- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Houston Rockets provide a change of scenery for John Wall.

As the point guard looks to re-establish himself from injuries that sidelined him the last two years, Wall is joining a Rockets team that is in transition. The 30-year-old was traded to Houston on Wednesday in exchange for Russell Westbrook, but more changes could be coming for Houston.

The Rockets have undergone a tumultuous offseason in which they’ve hired a new coach, traded a franchise star and may trade another.

Former MVP James Harden reportedly wants out of Houston, which has declined so far to give into his demand. But the saga will loom over Houston as long as Harden is there, making for an awkward fit with Wall.

Here’s what lies ahead for Wall in Houston:

Wall’s backcourt pairing with Harden may not be smooth

For now, the Rockets have reportedly insisted they’re going to keep Harden — at least to start the season, which begins Dec. 22. But as long as Harden is on the roster, Wall will face questions over how he’ll fit next to Harden. After all, Wall is used to the ball in his hands — and so is Harden.

There’s arguably no team that caters their offense to a superstar more than Houston does for Harden. In 2018-19, Harden posted the second-highest usage rate of all time at 40.47%. That means almost 41% of Houston’s possessions ended with Harden shooting the ball, turning the ball over or getting to the free-throw line. This past season, Harden ranked third in that category (36.3%).

If there’s a benefit to this situation, Harden has spent the last three seasons having to share the ball with Chris Paul and then Russell Westbrook — two ball-dominant point guards. Those situations ultimately ended poorly, but in the moment, Houston still won enough games to make the playoffs. Even next to Harden, Westbrook held the fifth-highest usage rate last season.

Harden and Wall almost had the chance to play next to each other ahead of the 2012-13 season — for the Wizards. The Oklahoma City Thunder, looking to deal Harden, wanted Bradley Beal, and the Wizards said no. The Thunder traded Harden to Houston instead, where the eight-time All-Star blossomed into a superstar. 

Wall gets to team up with DeMarcus Cousins in the NBA

Here’s another interesting subplot of Wall joining the Rockets: He’ll finally get a chance to play with DeMarcus Cousins.

Once teammates at Kentucky in 2009-10, the two have always floated the idea of teaming up some day in the NBA. Now, that can happen — albeit under wildly different circumstances than envisioned. Cousins, like Wall, is coming off a myriad of injuries. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL and also tore his Achilles in 2018 with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The injury history left Cousins, a four-time All-Star, to sign with the Rockets for just the league minimum.

Now teammates again, Wall and Cousins will both be looking to restore their reputations.

He’ll be working with a first-time coach and general manager

If Wall had joined the Rockets a few years ago, he’d be joining one of the most stable organizations in the NBA. That’s no longer than the case.

Just this offseason, former coach Mike D’Antoni had his contract expired and chose to pursue other opportunities. Then, months later, longtime general manager Daryl Morey quit and joined the Philadelphia 76ers.

Billionaire owner Tilman Fertitta, himself a divisive figure since purchasing the team in 2017, then filled those positions with a first-time coach and general manager. He first promoted Rafael Stone to replace Morey and hired Dallas Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas to fill D’Antoni’s shoes.

In the months since those hires, the Rockets have other significant changes to their roster. Beyond Wednesday’s Westbrook-Wall swap, Houston traded swingman Robert Covington to Portland and signed center Christian Wood to a three-year, $41 million deal. Combined, those moves suggest that Houston could be transitioning away from its style of “microball,” an ultra-version of smallball that was played without a true center on the floor.

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