Harden, who won MVP honors in 2018, the Rockets weren’t interested in parting with him. This move could be new general manager Rafael Stone’s way of appeasing Harden so the Rockets can continue their quest for a title this season instead of rebuilding without the superstar.

Stone was promoted to GM last month after Daryl Morey stepped down before quickly taking a job with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Westbrook-Wall deal works under the NBA’s rules because the two players are owed about the same amount: Each gets more than $80 million over the next two seasons, plus each has a player option of more than $45 million for 2022-23.

And both were looking to move on.

Wall, the No. 1 overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2010 draft, became the face of the franchise for Washington, a five-time All-Star who repeatedly helped get his team to the playoffs.

But Wall’s Wizards never reached 50 wins in a season or made it past the conference semifinals.

Wall, who is 30, has averaged 19 points and 9.2 assists for his career.

He has been troubled by injuries of late, appearing in only 41 games in 2017-18 because of left knee surgery, then just 32 in 2018-19 because of a left heel problem that required an operation. While recovering from that, Wall tore his left Achilles tendon and sat out all of last season.

After a report surfaced that Wall wanted out of Washington, Sheppard said on Nov. 23 that Wall “didn’t request” to be moved when they spoke that morning.

“There’s no plans to trade John,” Sheppard said during a video conference with reporters that day.

He said he and Wall speak “pretty much every other day” and characterized their relationship as “very, very close.”

“There’s no issues with John and I,” Sheppard said then. “There’s no issues with John and the Wizards.”

But he also reaffirmed that his plan is to build around shooting guard Bradley Beal, whose scoring average of 30.5 points last season was second in the league behind Harden.

After a stretch of getting to the postseason four times in five years, Washington has missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons, losing 47 games last season and 50 the season before.

Wall was beloved in Washington, and team owner Ted Leonsis lauded the player and his contributions to the team and city in a series of tweets Wednesday night.

“He has been a great, all-star caliber player and a fantastic citizen and leader in our community,” Leonsis wrote. “I am proud of how hard John has worked to come back to the league after two years away from competing. Our fans, our franchise and I will miss him very much.”

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WTOP Senior Sports Director, and voice of the Wizards, Dave Johnson in conversation with WTOP's Ken Duffy
Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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