John Wall is the latest high-profile name to enter the trade market. But is the former All-Star point guard an appropriate return for Ben Simmons? Or should the Sixers pursue him through a separate deal to fill the point guard void left by Simmons’ seemingly inevitable departure?
It’s understandable that the Sixers were immediately mentioned by outsiders as a possible Wall destination.
Multiple outlets reported Tuesday that Wall and the Houston Rockets have decided to work together to find a trade partner, and that he won’t play in games in the meantime. The Rockets are in a full-blown rebuilding, and want No. 2 overall draft pick Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. to develop in the backcourt. This news came a couple weeks after The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported that Simmons wants out of Philadelphia.
Wall’s potential fit on the Sixers is intriguing. He is a proven scorer, though his shooting also leaves much to be desired, which is the biggest criticism of Simmons’ game. Wall has averaged 9.1 assists per game throughout his career and could play with Joel Embiid in the pick-and-roll. Although Wall made an All-Defensive team in 2015 and has averaged 1.7 steals per game during his career, he does not boast the same size or defensive player of the year potential as Simmons.
Wall was once one of the NBA’s more dynamic point guards. The first overall pick in the 2010 draft, Wall has used blazing speed and athleticism to get to the rim, facilitated at a high level, and provided stingy on-ball defense throughout his career. He made five consecutive Eastern Conference All-Star teams from 2013 to 2018, earning a supermax contract with the Washington Wizards.
But the Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt tandem never got past the second round of the playoffs in the East. And injuries, including a ruptured Achilles tendon, hampered Wall’s recent seasons. Last December, the Wizards traded him to Houston for Russell Westbrook.
Wall is 31 years old. Chris Paul, who was an MVP contender last season during the Phoenix Suns’ stunning run to the NBA Finals, and Kyle Lowry, who was connected to the Sixers and is arguably this summer’s biggest free-agent acquisition, are recent examples that point guards can still perform well into their 30s.
But the biggest hang-up on Wall’s moving anywhere is his massive contract. He is owed $91.7 million over the next two seasons, a deal some experts have long deemed untradeable.
Paul’s and Westbrook’s contracts were also previously viewed in that category until the market somewhat squashed that assumption. To be fair, these contracts largely became tradeable because some combination of Wall, Westbrook, and Paul were often dealt for one another. Paul and Westbrook were swapped when Oklahoma City and Houston made a deal in 2019. Ditto for Westbrook and Wall last offseason.
Paul then went to the Suns last November in a deal centered on Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., a future first-round pick, and young players to fill out salary. Westbrook, in his third trade in about two calendar years, was recently dealt to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a 2021 first-round draft pick.
According to ESPN front-office guru Bobby Marks, a team that acquires Wall must send back $37 million in salary, making a deal “extremely, extremely difficult.” That’s not the Rockets unrealistically asking for too much for Wall. That’s just the NBA rule.
Would the second time be the charm for Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey in attempting to trade with his former team? Or would it be awkward, at best, to revisit that well after he did not pull a deal off for James Harden last season, presumably with Simmons as the centerpiece?
The Sixers could trade Simmons and another young player to make the salaries work. Tyrese Maxey’s name has been popular this offseason, and Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and first-round pick Jaden Springer are also potential options. But that’s a lot to give up for Wall.
If Simmons is not part of this particular Wall deal, then Tobias Harris would essentially need to be the primary player involved. That’s also a lot to give up for Wall, and seems even more unlikely if Simmons is also eventually moved in a separate trade.
Key Sixers role players such as Danny Green ($10 million in 2020-21) and Seth Curry ($8.2 million) do not make enough money on their own. Marks noted on an Instagram video that an ideal trade partner with the Rockets would be a team with four $8 million contracts or three $12 million contracts, which the Sixers (and most teams) don’t have.
“I don’t see John Wall being moved at all during the year,” Marks said. “It would stun me.”
Reports say Wall is expected to remain around the Rockets during training camp and was praised for how he handled a turbulent 2020-21 season. That experience and mindset could be valuable in Philadelphia, with the Sixers going through their own bout of unrest and uncertainty.
In the world of hypothetical trades, Wall’s name is certainly not more enticing than Damian Lillard. Given Wall’s age and recent serious injury history, is he more enticing than CJ McCollum? Or De’Aaron Fox or Buddy Hield? Or Pascal Siakam? Or Andrew Wiggins and young prospects?
Wall could be an interesting buyout option for the Sixers, should they still need point guard stability and punch after trading Simmons. Yet reports say that is not an option for Wall or Houston.
For now, the Sixers will continue to be floated as a possible destination for any prominent player who enters the trade market.
Wall is simply the latest.