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ESPN's Tim MacMahon sees 2022 buyout as likely for John Wall, Rockets

USA TODAY Sports Media Group
USA TODAY Sports Media Group
 2021-09-19
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The Houston Rockets and five-time All-Star John Wall have agreed to part ways, which is understandable since a 31-year-old veteran isn’t an ideal fit for a clear rebuilding scenario. But it’s the terms of the final breakup that remain problematic to both the player and team.

With a contract that calls for Wall to be paid nearly $92 million over the next two seasons, Wall is widely viewed by most NBA observers as having negative trade value in 2021. In other words, for it to be worth it to another team to accept that bloated contract, the Rockets would need to incentivize them by attaching something else to Wall — such as first-round draft assets — to make it worth their while. While Wall remains a good player, he’s no longer the All-Star that he was when the deal was signed, and he’s also had numerous health issues in recent years.

Yet, from Houston’s perspective, it isn’t logical to include draft assets just to offload Wall immediately — since draft picks are crucial to general manager Rafael Stone’s rebuilding plan. Moreover, the Rockets reportedly aren’t interested in taking back longer-term salaries, because they could be in position to have lots of cap room once Wall’s contract expires in 2023. But a contract buyout in 2021 also doesn’t make sense, both from the perspective of the huge price tag left on Wall’s deal and the hope that Wall might have more trade value in 2022 when other teams would not have nearly as much of a financial commitment.

So, for the time being, Wall and the Rockets are in a holding pattern. As veteran ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon sees it, the most likely outcome is that it stays that way until a buyout agreement for Wall’s contract can be reached in the 2022 offseason. Here’s what MacMahon told colleague Zach Lowe on the latest episode of The Lowe Post podcast:

My guess is that there ends up being a buyout next summer. The Rockets don’t want to entertain buyout discussions right now, and I don’t think John Wall wants to. If there’s going to be an agreement this year, he’s going to have to give back a lot of money to make that happen. My guess is it would be significantly more than what Blake Griffin gave back ($13.3 million) to get out of Detroit.

It’s hard to look at this right now and say there’s a deal that makes sense and would get John Wall to another team, to where he could play this year.

A 2022 buyout isn’t inevitable, since current circumstances could change. For example, an injury to a point guard during the upcoming season might push some team to become a more aggressive suitor. It’s also possible that rival owners and general managers gradually become more open to spending on Wall, once his contract has less guaranteed money.

But even if that happens, being able to execute a trade is far from a given, considering Houston’s reluctance to accept salaries that extend beyond Wall’s 2023 expiration date. With most NBA teams above the salary cap and needing to send out nearly as much money in trades as they take in, matching Wall’s $44.3-million contract for next season without including contracts beyond 2022-23 could be tough to pull off.

Finally, it’s conceivable that Wall could become desperate enough to play next season that he decides to give back significantly more money to the Rockets in a buyout. But that doesn’t seem to be his position at the moment, since Wall and the Rockets are reportedly on the same page regarding the plan to keep him on Houston’s roster for the foreseeable future (and around the team at training camp) but out of games.

Thus, the most reasonable scenario that doesn’t require Wall, the Rockets, or another NBA team to deviate significantly from the status quo is a contract buyout in 2022. While far from a guarantee, that looks to be the clubhouse leader at this time for the most probable outcome.

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