After several weeks of uncertainty and speculation, the John Wall saga has finally come to an end today as the Washington Wizards caved to his demands and decided to trade the All-Star point guard. They have agreed to a three-way trade that includes both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Phoenix Suns.Background of the deal
The elaborate deal sees Philadelphia acquire John Wall and veteran big man Marcin Gortat from the Wizards. As part of the agreement Washington will receive center Jahlil Okafor and several draft picks from the Sixers, as well as point guard Brandon Knight from the Suns. Lastly, Phoenix will get veteran point guard Sergio Rodriguez and a heavily-protected first round pick from the Sixers.
This has been threatening to happen for the past few weeks after John Wall publicly hinted at the possibility of handing in a trade request to Wizards management about a month ago, after a bad loss to the Hawks in Atlanta. The soon-to-be four-time all-star had grown weary of playing for a losing team that consistently missed the playoffs every year.
Washington have only made it to the post-season in two of the six seasons since Wall arrived and look set to miss out again this season after an uninspiring 22-32 start to the season, which sees them holding the 11th seed in the eastern conference. It seems that Wall lost faith in the ability of his teammates and coaches to help him get them off of the treadmill of mediocrity.
The failure to even get an interview with free agent and D.C. local Kevin Durant was also something that annoyed Wall greatly, after he had publicly tried to attract the superstar to sign with the Wizards. Wall privately felt that team management hadn't tried hard enough to attract a guy who would have been a franchise-altering player. Durant would have instantly made Washington into a legitimate eastern conference contender if he had of joined them.
A 114-107 loss to Oklahoma City yesterday, in which the Wizards were down by 25 by halftime, appears to have been the final straw for Wall. After the game he was visibly annoyed and was very cagey with the media, simply stating "I'm done with this, man.", before walking out of the locker room with a concerned look on his face.
It's been reported that he held a meeting with his agent Rich Paul some time yesterday evening in which he instructed him to let the Wizards management know that he wasn't going to play another game for them and wanted to be traded immediately. He was now on a well-worn path taken by all-stars like Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams in recent years.
This ultimatum put Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld in a very difficult position. He either had to refuse Wall's request and risk having a disgruntled player harming team unity and undermining the coaching staff. Or give in, trade his star player and set back the timeline of the franchise by several years.
That first option would have also meant that his prized asset would lose significant trade value, as rival general managers would be wary of bringing a disruptive influence into their teams. The second option would have made Grunfeld appear weak publicly, but it would have given him a great opportunity to reset his project and inject some fresh talent into the team.
He eventually opted for the latter option after a lot of discussion with his staff and set out to find the best possible deal for the franchise. After several hours of taking calls from around the league, Grunfeld had narrowed his options down to three offers.
First off was an offer from Utah, which reportedly included forward Derrick Favors, guard Dante Exum and a future first round pick in exchange for John Wall and forward Markieff Morris. Grunfeld liked the value of this deal, but he felt that Favors was slightly too old to be apart of his new project and that Exum was still a bit too raw at NBA level. He eventually called Jazz management to decline the offer.
Orlando supposedly offered forwards Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green, guard Elfrid Payton and a future first round pick in exchange for Wall and forward Jason Smith. Again, Grunfeld felt that the value was fair, but the fit didn't seem quite right.
Sure, Gordon is a crowd pleaser with his high-flying dunking, but he lacks the offensive game that would enable him to become an all-star like Blake Griffin. Payton is a great facilitator on offense, but lacks the ability to create his own shot. Having him on the team would put more of the scoring burden on Bradley Beal. This offer was also rejected.
The final offer under consideration from Philadelphia was based around an exchange of center Jahlil Okafor and draft picks for John Wall. Grunfeld wasn't fully satisfied with this initial proposal and told them to improve their offer. Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo decided to bring in a third team in order to facilitate a trade.
He knew that Phoenix had been quietly taking calls for point guard Brandon Knight all season and decided to give Suns GM Ryan McDonough a call. The pair quickly reached an agreement in which the Suns would acquire the expiring contract of guard Sergio Rodriguez and a 2017 lottery-protected first round pick if they sent Knight to the Wizards as part of the John Wall deal.
Colangelo then called Grunfeld back with an improved offer of Jahlil Okafor, Brandon Knight and two future first round picks for Wall. Grunfeld liked this deal more, but wanted to squeeze out as much value as he could. He ultimately got the Sixers to include several future second round picks and to take back the 3 year, $38 million contract of 32 year old center Marcin Gortat. The deal was finally agreed and the details were sent off for league approval.
