We are a Rockets blog, so it is natural that we really only pay most of our attention to Houston Rockets problems, and our biggest problem right now is figuring out what to do about a $91 million-dollar player that we have collective decided will not play for the team anymore. The divorce of John Wall is amicable (a credit to both John and the Rockets' front office, compared to the tense and dramatic nature of some OTHER NBA divorces circling around) but the truth of the matter is that it is no good for the Rockets to simply pay him $44 million to sit out the season followed by paying some sizeable chunk of next year's $47 million to buy him out. Theoretically, any solution that lessens that payout and/or provides a decent return for the NBA's least tradeable contract is a win. Frankly, pulling off the trade at all without dumping the majority of our war chest of future draft picks will make Rafael Stone look like a wizard who can facilitate the needs of his players, which will pay off down the line.
But like, I said before, we haven't paid much attention to other teams' problems, but let's just take a look at one particular problem a familiar team is experiencing:The Nets Can't Count on Kyrie Irving: Unchecked
You can read the linked article if you want to, but the point is in the headline: Kyrie Irving is now a problem for the Brooklyn Nets. As it stands he is currently unvaccinated in a league that has said that they will uphold vaccine mandates in the states and cities in which they are in place. So, the Nets are looking at the third-best player of their Big 3 suddenly not only being a huge distraction and black eye for the franchise, but now he simply will not be allowed to suit up for at least 41 of the 82 games on the schedule because he will need to be vaxxed to play in Brooklyn for home games.
Now, maybe Kyrie gets the "Fauci Ouchie" and this all goes down as another episode of Kyrie being Kyrie, but since he still to my knowledge believes the Earth is flat, I'm gonna consider the possibility that this isn't going away.
In other words, the Nets might need to move on from Kyrie Irving. Yes, he did a great thing by convincing Kevin Durant to suit up for the Nets, but he's done his part on that regard as KD has already signed an extension to stay in Brooklyn and James Harden is expected to do so as well. They no longer need Kyrie, and while he is a fantastic player, a fantastic player who is gone more than half the season isn't much value to his team.
So what does that have to do with John Wall? You're not suggesting that a Kyrie for Wall trade could happen, are you?
I'm not only suggesting it, I'm suggesting that it is a win-win for both sides.
Exhibit A: consider two players, Player A and Player B.
Player A: 544 games played since 2012, per game averages: 19.4 Pts, 4.2 Reb, 9.7 Ast, 2.3 Stocks
Player B: 582 games played since 2012, per game averages: 22.8 pts, 3.8 reb, 5.7 ast, 1.7 Stocks
Can YOU tell which one is Kyrie and which one is John Wall? Even if you can, it surprised me that their numbers are so close, especially in games played over the past 10 years when you consider how few John Wall played over the past three years between his injuries and a very load-managed last season. The bottom line is that from a statistical standpoint, Wall is closer to Irving than you might think. Even if you look at last season's per-36 numbers, Wall managed 23.0 points and 7.7 assists on a Houston team that spent most of last season missing most of its playmakers. His ability to distribute is still present and while his shooting percentage isn't as high as Kyrie, Wall still has demonstrated the ability to score and going from Houston's #1 option at the time to being a guy few will gameplan against given Durant and Harden's shadow over him should only help his ability to get buckets against opposing second units or tertiary defenders.
But most importantly, John Wall is vaccinated and fully able to play most every game. Maybe they sit him on SEGABABAs like Houston did, but they don't have to and even if they do, he's still likely to play more games than Kyrie will.
So, why does Houston trade for Irving? Yes, we still have KPJ and Jalen Green and Kyrie doesn't fit any better into a rebuild timeline than John Wall did. And our young players could very well be susceptible to his locker room dramatics, right?
First of all, to the latter point, I have to put my faith in two people: Stephen Silas and Christian Wood. If they are the coach and team leader that we are hoping they are, they can keep Kyrie's craziness in check. Yeah, Irving is a weird dude, but he can just be a weird dude on an otherwise tight-knit basketball team. Kyrie is still a hard-working player that the young guys could learn a lot from and while his presence on the court means less minutes in theory for Porter and Green, it doesn't have to be. Silas could deploy three-guard lineups or just rotate the young guards in heavily as Kyrie only averaged 35 minutes per game last season and is himself prone to injuries (hence barely having more games played that John "40 games the past 3 years" Wall). Meanwhile, if Irving can impart any kind of wisdom from his ability to hit 40% from 3 at a high volume, it only makes KPJ and Green more deadly in the future.
Oh, and did I mention Houston, Texas, to my knowledge, does not have a city-wide mandate in place, so Irving could theoretically play home games here.
So that's one avenue, where Kyrie shows up and makes the Rockets an even more interesting team this season and probably nudges into the playoffs because none of the teams outside of the West's top 9 has a player as talented as Kyrie Irving. We miss out on great odds for another top draft pick next season but since draft odds are so much more reduced than they used to be, there's really no guarantee that we would get another top pick. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving has a player option for next season, and unlike John Wall, actually has a legitimate reason to decline it and hit free agency, where he would be the undisputed top get on the market. Remember that as of right now, the top 22-23 free agent is Zach Levine. Kyrie would absolutely get a max deal wherever he wanted to go.
There's also the avenue where Kyrie is NOT beneficial to the Rockets on the court. Maybe he throws a fit about being traded and refuses to play. Maybe vaccine rules get amped up in Houston or by the NBA itself and Irving either puts himself on the bench or is forced to by outside interference. Or he gets injured again. Well, that's really no different than John Wall sitting the season, except, as mentioned above, Kyrie almost definitely opts out of his player option and so, even in the worst-case scenario, we're off the hook completely a season earlier than expected without any buyout needed. going further, I don't know the exact rules for re-trading a player, but if that option is on the table at all, Kyrie (unlike Wall) can easily be flipped for positive assets. Finally, even if none of those things can happen and Kyrie just sits the year out the same way Wall is going to, well he costs Tillman Fertitta $6 million less than Wall this season so even if the Rockets have to pay for zero games, they are paying less than when we started
Speaking of money, does the trade even work? Pretty much, yes. Putting a Kyrie for Wall one-for-one swap in the NBA trade machine spits out a no-go but the Nets need about $600k of salary to head back to Houston. Clearly, that can be facilitated by throwing in someone to make the finances work. For example, adding Jevon Carter, a deep-bench PG making $3.6 mil from Brooklyn and Dante Exum and his $2.6 mil salary heading over from Houston makes the move work. We can give them back their earliest FRP too if they want. I know what Stone said about giving up picks to offload Wall, but this isn't an offload. This is two teams getting an upgrade because one season of Kyrie is better than two seasons of John Wall, but 82 games of John Wall is better than 41 games of Kyrie Irving.