Rockets, Wiz make Westbrook-Wall deal

HOUSTON (AP) – Russell Westbrook is headed to the Washington Wizards and John Wall is moving to the Houston Rockets in a significant swap of point guards — one an MVP, the other a number one overall draft pick — just weeks before the season starts.

The Wizards shipped a future lottery-protected first round pick to the Rockets on Wednesday night.

“Having the opportunity to acquire a player of Russell’s caliber and character was something that we could not pass up when looking at both the immediate and long-term future of our team,” Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said in a release. “With that said, the decision to part ways with John, one of the greatest players in franchise history, was extremely difficult. What he has meant to our organisation and our community is immeasurable and will not be forgotten.”

While Wall has played his entire professional career in the nation’s capital, the move ends Westbrook’s tenure in Houston after just one disappointing season. He arrived from Oklahoma City in July 2019 for Chris Paul and draft picks.

The Rockets had hoped that the 32-year-old Westbrook would be the final piece they needed to win their first title since winning back-to-back championships in 1994-95. But instead, Houston was eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western semifinals. Westbrook was the 2017 NBA MVP and is a nine-time All-Star, but has failed to win a title.

FROM LEFT: File photos show John Wall and Russell Westbrook. PHOTOS: AP

Many questioned whether the pairing of two ball-dominant guards like Westbrook and James Harden would work in Houston, but the longtime friends insisted that it would. After the Rockets were sent home from the playoffs early again, rumours started to swirl that the two weren’t happy in Houston and both wanted out.

But after spending years building their entire team around Harden, who won MVP honours in 2018, the Rockets weren’t interested in parting with him. This move could be new general manager Rafael Stone’s way of appeasing Harden so the Rockets can continue their quest for a title this season instead of rebuilding without the superstar. Stone was promoted to GM last month after Daryl Morey stepped down before quickly taking a job with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Westbrook-Wall deal works under the NBA’s rules because the two players are owed about the same amount: Each gets more than USD80 million over the next two seasons, plus each has a player option of more than USD45 million for 2022-23.

And both were looking to move on.

Wall, the number one overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2010 draft, became the face of the franchise for Washington, a five-time All-Star who repeatedly helped get his team to the playoffs.

But Wall’s Wizards never reached 50 wins in a season or made it past the conference semi-finals.

Wall, who is 30, has averaged 19 points and 9.2 assists for his career.