Unless you are living under a rock or don’t revolve the better part of your life around roundball like I do (I believe these people are also called productive members of society), you heard the news from last night. The Wizards and Rockets swapped star point guards John Wall and Russell Westbrook in a blockbuster trade that also includes a Washington first round pick. There is a lot to unpack here, and I want it to be known that this is an analytics-free safe space, where we stuff the nerds who try to bring up graphs in conversations about hoops in a locker and steal their lunch money. I will be firing from the hip with biased, unchecked, emotionally charged hot takes.
But before we dive into any X’s and O’s or jokes about Houston’s nightlife establishments, I’d like to give John his flowers.
John Wall came to the Wizards as the first pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, igniting a franchise in desperate need of something to root for. The Zards were coming off the end of the Gilbert Arenas era, had finished in last place two years in a row, and with the two “young guys” being Nick Young (pre-Swaggy P) and JaVale McGee (now NBA champion JaVale McGee, mind you), there was no end in sight. John Wall changed that immediately. He dougied his way to a helluva rookie year, signaling a light at the end of this proverbial shitshow of a tunnel.
Throughout his time in Washington, John put on a show. He wore his heart on his sleeve, played with reckless abandon and used his speed to hit a gear that nobody else could find. He dazzled with incredible passing, acrobatic finishes in transition and thunderous left-handed dunks that revitalized a city where basketball is engrained in its very culture. John never shied away from the spotlight, talking smack to Quavo & Gucci Mane courtside, throwing gang signs like a Pat Mahomes deep ball, and, in perhaps his most iconic moment, standing on the scorer’s table to let us know this was “HIS FUCKING CITY” after a playoff buzzer-beater. In that moment in time, it was his fucking city. If basketball is an art, then John was DC’s Picasso.
More importantly, John was LOVED in DC because he did more for this community than people realize. Amidst the COVID outbreak, The John Wall Family Foundation provided over $300,000 in rental relief to DC’s Ward 8 residents when the city’s politicians were too busy playing grab-ass to help. He, along with the rest of the Wizards and Mystics, led a Black Lives Matter protest through the city when it was at its most emotionally charged. He also forged an incredible bond with Miyah Temaque-Nelson, a young fan who tragically passed away from Burkitt’s Lymphoma. The man won the NBA Community Assist Award in 2016. John identified with those in less fortunate circumstances because he came from similar situations. He cared about the people of this city and extended a hand to those who needed it, using his platform to enact meaningful change.
It is no secret that I have carried John Wall’s water like Madam Zeroni up the mountain for the past decade. I find myself torn about losing my point guard and skeptical about what this means for the franchise moving forward. Tommy Shepherd spent the past two years preaching patience to the fanbase, telling us that we were going to run it back with John and Brad once John was back to full health. Its hard to understand why he would say all of this, only to blow it up right before go-time.
It reeks of desperation from a franchise who simply can’t afford to be this smelly. Giving up a first, in this economy no less, is a head scratcher. It makes me think a few things. First, Brad either gave the okay on the trade or orchestrated it himself, and maybe he and John weren’t as thrilled about running it back as I was. Second, maybe, just maybe, this was a good trade for the Zards.
I’ve long admired Russell Westbrook’s game. We are talking about a former MVP, a triple double machine and a point guard who also bleeds for the game every single night he laces them up. A pretty bad bubble performance has pundits selling stock on Westbrook, but what these frauds neglect to mention is that Russ is coming off an All-NBA season where he averaged 27, 7 and 7. Russ has the same qualities that made this city love John so much: the grit, the flare, the motor, the passion. Pair that with Brad Beal, who, I’d be remised if I didn’t remind you, is coming off a 30 ppg season, and we might just be cooking with gas here.
But Drew, what about that awful contract I keep hearing about? If I have to read one more tweet about how bad John’s deal was or about how bad Russ’ deal is, I’m going to hit someone upside the head with a frying pan. Seriously. These NBA media guys spend all season speculating on free agents, trying to move the needle on trades to get guys out of their cities, and the minute a team shells out the cash to keep their guy, they come raining down from the heavens about how bad of a deal it is. You pay for stars in the NBA. If you think these are bad deals, I’d like to introduce you to Otto Porter. Hell, Gordon Hayward just got $30 million I’d rather be stuck on a bad investment because we doubled down on winning than have PJ Tucker (bless his heart) playing center because my owner is a cheap shit on a shaky loan trying to save pennies like Houston. But that is just one man’s opinion. The correct one.
First Round Pick Twitter, I’ve got a bone to pick with you next. It’s about time someone put one in your earhole and I am just the man for the job. I’m seeing the Wiz getting killed out there for giving up a first-round pick. I get it, but these picks are the most valuable assets out there until draft day comes and your stuck picking between Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter. Both fine young men who love their mothers very much I’m sure, but they don’t move the needle for me. I get why it upsets people, but you’re talking to the cold hardened man who watched the Wiz take Jan Vesley as a top 6 pick.
So where does that leave us moving forward? For me, I am surprisingly at peace with the franchise’s decision. I am sad about losing a guy in John Wall who has been my favorite player for the last decade, but excited to see what Brad and Russ can do moving forward. Maybe it was time to blow it up long ago, or maybe the closures of The Park at 14th and Rosebar were the nail in the coffin. We might not be running it back with John and Brad, but we are still running it back with an elite backcourt. So let’s run it back.
I found myself reflecting as I drove up North Capitol in DC last night. “Sue Me” by Wale coming from the speakers, I thought about some of the incredible moments thanks to him and Brad. I thought about the fact that I have lived in this city for over a year now, and the fact that John actually had a direct impact on my decision to call this town home. As a fan, we can only ask that our stars reciprocate the passion that we display, integrate themselves into the fiber of the city, and leave the town/team in a better place than when they arrived. John checks all of those boxes, and for that I can only thank him everything.
To Russ, Welcome to DC. Let’s check the ball up top and do this thing.