After sitting out all of last season due to a dispute about his role on the team, Houston Rockets guard John Wall has now played just 113 games over the last five seasons, missing two of them completely. As a result, he has become something of a forgotten man in the NBA.
That could change over the next few months. Wall is entering the final year of a four-year, $171 million deal, and though the $47.7 million he's owed this season continues to make him an unrealistic trade target, he may be ready to negotiate a buyout with the Rockets, per Marc Stein. Via his newsletter:
Rumbles have finally begun to circulate about Wall resurfacing as an active player next season. This week marked the first time in some time that I heard serious murmurs about Wall successfully negotiating a buyout with the Rockets after his season on the sidelines — provided Houston remains unable to find a trade partner on a Wall deal.
It is still unclear, with Wall presumed to be essentially untradeable when he's due $47.4 million next season, how much of that salary he would have to surrender in buyout talks to convince the Rockets to let him become a free agent. The latest Wall-related scuttle does, however, suggest that a pathway for the sides to get there is at last materializing.
Wall was healthy last season, but was not amiable to the Rockets' plans to use him off the bench as they prioritized their young backcourt of Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. With the team unable to find a trade partner, and Wall uninterested in giving up multiple years worth of salary in a buyout, he ended up sitting the entire season.
It's one thing to sit out one season to preserve your money and prove a point, but it's hard to imagine Wall would have interest in doing it again -- especially now that he's about to turn 32 and has already missed so much time to injuries. At the same time, it's unlikely he'd suddenly be happy to play a reserve role on a rebuilding team, which means a buyout is the most likely scenario.
The questions then are how much money would he be willing to give up to hit free agency, and which teams would be interested him on the open market? Here's Stein with some potential candidates:
Interest in Wall from the Clippers and Heat, if he can finally make his way onto the open market, has been mentioned for months. I've likewise been advised that the Lakers — resistant as they remain to trading Russell Westbrook to Houston for Wall by attaching draft capital as a sweetener for the Rockets — would consider Wall as a candidate for the roster if he is suddenly available via the buyout market.
None of those are surprising. The Lakers, Clippers and Heat are all hoping to contend for the Finals next season, yet have limited flexibility to acquire talent. And while Wall is no longer the peak All-NBA version of himself, he's still a good player. He averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists in 40 games with the Rockets during the 2020-21 season, and remains one of the best passers in the league. The lack of interest in trading for him over the last year is due entirely to his unwieldy contract rather than his abilities on the court. If he gets a buyout and becomes a free agent, all sorts of teams would be in on him.
It's worth remembering that Stein's report is rather vague, and even if this scenario does come to pass, it likely won't happen for a while. Still, it's clear that this is a situation to monitor as we approach the busiest portion of the offseason.