The Houston Rockets continued their teardown on Wednesday, shipping Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a protected first-round pick in 2023. The deal is a swap of max contracts for the two sides and paves the way for Houston to fully tear down the Daryl Morey-Mike D'Antoni experiment.
Westbrook has three years and $132.5 million left on his contract -- the third year is a player option for $47 million he'd be crazy not to opt-in to. Wall has three years and $132.8 million left and similarly has a massive player option for the 2022-23 season he'll almost certainly accept. This wasn't about cutting costs or that first-round pick for Houston, this was all about a reset.
Wall is 30 and a former five-time All-Star, but he's coming off surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. He might fit better next to James Harden as a table-setter than Westbrook ever did, but I'd be shocked if dumping Westbrook wasn't a precursor to moving Harden.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is looking to get out of the luxury tax, the best way to do that would be moving Harden. Trading Westbrook didn't save the franchise any money, but moving Harden for a package of younger players would. If they were the right players, it would give Wall the opportunity to handle the ball and distribute while taking a step back as a scoring option. He'll likely need to do that given the severity of his Achilles injury.
It's clear Morey's vision is now out the window. He tried unsuccessfully to pair Harden with another star guard to create an unstoppable backcourt tandem. It failed to produce the desired result, first with Chris Paul, then with Westbrook. This deal might be a move to give Harden a third shot with Wall, but given the team's other moves over the past month, that doesn't seem likely.
The Rockets are now likely to sit back and wait for teams to up their offers for Harden. We'll see how Houston responds to them. It's almost certain they're in full teardown mode at this point.