- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The John Wall era in the District is over.

The Washington Wizards traded their star point guard and a 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick Wednesday to the Houston Rockets in exchange for guard Russell Westbrook in a blockbuster deal. The trade came after heavy speculation that Washington was shopping Wall and that the 30-year-old was disgruntled with the franchise.

Wall, who was the first overall draft pick in 2010, has not played in an NBA game since December 2018, when he underwent season-ending heel surgery. During his rehab, Wall tore his Achilles tendon — sidelining him for the entire next season. But Wall had made strides in recent months, and as recently as Wednesday, coaches and teammates were hyping up his return.

Now, that return will happen somewhere else.

By trading for Westbrook, the Wizards land a former MVP whose own set of health issues — he’s had multiple knee surgeries — have slowed him in recent years. Still, Westbrook has been a productive player, averaging 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists this past season and was named All-NBA third-team.

The Wizards included a 2023 lottery-protected first-rounder with Wall to complete the trade.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said in a statement that the team couldn’t “pass up” a talent of Westbrook’s caliber, but called the decision to trade Wall “extremely difficult” given his stature with the franchise.

“What he has meant to our organization and our community is immeasurable and will not be forgotten,” said Sheppard, who labeled Wall as one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Westbrook, 32, now reunites with Wizards coach Scott Brooks. The two were together in Oklahoma City, where Westbrook rose to stardom alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden. Brooks coached the trio to the finals in 2012 and made the playoffs in five of seven seasons before being fired in 2015.

After Durant left for the Golden State Warriors in 2016, Westbrook became the face of the Thunder — winning the league MVP the following season. His explosiveness and remarkable athleticism not only helped the Thunder reach the playoffs, but the nine-time All-Star became only the second player ever to average a triple-double for the season with 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game.

Westbrook, though, was traded to the Rockets in 2019 for Chris Paul and a pile of draft picks. The deal reunited Westbrook with Harden, but the pairing would not work out. Westbrook, who shot just 25.8% from deep, struggled to play in the Rockets’ 3-point-heavy system.

The Rockets were bounced from the second round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers, leading Westbrook to request a trade in the offseason.

Wall, meanwhile, had his own decorated career with Washington. Arriving at a time when the franchise was at one of its lowest points due to fallout from a gun-in-locker-room scandal months earlier, Wall helped restore the Wizards’ credibility with game-changing speed and flashy passes.

Wall helped the Wizards make the playoffs four times in five years — the longest stretch since the mid-2000s. His signature moment came during the 2017 playoffs when he drained a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to force a Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. As he celebrated the shot, Wall jumped on the scorer’s table and proclaimed the District was his city.

In some ways, he was right. Wall held a close connection with Wizards fans and often spent his time away from the court helping communities with charity work. Just last week, he held his annual food giveaway to help feed residents in Ward 8. District fans loved his passion for the game.

Posting on Twitter, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis thanked Wall for his “unabashed love of the game — and our community.” He wished him the best of luck in Houston.

“He has been a great, all-star caliber player and a fantastic citizen and leader in our community,” Leonsis tweeted. “I am proud of how hard John has worked to come back to the league after two years away from competing. Our fans, our franchise and I will miss him very much.”

Following his iconic shot in 2017, Wall signed a four-year, $170 million supermax extension that summer. The deal received large praise: In a league in which superstars regularly changed teams, Wall was seen as the one star who wanted to stay with the franchise that drafted him.

But three years later, the relationship had spoiled. Wall offered only a “no comment” when asked about his future with Washington last week. And on Wednesday, the Wizards were the team including a draft pick to get rid of him.

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