Wizards reset in the hopes of building a contender
Today was a day of mixed emotions for Wizards fans after the news broke about Wall leaving. On the one hand, they were losing a beloved star player who had been the number one pick back in 2010 and had been the great hope to lead them to glory.
But on the other hand they were getting a chance to see their team get reshaped, which could perhaps one day lead them to them reaching finals if it is done successfully. As good as Wall had been for the Wizards, it was clear to everyone that things were just not working out. In a way this trade could be the best thing for the Wizards if they hope to break free from their losing culture and really build a strong team for the future.
Washington are currently sitting in 11th spot in the eastern conference with a 22-32 record and look likely to miss out of the playoffs for the seventh time in nine seasons. They won't openly tank now, but they also won't be too concerned if they slip further down the standings and increase their chances of getting a top-end draft pick.
There is some good news for Wizards fans this week though, with Otto Porter and Trey Burke reportedly close to signing contract extensions ahead of the February 28th deadline. If those two sign on, then Washington's young core will actually be pretty good. Bradley Beal, Jahlil Okafor, Brandon Knight, Otto Porter, Trey Burke and Kelly Oubre Jr. are all between 21 and 25 years old, whilst Markieff Morris is still only 27. If Grunfeld can nail his two potential top 10 selections in the upcoming draft then the building of a contender in Washington is a real possibility.
Okafor has been rather underrated since he entered the league, mainly due to the presence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia. But he has proven himself to be a gifted low-post scorer, averaging 17 points per game in his rookie season and increasing that to 19 points per game this season. The potential inside-outside combination between Okafor and Beal could prove to be a very effective weapon for the Wizards in the future.
Brandon Knight should be another perimeter scoring threat as well. He has been one of the best bench players in the league this season, averaging 11 points and 5 assists per game in Phoenix, but he will return to his preferred staring role with the Wizards. He probably won't mind dropping out of contention for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
If the draft was held today then the Wizards would be holding two top ten picks, numbers 8 and 9. That is a very nice position to be in with such a strong draft class available this year. If everything falls their way, then they should end up with a chance at drafting a nice replacement for John Wall immediately.
Highly rated guards Markelle Fultz (Washington), Dennis Smith Jr. (NC state), De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky), Frank Ntilikina (Belgium) and Lonzo Ball (UCLA) are all expected to go in the top ten selections. Grunfeld will also likely be keeping tabs on the likes of Josh Jackson (Kansas), Jonathan Isaac (Florida State), Jayson Tatum (Duke), Malik Monk (Kentucky), Harry Giles (Duke) and Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany) as well.
The 2019 first round pick from Sacramento could end up being the real jewel of this trade for the Wizards. It is unprotected and could be a top 3 pick if DeMarcus Cousins leaves through free agency during the 2018 off-season and the Kings fail to replace him. It's hard to imagine just how terrible they would be without Boogie there to carry them on his shoulders every game.
Sixers become an eastern powerhouse
This deal is a great coup for Bryan Colangelo, even though he had to give up a sizable amount of assets to get it done. Adding an all-star calibre player like John Wall to a team that already has rising stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid is scary for the rest of the NBA. It should make the Sixers a serious contender in the eastern conference for the best part of the next decade. Having a quality point guard allows them to match-up a whole lot better against eastern powerhouses Cleveland, Toronto, Boston and Chicago.
As far as talented NBA trios go, there haven't been too many more exciting than what the Sixers will now be able to put on the court. The combination of athleticism and skill that Wall, Simmons and Embiid possess is quite impressive. So far in their rookie campaigns Simmons (13pts/9reb/6ast p/g) and Embiid (12pts/8reb p/g) are both in the running to win the Rookie of the Year award. As is versatile Croatian forward Dario Saric (12 pts/7reb/3ast p/g).
People have been talking about how bright the future will be for the Sixers, but the truth is, things are pretty great for them right now. After a slow start to the season, everyone expected them to struggle once again and be closer to the draft lottery than the playoffs. But things started to improve when Simmons and Embiid finally settled in after a few weeks.
January was the best month of basketball that Philadelphia have produced in such a long time. They won 11 of their 15 games and shot up to within two games of Atlantic division leaders Toronto and Boston. They continued that strong form into February and have won 6 of the 8 games they have played so far this month. Amazingly, their 32-24 record puts them on top of their division and now has them holding the second seed behind only Cleveland.
John Wall is averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists per game this season and that great form has earned him his fourth all-star selection. There may be an issue about sharing ball-handling duties with his new teammate Ben Simmons, but Wall's ability to create his own shot should allow them to work together effectively.
