Trade Proposal Would Land Title-Hungry Clippers 5-Time All-Star

Paul George of the Clippers (in white) and the Rockets' John Wall

Getty Paul George of the Clippers (in white) and the Rockets' John Wall

The Houston Rockets are, currently, paying point guard John Wall $44.3 million to not play for the team. The Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild, and Wall, a 12-year NBA veteran, does not fit with the team’s plans. The hope has been that there could be a trade partner somewhere in the NBA to be found for Wall, who is owed $47 million next season on a player option.

The Clippers have long been believed to be a front runner for Wall, if he is moved. Alas, so far, no luck. And ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported this week that the difficulty of finding a new team for Wall is unlikely to abate and that he might very well miss the entire season, despite being healthy enough to play.

“John Wall has not played for the Rockets this season, there are no plans for John Wall to play for the Rockets,” Wojnarowski said on Wednesday. “It’s becoming increasingly likely that John Wall may not play anywhere in the NBA this season because the cost of his contract right now is just too prohibitive.”

There is, of course, at least one very exuberant NBA owner who might be willing to tackle the high cost of Wall, especially after Wall showed last season that, after coming back from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in February 2019, he can still be a contributor. Wall averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists for Houston in 2020-21, though he shot only 40.4% from the field and 31.7% from the 3-point line.

That owner is—might be, at least—Steve Ballmer of the Clippers, who is eager to keep his team in contention despite the ACL surgery that star forward Kawhi Leonard underwent this summer, which could keep him out for the year.

The feeling among league executives around the NBA is that if Wall is traded, the Clippers are the team most likely to take him on.

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One reason is Ballmer’s willingness to spend. The Clippers’ next moves remain mysterious because there’s still no telling which way this team will break, and with Leonard out, this group might not be contender enough to warrant a major investment. At least, that is how it appeared from the outset. L.A. started 1-4, but now has rallied with six straight wins behind MVP candidate Paul George.

The Clippers could put together a package that might, at least, give the Rockets the opportunity to get off Wall’s contract while bringing in pieces they could flip elsewhere for draft picks.

A deal that would work:

Clippers get: John Wall

Rockets get:  Eric Bledsoe, Luke Kennard, Justise Winslow

It’s not the kind of rebuilding package the Rockets would like, but given the stalemate with Wall, just getting something usable would be a win for Houston at this point.

The Clippers would welcome the opportunity to get out of Bledsoe’s contract. L.A. traded for Bledsoe in the offseason, but he had a brutal to start the season: 8.8 points, 33.7% shooting, 18.2% 3-point shooting. That, though, was before Bledsoe broke out of his slump with 22 points on Thursday in the thrilling win over Miami.

While Wall is a risk, the move would be a big-time signal to George, on two levels. One, it would give George more scoring support with Leonard out. George is 31 years old but taking 21.6 shots per game, the most of his career.

Two, it would be a nice personal touch for George, who is of the same draft class as Wall (2010) and has maintained a longstanding friendship with him. In September, Wall and George were spotted out at the same restaurant in Los Angeles, which helped fuel rumors of the Clippers’ interest. Sirius XM’s Mitch Lawrence reported earlier that week that the Clippers were among the team to have expressed an interest in Wall.

A John Wall Buyout Looks Increasingly Unlikely

It would be much easier for the Clippers to bring Wall aboard if, somehow, the Rockets and Wall could work out a buyout agreement, allowing him to be a free agent. But it is not easy to find a buyout number on a contract worth nearly nine figures, especially when the second year comes at the player’s option.

Wall could agree to decline that option, but such a move would cost him $47 million. It would not be a particularly bright thing to do. Can’t blame him for not wanting to give up that much cash.

As Woj said, “Any team that would potentially trade for him would want him to decline that option. Well, he’s not doing that. He’s not giving that money back. The other route to become a free agent and eligible to sign somewhere else, of course, is a contract buyout. John Wall has shown no interest in doing that this year, nor have the Rockets. So he sits for now.”

He sits, and not much is happening. But should that change, the Clippers could be at the front of the line.

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