Over, Under, Around, Through
Walls are a big subject in history (The Great Wall, The Berlin Wall), and literature (The Walls of Troy, The Night Watch on The Wall), music (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Sex Pistols “Berlin Wall”, Willie Nelson, “Hello Walls”, “Wonderwall”, etc.), and more. You get the idea.
One place no one has seen much of one very expensive, much discussed, Wall is in Texas. Specifically, with the Houston Rockets, and John Wall. If one assumes John Wall never plays another minute for the Houston Rockets, and that they pay his entire contract next season (more on that later), then the Rockets will have paid Mr. Wall $103,208.00 per minute of NBA play for them.
This isn’t entirely Wall’s fault, of course, he was, we must assume, told his services weren’t required last season, and there’s little reason to expect he’ll play at all for Houston next season, and every reason to expect he will opt into the roughly $47 million dollar final year of his contract. Despite the high salary for not playing basketball, Rockets fans can be grateful that John Wall has been completely agreeable, and almost invisible. Many other high level, max contract, players could, and likely would, have turned this situation into drama, and constant irritation. Wall hasn’t.
Some have suggested Wall, if he really wanted to play basketball, should forego the final year of his contract, and sign as an unrestricted free agent for whomever might want him. Even as someone who doesn’t like the supermax contract, this is, frankly, ludicrous. There are a lot of things I might want to do that I would opt not to do if someone offered me $47 million not to do them. Wall’s contract was freely offered, and freely signed, and freely traded for, by “big boys”. He negotiated this option on his final year. He has $47 million reasons to exercise that option. We’ll see if he’s willing to reduce that number to play somewhere else.
On a financial level, Wall’s story is one of incredible success.
On a personal one, which still exists, no matter how much money is around, it’s rather sad. By all reports Wall lives, eats, sleeps and breathes, basketball. He’ll watch high schoolers on DVR at 2am. He’ll watch obscure foreign leagues and tournaments. He’ll watch several games at once. For a basketball junky to be paid like a superstar, but asked not to play, must cause terrible level of personal pain (yes, eased by money, but real). Wall got the SuperMax and it, plus injuries, essentially killed his career. They say the Devil grants your wishes.
But what does this mean for the Rockets?
In the Rockets case, John Wall, though presumably available to play basketball if asked, exists primarily as a gigantic expiring contract. What might they do with it?
The Rockets could take a collection of bad deals, that extend past this season most likely, for compensation in the form of a package of attractive picks, and prospects for Wall’s expiring mega-deal. This isn’t a terrible idea, except most likely the bad deals will be on Houston’s books, when otherwise their cap structure should be looking clean in the summer of 23-24. The hope would be there are some good picks, and turnaround candidates included in a bad deals package, or some the players included could be worked off in smaller deals for value.
There’s also an issue of just how many young players can be realistically developed at once by any team. The Rockets were, to my eye, already pushing that boundary this season, and will be adding two more first rounders to develop this summer, if they make their picks.
Oklahoma City is the real test case for how many picks a team can potentially make, if Presti can’t swing a big deal for all his draft capital. OKC’s level of draft assets is unprecedented, but what deals are out there for it? Sam Presti loves picks. He’s got them. It’ll be interesting to see how much value he actually realizes for them. They say the Devil grants your wishes.
The Rockets could take another large, bad, roughly equal contract. By this everyone means The Russell Westbrook Contract, along with The Russell Westbrook who is all too available to play NBA minutes. The Lakers seemed unwilling to part with any draft picks to replace Westbrook with a player of roughly the same salary who might actually help a team with an finally, notably, aging, Lebron James, and Day-to-Davis. It’s unlikely the Rockets would just do LA a solid, without picks, or something nice, and picks are the only thing LA has that Houston might want. The Laker roster is a real Grapes of Wrath situation.
Buy Out Deal
The Rockets could buy out John Wall’s contract, so he could sign with another team. This is useful, in that it frees a roster spot, and reduces the Rockets financial obligation to John Wall. Wall would have agree to be paid less by the Rockets in order to be free to sign with another team. How much less would he agree to be paid below $47 million contract? That’s unclear. Much would depend on how another team wants to sign him for, and if he is personally willing to take some sort of financial hit to get to that team. This does speak to the “how much does Wall want to play basketball” question. He could take less money, and likely pick a landing spot that might offer him, say, a shot at a title.
There might be other benefits to the Rockets under this scenario, but they’re not likely to be anything major, beyond getting off the final season of Wall’s contract.
There are teams that would probably benefit immensely from John Wall playing for them. The most obvious to me is the New York Knicks, who desperately need a real PG, and leader, and could take another swing after trying much the same with Kemba Walker. Or possibly Chicago, if Zach Lavine leaves.
The Rockets could stretch John Wall’s deal. Under the stretch provision, Wall’s fully guaranteed last season, assuming he opts in to it (as I understand it) would be stretched into three seasons of payments of roughly $15.67 million per season.
That would certainly lower the impact of Wall’s deal for this season, but would add a sizable cap hit the following two seasons. Given that the Rockets are under the luxury tax, not looking to sign free agents, and not likely to compete for anything other than a luscious 30 wins this season, a stretch seems more trouble than its worth, if the team can handle paying Wall this season.
The Rockets could just eat the Wall contract again, pay him not to play, let him stay home, or hang out with the team, or whatever it is he’s been doing for the past year. Maybe there would be a late season buyout, so that the signing team wouldn’t be on the hook for much money, as contenders often have little room to sign anyone.
My guess is that there’s some sort of buyout deal for Wall early, like Kemba Walker’s deal.