For the past two seasons everyone has chimed in with an opinion on how the Sixers should clear up their frontcourt logjam. It became obvious this season that Joel Embiid wasn't going anywhere due to his impressive play and being a fan favourite, so it came down to Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. Colangelo appeared to have made up his mind earlier in the month when he signed Noel to a 4 year, $62 million extension. Ever since then Okafor has unofficially been on the trade block.
One issue that the Sixers will have to deal with after this trade is the sudden loss of inside scorer now that Jahlil Okafor is gone. Marcin Gortat is a solid role player and will compete hard every night, but he can't replace the scoring output that was lost. He is only averaging about half the number of points per game that Okafor is. There will be more pressure on Joel Embiid now that he will have increased playing time. It's expected that Gortat will take Okafor's spot as the starting center and allow Embiid to continue coming off the bench as he improves his fitness levels.
The Sixers have a really intriguing roster now. There are the stars (Wall, Simmons and Embiid), the role players (Gortat, Noel, Saric, Covington, Ilyasova, Bayless and Henderson) and the young bench guys (Stauskas, McConnell, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Holmes). It's a good mix of veteran experience and youthful energy that could lead them on an exciting playoff adventure in May and beyond.
They could have as much as $31 million in cap space to spend in the upcoming off-season as well. But that is probably unlikely to happen because they have a lot of contract decisions to make. About $22 million of that space could be taken up by the team options for Joel Embiid, Nik Stauskas, Gerald Henderson, TJ McConnell, Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes. Ersan Ilyasova and Hollis Thompson will also be unrestricted free agents.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Colangelo look to add some more outside shooting to the team during the free agency period. Veteran sharpshooters like Kyle Korver or JJ Redick would be ideal targets for the Sixers and it's entirely possible that they may opt to take a pay cut in order to join a team that is seemingly on the verge of something special.
It may seem like giving up three first round picks and and three second round picks in this trade is excessive, but the majority of those picks may not even end up being high-ended. Their own 2017 pick is sitting at 19 right now and could end up falling somewhere between 25-30 if their current form continues for the rest of the season. And of course that pick will fall another two places with the entry of the two expansion teams.
The rest of the picks were expendable assets that were gathered by Sam Hinkie for the purpose of acquiring a quality veteran player when the possibility came up. It was the next step of his infamous 'process' that he never got to implement himself.
Suns prepare for a busy off-season
For Phoenix, this deal was all about creating more salary cap flexibility ahead of an important free agency period. With Eric Bledsoe still owed $43 million over the next three years, it made sense to move Brandon Knight's $46 million contract and replace him with the expiring Sergio Rodriguez. The Suns have in-form center Alex Len coming to the end of his rookie deal at the end of this season and they also have to think about the future extensions of Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, TJ Warren and Marquese Chriss.
The Suns will have almost $62 million in salaries on their books before (presumably) re-signing Alex Len. That means that they should have about $38 million to spend on free agents, although they will need to decide on the futures of Kevin Martin, Alan Williams, Archie Goodwin, Leandro Barbosa and of course, Sergio Rodriguez.
After adding the $10 million per season salary of Terrence Ross last month, dumping Knight's contract was really vital for them to preserve cap space. They clearly didn't want four bench players earning eight-figure salaries and Knight was easier to move than Chandler or Dudley.
It will be interesting to see how ambitious the Suns are in free agency. They have got enough money to sign a max-level player and if the likes of Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap are available, maybe they could be persuaded to join the exciting project being built in Phoenix. If they sign a free agent first they can then go over the cap to re-sign Alex Len.
Perhaps they will just keep things more realistic and target solid players like Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, Danilo Gallinari, Tyreke Evans or Zach Randolph. Using their free cap space on a quality veteran player for a couple of seasons would be a good option for them. Such a player could help keep them in the playoff race and his salary would be off the books by the time the likes of Booker and Bender need new contracts.
Rodriguez is a vastly experienced point guard and should fit right in as part of the second unit in Phoenix alongside fellow veterans Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Kevin Martin and Leandro Barbosa. That group will really help the younger players when the playoffs come around, if the Suns make it that far. It would be quite beneficial for the Suns to keep Rodriguez around for a couple of seasons in order for him to mentor rookie Tyler Ulis, so that the youngster can eventually take over the back-up point guard role.
As things stand, the draft pick that Phoenix get from the Sixers as part of this deal would fall at pick 19. Their own 2017 pick is currently at number 20, so after the expansion franchises are added it seems that the Suns will likely have two picks somewhere between 22 and 28. If Ryan McDonough can pick up two late first round gems it'll be a nice bonus for a team that suddenly finds itself in playoff or bust mode.
The Suns are currently exceeding expectations this season and are holding on to the 8th seed in the western conference with a 31-25 record. They are aiming to make the playoffs for the first time in six long years.