Report: Rockets reluctant to accept long-term salaries in John Wall trade

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Though the Rockets and five-time All-Star John Wall have agreed to part ways, the eventual mechanism remains a mystery. Because of Houston’s status as a rebuilding team, team officials are citing the development of young point guard Kevin Porter Jr. as a key reason for the split.

Nonetheless, even though he won’t be playing in games, Wall appears likely to remain on Houston’s roster for the immediate future. As ESPN’s Tim MacMahon explained earlier this week, attaching future first-round draft assets to offload Wall’s bloated contract doesn’t make sense in this case, since draft picks are valued commodities in a rebuild.

Moreover, it also doesn’t appear that general manager Rafael Stone is interested in taking back salaries (at least not from players with negative trade value) that extend beyond the expiration date of Wall’s contract in 2023. At that time, the Rockets could be positioned to have significant cap room and make a splash in free agency, since larger veteran salaries such as Wall and Eric Gordon will be off the books.

In discussing hypothetical Wall trades on the latest The Lowe Post podcast, MacMahon and colleague Zach Lowe referenced a potential deal with the Clippers that could theoretically involve Luke Kennard as salary filler headed to the Rockets. (Since Los Angeles is above the league’s salary cap, they would have to send out nearly as much money in a trade as they take in.) But with Kennard being paid approximately $14 million per season through at least 2024, MacMahon doesn’t think Houston would be interested. His explanation:

I think the Kennard contract would be problematic on the Rockets’ end. It is a team option on that last year, but that’s a four-year or three-year deal that’s just about to kick in.

The Rockets are looking at building around Jalen Green, and they need to be able to be aggressive in free agency toward the later end of his rookie deal. That’s almost $15 million on their books for the 2023 summer. I think that would be a tough pill to swallow.

In other words, a scenario where Wall’s cap figure entirely rolls off Houston’s books after the 2022-23 season is preferable to Stone, relative to taking back money — even if smaller — that extends beyond that date.

Thus, MacMahon sees a contract buyout between the Rockets and Wall in the 2022 offseason as the most realistic outcome. By that point, since Wall would only have one season left on his deal, the financial terms of the buyout would be more realistic to both the player and team.

Then again, it’s entirely possible that Houston could get better trade offers from other teams in 2022, once Wall is owed less money. That’s clearly the hope for Stone and the front office. But if a desirable trade proposal doesn’t materialize, it sounds as if the Rockets would simply buy out Wall’s contract before they would include a future first-round draft pick or take back longer-term salaries in a trade.

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Player salaries for the Houston Rockets in 2021-22, future seasons