This one is going to sting, there is no doubt about it. The Washington Wizards not only traded one of the best players in their franchise history, John Wall is beloved in D.C. for much more than that. You could go back through the entire history of professional sports in Washington and find no one who has done more for the community or embraced the city more than he did.
Wall lifted the Wizards out of despair, out of one of the most uniquely dysfunctional eras in NBA history. He was drafted first overall just months after Gilbert Arenas brought guns into the locker room. Though he didn't win a championship with the team, he was a savior in every sense an athlete can be.
Yet, get past the shock and the disappointment of how the Wall era ended and this move for the Wizards makes objectively good basketball sense. Set loyalty and emotions aside and understand what they have done both for their short-term future and the added security they now likely hold long-term.
Russell Westbrook may be two years older than Wall, and he may be just as expensive, but he's better. There is no arguing against that. He isn't the MVP he was in 2017, but he's still one of the 15-to-20 best players in the league. That was evidenced by his selection to the All-NBA team this past season, an award only 15 players receive.
Westbrook averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists for a 44-28 Rockets team. He also shot a career-best 47.2 percent from the field.
There is also the most obvious reason you would rather have Westbrook than Wall at this point. Wall is coming off surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles. It was performed 21 months ago, but the fact is he has yet to take the floor after enduring one of the most serious injuries an NBA player can have. There remain no guarantees about his future, while three years and $131.5 million remain on his contract.
Westbrook is going to continue to diminish from here, as all players do. But the fact he does not have the injury history means the Wizards' floor is higher. There are fewer unknowns and that means it is more likely they will be back in the playoffs next season.
That right there is important because the Wizards have another star they hope will stick around. Bradley Beal remained patient through a trying 2019-20 season, but everyone has their limits. Beal wants to win and a slow start to the 2020-21 season could have put his commitment to the team's future in jeopardy.
In conversations with NBC Sports Washington, those close to Beal have backed up what he's said publicly about not wanting to join a super team. But they say it is very important for him to make the playoffs, ideally as at least a middle seed in the conference. Get him there and the rest is up to him. All he wants is a chance to play on the sport's biggest stage.
With Westbrook, the Wizards have a higher likelihood of doing that. For all of his faults, Westbrook's issues in the playoffs have been magnified in the Western Conference. Now he's in the East, where it is easier to make the postseason and do damage once you get there.
Also, what represented disappointment in Oklahoma City and Houston could be viewed differently in Washington where the Wizards haven't won 50 games since the 1970s. Throughout his career, Westbrook has consistently led teams that win in the high-40s and make the postseason.
The Wizards attaching a first round pick is not surprising given the uncertainty of Wall's future. But the pick being heavily protected should be considered a small victory. They got a better, healthier player and the pick is unlikely to turn into disaster given how it begins as lottery-protected in 2023 and could become two second round selections.
Again, this is not going to be easy for Wizards fans to accept. They waited nearly two years to see one of the best players in franchise history return from a long and arduous recovery. Many were envisioning what was going to be an emotional night with him back on the floor.
Ultimately, that return happening in Washington just wasn't in the cards.