Cap Sheet Confidential: Who can afford to take John Wall from the Houston Rockets?

Houston Rockets v Miami Heat
Houston Rockets v Miami Heat / Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets and John Wall have agreed to part ways. Unfortunately, the announcement doesn’t bring any finality to the situation. It simply confirms what the entire NBA knew had been going on behind closed doors. The Rockets have wanted to trade John Wall from the moment James Harden demanded a trade. 

Wall remains a Rocket for one simple reason, he’s the second-highest-paid player in the NBA and he is nowhere close to being its second-best player. If Wall was paid less, it would make trading or buying him out far easier. Reports indicate that the Rockets are not interested in buying Wall out this season (he has a $47.3 million player option for 2022-23), and will look to find a trade. 

The list of teams in need of a veteran point guard is not long. Most teams either already have their floor general or are in a rebuild. Finding Wall a home that makes basketball sense will be tough, but that doesn’t mean there are no options. 

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The easiest place to send Wall will be a team with ample cap space. The more salary that has to be matched, the more the Rockets have to take on, and thus the trade starts to become lopsided. Finding a team with cap space will also decrease the demand for sweeteners from the Rockets.

Finding a trading partner for Wall won’t be easy. If Rafael Stone can pull this off he’ll solidify himself as one of the best general managers in the NBA. To pull some magic out of his hat he should give these three teams a call because they have the motivation, the cap space, and the contracts to make a deal. This is cap sheet confidential, John Wall edition. 

Aleksej Pokusevski, Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Clippers v Oklahoma City Thunder / Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Who can afford to take John Wall from the Houston Rockets: Oklahoma City Thunder 

According to, there is one team in the NBA that is currently under the salary cap. The Oklahoma City Thunder have the honored distinction of being the cheapest team in the NBA and are $21 million under the cap. Much of that is by design as they look to rebuild through the draft. However, they offer the Rockets an interesting trade partner for John Wall. 

The Thunder have two first-round and one Rockets’ pick swap coming up from 2024 to 2026. However, the two picks and the swap are all top-four protected. If it wasn’t for those protections, Jalen Green would be in Oklahoma City. Would the Thunder and the Rockets be willing to do business to have those protections lifted? 

Chances are the Rockets would balk at that. Those protections are their last line of defense against a catastrophic situation of handing another team a top-four pick. The most likely avenue for a deal is if the Rockets send a future first to the Thunder. Of all the teams in the NBA, they’d be the least likely to ask for premium draft capital. 

Cade Cunningham, Houston Rockets
2021 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot / Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Who can afford to take John Wall from the Houston Rockets: Detriot Pistons 

There are four teams in front of Detriot with more cap space but no real reason to pursue Wall. The Grizzlies have Ja Morant, the Hornets have LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, and Gordon Heyward, the Spurs would have to give up better younger players to make it work, and the Knicks just signed a bunch of guards when they could have traded for Wall earlier. The Pistons, on the other hand, need a point guard and might be a pretty good team with one. 

The team has Cade Cunningham and Jerami Grant on the wings, a frontcourt rotation of Kelly Olynyk and Isaiah Stewart, but they’re missing a dynamic point guard. Killian Hayes has potential, but this season he’s likely going to be a negative. With John Wall in Detroit, the Pistons could be a sneaky playoff team. 

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Maybe the Pistons don’t want to be a playoff team just yet. However, if Cade Cunningham is as good as advertised, they may be one sooner rather than later. If they land a real playmaker making the play-in remains a real possibility. Cunningham’s playmaking has long been viewed as an asset, but expecting him to orchestrate a playoff-caliber offense in year one is incredibly optimistic. Letting Wall pull the strings, for a year or two could go a long way in his development and give them a chance to make a run at the play-in game. 

Unfortunately, the Pistons have $45.5 million tied up in dead money, which makes the deal complicated. However, if the NBA has taught us anything over the past few years, where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

Kevin Love, Houston Rockets
Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers / Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Who can afford to take John Wall from the Houston Rockets: Cleveland Cavaliers 

The Cavaliers may be over the cap, but they’re the Rockets’ best trade partner. The team has the league’s next worst contract to throw in a deal, otherwise known as, Kevin Love, and the $31.2 million he’s owed this season. If the Cavaliers add in Ricky Rubio’s $17.8 million salary, they can have John Wall and a little extra cap space in 2021. 

Why would the Rockets do this? It’s simple, Rubio will be easy to move on an expiring deal and Love’s salary drops to $28.2 million next season. Even if they can’t trade him, buying out $28.2 million is a lot better than buying out $47.3 million. The Rockets would be effectively taking on money this season to save money next season. 

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The Cavaliers have been trying to be relevant ever since LeBron left for the second time. Wall doesn’t suddenly make them a contender but he makes them better and is far more useful to them than Love is at this point. The Cavaliers may prefer to sit this out and see what they have internally, but the only way they’re getting rid of Love is if they take on a bad contract. Exploring Wall’s bad contract wouldn’t be the worst idea.