So, let’s talk about it...
Russell Westbrook — yes, the former MVP, All-NBA guard — seems to be heading to his third team in as many years.
It’s been reported that Westbrook wants out of Houston, and with that rumor came a flurry of hypothetical trade scenarios — none of which involved your beloved Washington Wizards.
Why? Because, well, the Wizards probably don’t want to touch Westbrook.
There’s a reason why the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets are considered the likely landing spots for Westbrook. The market for him isn’t particularly strong, and that’s mostly because of his monstrous supermax contract. On top of that, fitting a player like Westbrook — a ball-dominant personality — into a system is extraordinarily difficult. If the Houston Rockets couldn’t figure it out with James Harden, then why would the Wizards with Bradley Beal (or any other team with a ball-dominant star) be any different? Chances are, they wouldn’t.
But let’s go there.
Let’s flesh this idea out some more.
The Wizards are telling the world they’re (re)building around Bradley Beal. And that’s true... for now.
Beal is currently on the roster, and has repeatedly expressed a desire to remain in the nation’s capital. But at some point, the Wizards will have to do more: they’ll have to show Beal that winning is a possibility in Washington.
Tommy Sheppard and Co. are putting all their eggs in the John Wall basket. He hasn’t played a professional game in almost two years, and is coming off a devastating achilles injury.
That’s not to say that he won’t return and play at an All-Star level. The workout videos that have surfaced show Wall exploding to the basket, just as he did before he got injured. There’s promise that he will return and perform at a high level, but history isn’t exactly on Wall’s side.
Wall, at best, is a huge question mark. If he returns and plays at an All-Star or All-NBA level, the Wizards will be good — damn good, at least offensively. The idea of Wall running a fast break alongside Beal with Davis Bertans trailing is enticing.
We’ve all seen what Wall did with Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster, Rasual Butler (RIP), and even Jared Dudley. None of those players were the shooters that Beal or Bertans have become. With a healthy, productive Wall, and a mediocre defense, the Wizards would become competitive in the east, quickly.
The other side is much uglier.
The game has evolved since Wall last played. He’s now 30, physically different than he was the last he played, and has had years of development hindered due to injury. The odds are stacked against him, and if Wall fails to produce at a high level — and the losses begin to stack — then it’s reasonable to think that Beal’s patience with the team will begin to expire.
At that point, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where Beal no longer wants to remain in Washington.
And that’s why the Westbrook scenario isn’t that bizarre.
Ultimately, a trade that would send Westbrook to Washington would be about Beal — about showing him that the team is serious about winning.
Sure, Westbrook and Harden couldn’t get it done in the Western Conference, but this situation would be much different.
A Westbrook and Beal pairing in the East would be, if nothing else, exciting. It would add a sense of urgency to the team’s pursuit of winning. It would possibly help rejuvenate Westbrook’s career — a reunion with Scott Brooks, a coach that assisted his development back in Oklahoma City.
Basketball-wise, the fit isn’t that different than it would be with Wall. Neither Wall nor Westbrook are great off the ball, but earned their paychecks as two of the most athletic guards to ever step foot on an NBA floor.
Really — it would be harder to convince the Rockets to make the trade than it would be the Wizards. Both players have vomit-inducing contracts, so that’s kind of a wash. Both, now in their 30s, are due more than $41 million for the next three years.
For the Rockets, it’s possible that Wall would be more amendable to play the role of Robin to Harden’s Batman than Westbrook was. Based on the workout videos, Wall and Harden seemed to have spent a lot of time working out together in the off-season, and perhaps a bond exists. Wall has proven to be one of the greatest creators in basketball, and that, too, would take some pressure off Harden.
It’s unlikely that this trade would happen, and I understand the Wizards’ ties to Wall. After a decade in Washington, it’s difficult to imagine him ever playing in a different uniform. But the Wizards have to do what it takes to keep Beal in D.C. — and for that to happen, they have to show him that they can compete at a high level.
Rarely does a clean trade like this ever happen. It would likely involve picks, additional players, and maybe even a third team. The heart of the trade, though, would involve Wall and Westbrook — and that, really, isn’t too ridiculous.
If keeping Beal is a priority — then maybe, just maybe, Sheppard should make a call to Houston that few teams have been willing to make.